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Smoothing out a bumpy yard

We need to grade and smooth our lawn in the front of our property. It's extremely rough, and I don't like the way my teeth rattle while I'm mowing.

Older, established lawns like ours become rough and uneven over time, because the turfgrass compacts and thins. Freezing and thawing of the ground from season to season lifts up or "heaves" the soil, also making the surface bumpy. Animals digging through the lawn can also cause problems.

Turf specialist Dave Minner says the re-establishment of a healthy, thick grass will help alleviate this problem. But if the thought of ripping up the yard and planting a new lawn sounds daunting, you can build it up gradually by spreading a half-inch of top dressing each year.

"You could go out and top dress with compost, with sand and soil, with sand and compost, any of that combination, and you just basically keep filling it," Minner says. "Don't bury the grass completely, but about a half-inch is about the most you'd want to put on at a single time and the grass will grow right up through it."

Start with a butch cut

Right now or in early spring is a good time to do this, because you have to give the grass a butch cut with the mower.

"Scalp the lawn as low as you can and then you can see all the bumps," Minner says. "And it's easier to spread the materials and drag them around and do leveling. When the grass is 2 1/2 inches tall, you can't drag the half inch of material around because it just gets stuck down there in the grass."

If you have access to a drag implement that can be hooked up behind a lawn tractor, try using it as an easy way to pull the material off the high spots and drop it in the low spots. Minner says this is also a good time to aerify the soil, and drag the plugs around, too.

One thing you do not want to do is try to flatten the yard with a heavy roller. It will take care of some of the roughness, but it also damages the turf by compacting the soil, which is what you're trying to avoid.

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