Two effective ways to fix low spots in your lawn

Ever step in a hole while you’re mowing and fall? Annoying, isn’t it?

We’ve got a hole in the front yard because someone pulled a bush out of the ground and didn’t fill it in. That hole has me shaking my fist every time I mow.

Low spots and holes in your yard are ugly and dangerous. But you don’t need to hire a landscaper to fix them. We’ll give you two ways you can do it yourself.

Specifically:

  • Top-dressing
  • Cutting turf to patch

 

Top-dressing

This method involves filling in low spots with dirt without removing sod. You’ll need to cut the grass to 1” or less and then dethatch in the areas you need to fill in.

Thatch is dead grass that collects around the base of the grass blades. It’s stopping your grass from getting all the light, air, and water it needs to thrive. Thatch also retains moisture during times of rain and promotes the growth of mold.

You’ll need some things before you begin:

  • The right dirt (see below)
  • A garden cart, unless you’re planning an Epsom salt bath later
  • A landscaping rake
  • A leaf rake
  • A shovel (if you’re using the patch method)

1. Use the right dirt

Most agree it’s best to use a 50/50 mix of soil and fine sand. Probably a good idea to add a little fertilizer, too. The soil and fertilizer will add nutrients, but they’ll also break down. So if that’s all you use, you’ll have to repeat this process more than necessary.

Sand is inorganic and will remain on the ground. You’ll still have to repeat this process in a few weeks, but won’t have to put quite as much work into it.

Buy more than you think you need. You might miss some spots the first time around.

2. Cut your grass to about 1”

You need the dirt to get through the grass to the ground. If you leave the grass too long, the dirt will just mash it down and lie on top of it.

At an inch, the grass is still tall enough for the amount of dirt you’ll be laying down, but not tall enough to lie flat and get buried by the dirt.

3. Put dirt on the low spots and level with the back of a landscape rake

You’ll only want to use about half an inch of dirt on the ground to begin with. It’ll settle, anyway. This is a process and takes patience. So you might as well treat it like a huge Zen garden.

Then, you’ll need to get on your hands and smear the dirt around. It’s fun, but maybe a good reason not to use anything with manure in it.

While you’re at it, look out for wood chips or pieces of mulch. Best to get those out.

4. Wait 2-4 weeks before repeating

Some say six, but four is probably enough time for the dirt to settle and the grass to get used to it. What you really want is for the grass to grow in healthy before you cut it and throw dirt on it again.

Filling and patching with sod

This is the one you’ll need the shovel for. We got one with a square, flat blade guessing it would help us avoid gouging out too much earth.

1. Cut your grass

You might have to use dirt to fill in the seams, so you want it to get all the way to the bottom. And it just makes it easier to cut through with a shovel. Again, you’ll want to cut it to 1” or less.

2. Use a shovel to remove 10”x10” squares of grass from the area

If you’re doing a large area, it helps to lay the pieces aside in the same arrangement you took them out in. None of us probably make straight enough cuts with a shovel to make all the edges match up evenly otherwise.

3. Fill with 50/50 mix of topsoil and fine sand

The same as you would mix for the first method. Even though you’re laying sod back down over it, you’ll still lose some volume as it settles and the organic parts break down.

4. Put the sod squares back in place

After you put the sod back on the ground, check for gaps between them and fill them in with dirt. Make sure you water thoroughly so the roots can get some moisture and start growing deeper into the ground.

If all else fails …

Take out all the grass in that area and grow vegetables there. You’ll be adding dirt, anyway, so that will help with the leveling problem and you won’t have to mow that part.

Next year, we’ll have a garden where our worst pits are. Hope you like tomatoes.

Lots and lots of tomatoes.

Takeaways

Wait till the right time of year and the right weather conditions to level your lawn. Avoid top-dressing when the forecast calls for rain the next day. And you’ll get the best results with both methods if you choose a time when the grass is full and healthy, not heat-shocked.

Both methods require cutting your grass to an inch and dethatching the problem areas.

A 50/50 mix of soil and fine sand ensures the soil will have nutrients but also longer-lasting leveling.

Do you have any tips or methods for leveling we haven’t mentioned? Set us straight in the comments!

How to use a weed whacker without whacking yourself (a nervous beginner’s guide)

Are you a weed-whacking novice and nervous about edging your lawn for the first time?

First, don’t panic. A weed whacker (weed eater, string trimmer) is not an uncontrollable doomsday machine. It’s basically just a long stick that spins a strip of plastic really fast.

This post will prepare you to use a weed whacker safely and keep it in good condition.

Be prepared to use a weed whacker safely

A weed whacker is just like any other tool. Even a simple tool without moving parts — like a hammer — can injure you if you don’t use it properly. (Or if you use it properly for the wrong purpose.)

Anything that can cut through plant material can also cut your skin. And anything that moves at high speeds — like the plastic line in a weed whacker — can fling material like mulch, dirt, and small rocks into the air.

So practice good safety to avoid getting hurt.

Dress appropriately

Cover up anything you wouldn’t want lacerated by the weed whacker line and dirt and gravel the weed whacker might churn up.

For minimum safety, you need:

  • Safety goggles. They’re not just a versatile accessory for elegant evening wear. They protect your eyes from flying debris.
  • Long pants. It’s hard to remember this when it’s hot and you’re wearing shorts every day. But your ankles and shins should be protected.
  • The right shoes. Open-toed shoes are no safer for weed-whacking than they are for knife-dropping. You don’t need steel-toed boots. Just cover your feet.

The right way to hold a weed whacker

For best results, hold it parallel to the ground as possible so the cutting line doesn’t chop up the ground and wear out while simultaneously chucking stuff at you.

Know your equipment

Read the manual.

No one really likes reading manuals, we know. But at least skim and read the important parts.

If you don’t have a manual, you can easily look up your weed whacker’s make and model online and usually find a PDF version.

You may be surprised at how many different kinds of weed whackers exist.

Different types of weed whackers

Gas-powered

There are two kinds of engines for gas-powered weed trimmers – 4c (4-stroke) and 2c (2-stroke). Like it needed to be any more complicated.

If you haven’t bought a weed whacker yet, this should give you food for thought.

Electric

  • Corded. These give you more power, but the cord is only so long and it tends to get in the way.
  • Battery-powered. They don’t have cords to trip over and are great for small lawns and power outages.

How to load line into a weed whacker

You could do this:

Or you could do this:

Remember basic physics. An angle cuts better than a flat edge. Cut your line so that the cut edge angles out.

How to mix fuel for a gas-powered weed whacker

That means knowing which type of engine you have. Use gas only for 4-stroke engines. Look for a label stuck to the side of the weed whacker or look at the manual if you’re not sure.

Use this online oil and gas mix ratio calculator if you need extra help.

Tips for maintaining your weed whacker

Like all things of a physical nature, weed whackers break down. You can extend the life of yours by:

  • Using the right fuel. Pay attention to the instructions and make sure to get the oil to gas mixture right.
  • Cleaning away trimmings so they don’t gunk up moving parts.
  • If it has a cord, make sure the cord is in good shape.
  • If it has a battery, remember to charge it according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Takeaways

Safety first. A weed whacker won’t rip your face off, but it can lacerate your skin and kick up things that shouldn’t go in your eye. Wear protective eyewear, long pants, and closed-toed shoes.

Be prepared. Do you have enough fuel? Is the weather on your side? Will you have to step around dog poop?

Maintain your equipment. Things just work better and last longer that way.

Don’t worry — it takes practice just like anything else. Before long, you’ll be a pro at it.