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Leveling & Fixing a Sloped backyard

Gardening Reference » Gardening in 2006
by EricDerek on March 30, 2006 04:05 AM
I recently purchased a house in Northern NJ where the backyard is more of a woods than a lawn. The land slopes toward the back of the house. In a 100x100 foot area there were about 20 trees. Moss, vines and weeds are the main ground cover. Very little grass. No maintenance has been done in about 5-10 (probably more) years.

I have brought down a few trees and created an area where I would like to create a green grass yard to let my sons play in. The difference in height is about 3-6 feet from one end to the other.

I know I’ll have to move some dirt around and will be renting a backhoe/excavator. I basically plan on picking up some dirt (1-3 feet) on the high side and moving it down to the low side. Then seeding and watering.

What I am looking for is some information on how best to go about getting this done. Do I need to do anything special before moving the dirt (like fertilizing or putting down weed killer, etc.) After I move the earth, do I need to put topsoil down or will I be fine with what is there? If I have to get topsoil, how much would your recommend I put down? (1 inch? 3 inches? 1 foot?) If I put topsoil down, should I rototill the lawn afterwards? What about fertilizer at that stage?

Since the area gets sun only about 50% of the time, what type of grass would you recommend?

I have a few books from the library, but any reading suggestions would be appreciated.


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by afgreyparrot on March 30, 2006 08:20 AM
Hi, EricDerek..... [wavey]
First of all, welcome to the forum!
I can maybe answer one of your questions for you...about the topsoil.

I basically plan on picking up some dirt (1-3 feet) on the high side and moving it down to the low side. Then seeding and watering.

You should push the existing topsoil off the entire area before you start moving your dirt (we use a dozer for this) and push it into a big pile. When you have your yard leveled the way you want it just spread the topsoil back out over the yard. That way you will have good topsoil, and won't have to spend the money buying more.
It's pretty expensive to buy a truckload of topsoil here.


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Buckle up! It makes it harder for the aliens to suck you out of your car!
by Amigatec on March 30, 2006 11:06 AM
I agree it is better to save the topsoil. You want to fill in the low spots with something like clay, and then replacing the topsoil.

Also something like a D3 Dozier would probably work better. They take a little getting used to, they use foot controls for the brakes and clutches instead of foot and hand controls, but once you figure out the controls, they work good.

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One OS to rule them, one OS to find them:
One OS to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Redmond where the shadows lie.
by Longy on March 30, 2006 11:59 AM
If you remove the earth from the high side, you may need to retain the resulting wall or it will gradually erode down onto the newly established area. Similarly, the newly raised front will want to erode too. If you taper both of these surfaces, at about 45deg or less, you can hold them with lawn. I'd use the machine to take out any other trees you want removed too. Any that have disease or are weeds etc. The machine can get them roots and all.
Got any "before" fotos?

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The secret is the soil.
by EricDerek on March 30, 2006 02:07 PM
> Got any before photos

Pictures are here:

The wood's been stacked.

I plan on having two (or three) retaining walls. One will be at the top of the property (top of the slope), maybe 2-3 feet high, i think it will be constructed from old railroad ties that are currently around the front walk. It will sit about 10 feet off the property line and I will try to use the area above it for a garden (vegatables or flowers). Then, down at the bottom I will have another retaining wall, or maybe two walls, going up about 5-7 feet total.

Thanks for your help in with this.

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by peppereater on March 31, 2006 05:20 AM
The less you have to change the slope, the better. Maybe allow for a ten percent grade or something, and have less excavation, less height on the walls. And, I think your idea of 2 retaining walls at the bottom rather than 1 would be would be stronger that way, less likely to erode out, and less distance for playful boys to fall!
BTW...could you use those logs, or even the cut sections set on end, to build the upper wall? Even if they rotted in 4 or 5 years, that would give time for the soil to stabilize and roots/plants to get a grip and form a natural berm.

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Even my growlights are getting restless!
by EricDerek on March 31, 2006 03:03 PM
Re: using the logs

Yes, that is something I have thought of. I will probably cut the slope, and put a few logs against it to see what it looks like. If I like it, then they will stay. If not, I'll move them whenever I get to the front walk. (Weeks or months later.)

As for a grade, I expect I will have something. While dead flat would be nice, I don't think it is realistic. It will still slope down hill, just not as severe.

My biggest problem remains the tree stumps and roots, which I suspect will get in the way on the topside of the slope.

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by rue anemone on April 01, 2006 12:09 AM
Rue says as she climbs up on her soap box: "I think we have spend way too much time, effort, chemicals, gasoline and oil or electricity on trying to grow grass."

There is a cheaper more environmentally friendly way to treat your yard.

I was worried when I moved into this house because there was very little grass and almost all woods. Where were my children going to play?!

Well they played on the paths that meander through the woods, they played on the driveway and we went to the park or down the street a ways to play catch, practice chip shots, etc.

You have a spot that would look beautiful with stumperies planted with ferns, native shrubs, wildflowers and hostas. A few boulders moved in and some paths. OH MY GOODNESS!! It could be beautiful!

Some places require you to obtain permits if you will be changing the way water drains off of your property. They want to make sure you don't cause your neighbors yard to flood.

"LOL!! OK I will keep quiet now," says Rue as she climbs down from her soapbox.

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by EricDerek on April 01, 2006 12:47 AM
Don't be afraid of your soapbox. I don't intend to make the whole thing just a pasture of shortcut golf course grass. Only about 1/2. The rest (more on the perimeter) will have a few gardens, rocks, etc. and be left wild.

I've already done a lot of work to address drainage issues for me and my neighbors. I built up the ground around the house so the land slopes away from it for 8-10 feet. I then built a swale at the end of that slope by cutting a drainage ditch around three sides of the house, filled it with plastic piping and gravel, a layer of landscape fabric and then a few inches of dirt. We've had some pretty torrential rains in the fall (14-18 inches over a three day period) and neither me nor my neighbor had water in our basement.

Thanks for your help.

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by rue anemone on April 01, 2006 01:45 AM
Very good I am so happy to hear about the wild section.

My kids, 2 boys and 1 girl loved watching the wildlife and the whole nature thing. We live in an old neighborhood in what some people call inner city.

We have had all the birds, pileated woodpeckers, racoon, snakes and even a fox. One thing that helps we live next to a golf course and the pro has brought in a great landscaper. They have planted all kinds of native grasses. Our neighborhood garden club is taking over a section and putting in native prairie plants.

We will love to see pictures as you progress!!

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