If you’re in the market for a backyard playset for your children, you’ll need to make sure your backyard is ready before buying anything. The first step is to carefully level the ground.
Over time, we may get so used to our backyards that we no longer notice the slight divots and bumps. Or, the slant could be so slight or minuscule that we can’t quite perceive it with the naked eye.
If a backyard goes unleveled, the playset may be installed unevenly, creating a potential hazard at worst.
We’ve got all the materials, tools, and eight easy steps you’ll need to get your ground level and the backyard ready for a new playground. The best part is that you won’t need any heavy-duty machinery.
Why You Should Level the Yard
As parents, we know how important outdoor play is for our little ones, and a playground set in the backyard comes with many cognitive and social benefits for kids. Trying to install a playground without leveling the ground is similar to building a house on an uneven surface; it may lead to frustration and headaches.
That risk isn’t just annoying; it’s dangerous and could lead to injuries. Uneven ground is a potential hazard for an outdoor playground.
As for the rest of the backyard, an even lawn is easier to maintain. This means that mowing the lawn around the playground will take less time without all those hills and valleys. It will also help create more efficiency and less waste with watering. Additionally, an even yard will be more aesthetically pleasing as you watch your children run around outside each evening.
When You Might Need To Level
Even if you can’t tell with the naked eye, your ground isn’t even just because it looks that way. A few situations could have caused the disruptions, either recently or in the past.
Here are a few common ones that homeowners might come across:
Tree Root Growth
Tree roots can grow and spread out for miles. Many times, you can expect to see damage from tree roots on your sidewalks or driveway. If your children are learning to ride their bikes on the sidewalks, this issue is one you’ll quickly take note of. Lateral root damage can even create cracks in concrete, so natural dirt and similar materials pose little resistance.
If you plan on having the tree removed for the playground, you’ll need the ground leveled back out once the tree is gone. Even if you plan to keep the tree, the ground will need to be reworked to make it safe for the playset.
Rural, suburban, and urban communities likely know the impact that domestic pets and wild pests can have on a backyard.
Dogs love to dig holes, which may be the reason behind the ditches or divots in the yard. Additionally, some rodents, like gophers and moles, and even the burrowing owl, might look to dig a network of holes through your sod.
All of these pose a threat to your yard and the safety of your backyard for a playset.
In some cases, you’ll have to choose the ground filling based on what animals you face. For example, dirt or grass playset bases generally won’t be able to stop animals from digging. However, other materials (like rubber) might.
Just like houses settle and shift the older they get, the ground will do the same. Here’s why measuring and double-checking your backyard is so important: Even if your backyard was level when you moved into your home, there’s no guarantee it’s the same now.
Checking that the ground is level before the crew comes to install your new playset is safe and helpful, so don’t skip this step no matter what you see with the naked eye.
How To Measure a Leveling Issue
Before installing a playset, ensure your yard is level. This is for safety once the playground equipment is installed and also for the care and maintenance of the playground itself.
A level yard means years of safe and plentiful fun, so don’t skimp on this detail. Thankfully, measuring the level of your yard is easy and can be done with minor tools you probably already own.
Your backyard is meant to slope away from your home. So as a standard, there should be a two-foot slope for every 100 feet in your yard. In order to determine whether this is correct, you’ll need a few simple tools.
- A standard hammer
- Two stakes, 3ft. long is enough
- Over 100 ft. of string
- A standard carpenter’s level
Once you have all the tools, you’re ready to measure the slope.
Hammer the first stake about two feet from the house, and then hammer the second stake at least 100 feet from the first. Wrap the string tight around the two stakes and secure the line using the level to measure. Then, measure the distance from the ground to the string at both stakes.
Ideally, this difference won’t be more than two to three feet. This means that you have a standard slope, and you’ll be able to level the ground easily, and it will hopefully be a simple DIY. If there is a significant difference or the slope is up instead of down, you may need to consult a professional landscape team to safely level the yard.
Easy Tips & Tricks To Level the Yard
If you have a minimal or standard slope, you’re ready to level the yard on your own. You’ll need a few tools, and once you’ve gathered them, follow our easy guidelines and steps, and your yard will be playground ready in no time.
Before starting any project, you need to gather all your tools. This project is broken down into steps, but the steps move faster from one to the next, so you have your materials ready and in one place before you begin.
Here are the items you’ll need:
- A lawn mower
- A standard rake
- A thatching rake
- A leaf rake
- Push broom, large/wide size
- Edge trimmer
Eight Easy Steps for Leveling Ground
If you’ve chosen to level the ground yourself, and you’ve got your tools ready, it’s time to get started. The steps are straightforward, easy to follow, and manageable. Note that these directions are for people who have sod laws. The length of this project will vary based on yard size and the amount of work needed, but the average is about one week.
Mow your lawn, and make sure to cut it short. If you were cutting the lawn to encourage new growth, you would need to be careful to keep it at a length that wouldn’t dry it out. Seeing as we are removing the grass to install a playground, cut it as short as possible.
This will make the next few steps easier and give you less trouble when leveling the yard.
The next step is to dethatch your lawn. With a well-maintained lawn, there is a layer of thatch, or standard lawn debris, mixed in with the grass. This includes both dead and living plant particles that reach the roots and soil.
If your thatch is between ¼ and ½ inch thick, you can dethatch your lawn with a hand rake. If it’s thicker than ½ inch, you’ll need a dethatching machine. It is a small machine that can be rented at most hardware stores. Luckily, it’s easy to use and inexpensive to rent.
This step helps eliminate as much of the debris left floating around after mowing as possible. Removing the excess plant materials will ensure that killing the grass is quick and painless.
This next step can be done a few ways, but the easiest way to do this by hand is called the “lasagna method.” Pull out a bunch of old moving boxes or spare cardboard and cover the entire area where your playground will be.
Ensure that the cardboard overlaps so that sunlight can’t reach any of the grass.
The next step is to create the dirt base. In this case, a mixture needs to include sand, topsoil, and compost. This mixture will allow your dirt to stay hydrated and successful as opposed to drying out and being useless after the playground is gone.
The recipe should be about two parts topsoil, two parts sand, and one part compost/mulch. This allows your ground to remain level and sturdy without drying it out and killing the nutrients. In fact, much of the compost and topsoil will give the ground back nutrients it may be lacking; you could end up with a better ground composition than you had before.
Part of the compost needs to include what is known as “brown matter.” This means mixing in newspapers and scraps of cardboard to create the right consistency for your dirt and a firm enough surface to keep it even and level.
Now that you have created a dirt mixture that will create an even surface, it’s time to spread the mixture over the cardboard and create a tight, even surface. Note: You must use decomposing cardboard for this step to work. Decomposing cardboard is more than just a leveler — it adds organic matter, helps the yard drain, and acts as a fertilizer.
A good rule of thumb to ensure that it’s heavy enough to suppress the grass and create a firm surface for the playground is to spread it at least four inches thick.
After you’ve created a firm and even surface, water it lightly to combine the dirt and soil. Rake the dirt until you’re sure it’s even. After that, use the flat back of the shovel to pound it firmly down.
Now that you have an even surface, you’ll need to consider a border. A playground border will keep your playground floor material in place and keep the grass from invading the play area.
It will also help kids delineate their area from the rest of the backyard, creating balance and limits for their games (but not their wild imaginations). Use string and stakes to map out the area and ensure that the ground is firmly packed and even in this area.
The last step is to install the playground border. You want to do this before adding a ground layer, which typically consists of sand, rubber mulch, or wood chips.
Trying to install the playground border afterward can be hard as the ground might have shifted with the installation process, leaving you with an uneven surface. Having the border firmly in place before erecting the playground will simplify everything.
You’re Ready To Enjoy
Now that the ground is level, your backyard is ready for installation. Once that playground has been installed, you and your family are ready to enjoy that gorgeous new playset and form memories that last a lifetime.
A Level Yard Is Critical to a Safe Playground Installation
A level yard is a safety step before installing a playset that you just can’t skip. It keeps your lawn looking well-maintained, keeps mowing a breeze, and keeps your playground equipment safe to use for years to come.
Skipping this step could lead to your playground being built and installed uneven and lopsided, which could lead to serious injuries or harm to your child. It could also lead to your playset deteriorating faster, causing you to lose money on your investment.
The Bottom Line
With a little preparation and some careful work, these tips and tricks will get your backyard level and ready for a playset in no time.