An uneven, steeply sloped or hilly backyard presents maintenance challenges and limits landscaping possibilities. A yard without a proper slope or grade may also experience serious drainage issues and can lead to a flooded basement or standing water in the yard. For large, whole-yard projects, plan and establish a slightly positive rough trade using subsoil, then replace topsoil and revegetate the yard as desired. Piecemeal fixes or filling in low spots creates a nonuniform appearance. Drainage is a major concern, and the yard should slope gently away from any structures or contain drainage features such as French drains or swales.
Remove topsoil from the yard and pile for easy replacement later, as most of the rough grading should be done with the subsoil.
Drive stakes into the ground near the foundation. Pound a partner in the ground for each stake 50 feet away from the stake and house.
Stretch strings out between the stakes. A line level determines the correct soil level. A level string is suitable if the planned area should be completely flat. However, the yard should slightly slope away from the house at a rate of one-half to 1 foot per every 50 feet. Attach the strings to the far stakes at about one-half to 1 foot below level.
Add subsoil to low spots and remove soil from high spots so the soil touches the string evenly.
Tamp the soil gently with a hand tamp but avoid compacting the soil. Tamping at this point helps reduce later settling. Add additional subsoil if tamping creates new low spots.
Remove rocks and other debris using a grading rake. Pull the rake in straight lines starting at the foundation and working down the slope.
Replace the topsoil and add additional topsoil and amendments as needed. Most lawns should have 6 to 8 inches of topsoil.
Smooth the topsoil and check the level using the string and stake method, making any minor adjustments as needed. Use a leveling bar to smooth out the soil.
Revegetate the area as desired.