A Mountain From A Molehill

It all started with a mushroom. It’s crazy how quick those pop up, literally overnight. I’d pluck one, another would pop up. Pluck that one, a new patch would be there the next day. With dogs that will eat absolutely anything (they graze the grass like cows, seriously) I wanted to figure out how to prevent them from appearing in the first place. It turns out mushrooms tend to grow on decaying matter, like tree roots. So rather than plucking the next mushroom I saw, I dug it out. Sure enough it was growing from a clump of bark. The next time, it was a root. So,  I pulled up the root. And another one.

Eventually my digging led to a bunch of dips in the yard that looked like arteries trailing from the center. This created a tripping hazard for the dogs and made mowing a pain. Add that to the poor grading in the yard which slopes up from the neighbor’s yard and then back to the house, 90% crabgrass, and a dead lawn… we thought, hey why not regrade the yard?

Good looking yard! Poor neighbors had quite the view. I had a really hard time photographing the slope problem, these lines highlight it a bit.

Quotes were several thousand dollars and included needing to take down the fence panels. The panels we were so proud to have installed ourselves. #YeaNo. We’ll DIY anything, let’s do this!

WARNING – I do not recommend this project as a DIY. I repeat, I do not recommend attempting this yourself.

First thing we did was rent a rototiller to loosen the soil for easy(-ier) removal.

*Warning – if you ignore the DIY warning and instead attempt to do this yourself, learn from our mistake and use a sod cutter first, which will remove the top layer and weeds. Without removing the top layer with a sod cutter first, we essentially dug up all of the crabgrass and reseeded them everywhere. If you are planning on applying at least 4″ of topsoil, then that’s ok because the weeds shouldn’t be able to survive through that. We only used 1″. /endwarning

On to how we did it!

Jon rototilled the yard (like a champ) to loosen the soil
Jon rototilled the yard (like a champ) to loosen the soil

We actually ended up renting this twice because it took two days to remove enough dirt so the ground level would be below our basement windows.

We posted to Craigslist and paid $150 for the dirt removal which ended up being 1/3 more than this

After removing the excess dirt, you’ll need to level the ground. I also built a ‘plow’ from 2x4s and dragged that around the yard. It was pretty neat to see how it grabbed the dirt from the high points and filled in the low.

A video posted by @kelmn07 on

We (my mom) also took care of the gnarly lilac bushes we had in the left corner. They didn’t bloom well, were really unsightly, and the dogs were constantly digging around them. They have started to regrow there – any tips for permanent lilac removal anyone?

The plow really only works as a finishing detail. I was coming home every night, ‘leveling’ for like an hour, and barely making a dent. A night of feeling utterly defeat ended with a phone call to my brother. He didn’t totally understand what we were attempting to do or if all the effort was worth it. I was trying to get it perfectly level. “I think you might be making a mountain from a molehill”, and he was right. We’re not professionals and it didn’t need to be perfect. He stopped by to show my how to rake which made collecting the excess much easier.

Mid raking – look at that – almost level! You can really see the difference between this picture and the one above.

Once it was sloped to our satisfaction (aka-we weren’t going to spend another minute on correcting it), it rained. A lot. Like 3 days straight. Which compacted all of the nice, loose, soft soil. Attempting to seed on top of that would have been a waste, it was way too compact for any seedling roots to establish. We needed to rent a tiller. Again. Ugh!

We held off on the tilling until we received our topsoil. Yes, if you can believe it, we removed a bunch of soil, just to BUY some new soil. We wanted a nice, organic nutrient dense topsoil that was 50/50 compost to provide the grass a solid foundation to grow on.

After tilling in the fresh topsoil
Mid-progress shot of tilling in the fresh topsoil
Don’t mind the trash barrels 🙂 that was our barrier for the delivery. You can see behind some additional dirt we removed from the yard after raking. Also note the difference in color between the composted topsoil and the soil from our yard (behind the barrels).

TIME TO HYDROSEED. Finally, we were ready for the hydroseed. Hydroseed is pretty cheap if you have enough square footage to justify it, and the quick germination rate is worth the extra money and time saved over traditional seeding. The larger the space, the cheaper the cost. We paid $400 for a 2,000 sq ft minimum. We probably had about 1,700 sq ft so we overpaid slightly, and we filled in other areas of the yard that were light.

The day of the hydroseed application
7 days after hydroseed application

After hydroseeding the most important step is maintenance. Watering 3x a day for 10 minutes (though we’ve been doing 15 minutes 2x a day), applying fertilizer, routine grass cutting, and eventually filling in any light spots with seed. We just finished our first fertilizer treatment.

2 weeks after hydroseed application

We’re very happy with the progress of the yard. It’s a little light in some spots but we’re hoping the fertilizer treatments help. One thing I’m pretty surprised about is the amount of weeds we have now, I’d almost argue we have more weeds than we did before, and a larger variety which I’m not too happy about.

So. Much. Crabgrass.

At first I thought maybe the hydroseed wasn’t great, but after the topsoil sat in our driveway several weeks it was clear that was the culprit. Overall, I’m not too worried. The yard was previously 90% crabgrass that had a very well established root system. As long as we continue to nurture and properly maintain the grass, the weeds will have a harder time growing and starting next year’s season with a pre-emergent should wipe a lot of them out.

Before and after of the back yard, looking good!
Before and after of the front yard, where we had a spruce tree cut down.


Again – I really wouldn’t recommend this project as a DIY. We started the weekend of Mother’s day and finished June 14th-it took a lot longer than I had originally anticipated. Several 16 hour weekends and countless nights after work. BUT, we made a lot of mistakes, and if you avoid those, you might have an easier time with it. If you know how to work a Bobcat and have access to one, and start to complete by end of May, it might be easier for you but everything we did, aside from the tilling, was manual.

We can’t wait to see how it shapes up by the end of the summer!

1 comment

    Fabulous job Kelly and Jon! The before and after pic are amazing!

    A. Dianne | 3 years ago Reply

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