Many people have sloping gardens with areas that aren’t suitable for anything, not even growing plants. So, with the high price of land in the UK, it makes sense to do something to bring these unused patches of garden back into service. Probably, levelling your garden is one of the best.
The average cost of levelling a garden depends mainly on its steepness. To level an uneven garden without the need to build retaining walls costs up to £60/m2. When including terraced tiers, the price increases to £350/m2 or, including a retaining wall, up to £160/m2. However, these amounts assume an ideal world and will vary depending on “real world” situations within your garden. Therefore, contact a local landscaper or garden designer to get accurate quotes, and use the form on this page.
This guide walks you through the typical prices and the factors that affect them. We discuss why you should level the garden and how it’s done. We also consider the regulations you must comply with, tips when doing the job yourself and how to save money.
Average Garden Levelling Cost Figures*
Prices for levelling a garden vary with ground conditions, slope, water table, and other factors. The following table shows slope steepness compared with approximate costs for levelling only, terracing, and retaining walls.
|Slope Type||Gradient||Levelling Only||With Terracing||With Retaining Wall|
|No Slope (Bumps and Hollows Only)||0%||£10-£40/m2||N/A||N/A|
|Gentle Slope||0%-10%||£40-£60/m2||£120-£150/m2 (1 Tier)||£80-£110/m2|
|Medium Slope||10%-20%||N/A||£150-£220/m2 (1 Tier)||£100-£140/m2|
|Steep Slope||20%-30%||N/A||£250-£350/m2 (2 Tiers)||£120-£160/m2|
*We compiled the values shown in this guide from various resources, which represent average and estimated costs, correct at the time of writing (October 2022). Every garden is different, and the actual prices vary depending on several factors, which we’ll discuss later. For accurate quotes, contact a qualified and experienced landscaper who can provide a quotation based on a site visit, where they’ll assess the garden and your preferences.
7 Garden Levelling Price Factors
Every garden is different, and various factors affect the size and scope of the landscaping. The following are several of the most significant factors affecting the cost of levelling.
According to ESRI UK & Ireland, the average urban garden size varies from 100m2 in Greater London to 181m2 in Leeds. In contrast, rural gardens tend to be much larger. The most popular size for rural three and four-bedroom houses range from 150m2 to 200m2. However, it’s doubtful that this size garden will need levelling across its entire area.
To level a garden, contractors need heavy equipment such as excavators, mechanised barrows, and soil compactors. Usually, the only access to a back garden is by a narrow garden path, which makes accessing the area very difficult. However, even if there’s enough width, gardens often contain rocks, trees, tree stumps, shrubs and other obstacles, which make access difficult, increasing the job’s duration and price.
The gradient or slope of the garden can vary from 0% (level ground) up to a steep slope of 30% or greater. Generally, a garden of around 0% will only require localised levelling of unevenness, while a gentle slope, of up to 10%, only requires soil redistribution. In comparison, medium slopes of 10% to 20% and steep slopes of 20% to 30% will need either a retaining wall or terracing to provide support. But, owing to the limitations of retaining wall heights, steeper slopes usually use terracing.
Backfill into the hollow parts of the garden usually consists of subsoil and topsoil taken from elsewhere. However, infilling deep hollows need drainage materials such as hardcore and ballast before covering them with topsoil and turf. Depending on how much soil is available in your garden for redistribution, you might have to buy hardcore, gravel and topsoil from merchants at extra cost
Retaining Wall Or Terrace
Most levelled gardens need low terraces or retaining walls to prevent the backfilled soil from eroding downhill with the effects of rain and flooding. These structures can be easily assembled using railway sleepers. However, higher retaining walls of more than 60cm need concreted foundations and masonry walls to prevent movement caused by the weight of the retained soil. Generally, a terrace is a series of low retaining walls arranged as steps, with each tier being a small garden in its own right. Excavating foundation trenches, pouring concrete and building masonry walls increase the cost. Additionally, a structural engineer should design walls higher than 60cm-90cm to prevent collapse. Typically, retaining walls or terraces cost £50-£100/m using stone or £50-£70/m using brick and constructing raised planters as terracing costs £50-£180 each.
Steps & Ramps
Steep slopes need steps for access, whereas lower gradients can use ramps or sloping pathways. Typically, steps will be concrete or tanalised timber built into the slope. In contrast, a path on a gentle slope only requires hard-packed soil or stepping stones. On average, steps on steep gradients cost £300-£1,200. In comparison, sloped pavers cost £50-£120/m.
Patios Or Decking
A beautifully landscaped garden needs a patio or deck to provide an entertaining area. A typical patio costs £80-£150/m2. Alternatively, a standard deck costs £80-£200/m2.
Other Additional Costs
There are several additional costs to consider when levelling your garden.
Artificial turf is a way to have a lawn without the hassle of watering, feeding and mowing. So, if you’re levelling your garden, consider using artificial grass rather than the real thing. Typically, artificial turf costs from £30-£60/m2.
Sometimes, upgrading and levelling a garden requires the removal of old, dead trees and their stumps, involving manpower, stump pullers and excavators. Typically, removing stumps or shrubs costs £50-£500.
Many people level their gardens to make them easier to maintain and work in as they get older and less mobile. So, it makes sense to raise the flowerbeds simultaneously as part of the overall design. Raised planters allow the householder to tend their flowers and vegetables without bending or kneeling, which many seniors can’t manage. As a bonus, you can use raised planters as walls, dividers and boundary markers. Typically, raised planters cost £50-£150 each, depending on the size and construction material.
Levelling a garden produces large volumes of waste material, including unwanted vegetation, tree roots and subsoil. Therefore, you need a waste skip. How much you pay for a skip depends on its size, length of hire and whether the load is mixed material. Generally, mini skips start at around £100/week, medium skips cost £200/week, and large skips cost £350/week. Furthermore, if you intend to park the skip anywhere except private land, you must pay for a local authority permit and provide lights during hours of darkness. However, as all these prices vary depending on the location and other factors, your local skip hire company can advise you on the best size for your skips and organise the permit and lighting.
Unfortunately, garden levelling work, and landscaping in general, are often affected by bad weather, which significantly slows the job, driving costs up.
Labour costs vary with your location and time of year. Landscapers tend to have loads of work in the spring and summer, so you can often gain substantial savings if you hire them during the autumn and winter. However, you must realise that this time of year is plagued with bad weather. So, if you’re in a hurry, avoid these seasons. Generally, labour for this type of work is £100-£200/day/person, varying with the amount of work and the project size.
Where you live in the UK affects the price of labour. Areas such as London and Southeast England have higher labour rates because of the higher cost of living. Typically, work in these areas costs up to 15% more than in other regions.
Why Level Out Your Garden?
Unless you live in a modern housing estate with landscaped gardens, there’s a good chance yours will be sloped. Common sense tells us that it makes sense to level our gardens, as we’ll find out in the remainder of this section.
Unlock Valuable Space
Land is expensive, and you can’t afford to have parts of your property remaining idle. So, levelling your garden provides extra room for playing with the children, entertaining on a patio with a bar-b-que, and even gardening is easier. In fact, most plants don’t grow well on slopes anyway.
Generally, sloped gardens are dangerous and difficult to use. They often end up as muddy slopes, too slippery to walk on, and difficult to mow.
Wet and icy weather causes a sloped garden to become an accident waiting to happen. The ground turns into mud and then freezes into a slippery slope.
Gardens, without adequate drainage, that slope towards the house cause problems for the foundations. The ground around the structure becomes waterlogged, eventually seeping into the house’s foundations and floors.
Continual rain onto an inclined lawn eventually washes the soil downhill, producing bare patches at the top of the slope and boggy areas at the bottom. Furthermore, rain falling onto sloped soil washes away the nutrients, resulting in a poor-quality lawn. Level gardens avoid this.
No one wants an unusable, steeply inclined garden. Therefore, investing in a level garden increases your property’s value by 7%-20% and attracts more buyers making your home easier to sell.
How Is A Sloping Garden Levelled?
First, we must distinguish whether we’re levelling an uneven lawn or levelling steep inclines, as we handle them differently.
Levelling An Uneven Garden
Levelling an uneven garden is comparatively simple. First, find the highest bump, remove the soil and use it to fill in the deepest hollows. Gradually fill the hollows with soil and turf until all the irregularities disappear. You won’t need retaining walls or terraced tiers, as the slope is negligible. This method is relatively easy and suitable for a DIY project if you have a small garden. However, hiring a professional with earth-moving equipment might be better if it’s a large area.
Levelling A Sloped Garden
Levelling a sloped garden is more drastic than working with an uneven lawn. It’s easier to add soil than to remove it, especially if you have buried services. Therefore, add soil to the lower parts rather than removing it from higher points unless you want to lower the height of the garden overall.
Suppose the slope is between 10% and 20%. In that case, use a retaining wall or terracing, depending on the incline’s length. For gradients steeper than 25%, it’s best to use terracing with more than two tiers and provide access using steps.
Use timber restraints such as railway sleepers to build tiers if the slope is shallow. For safety, don’t build tiers higher than 60cm, as the weight of the retained soil will cause them to collapse.
How To Do It
The easiest non-technical way to do this involves placing two stakes of equal height in the ground, one at the top and one at the bottom of the slope. Then, stretch a string between the two stakes tying the string at ground level at the higher stake. Adjust its position on the lower stake until it’s horizontal (use a spirit level). The triangle shows how much of the slope you must fill. Alternatively, use a modern laser level to measure heights and slopes.
If the slope falls more than 60cm over the string’s run, hire a structural engineer to design the retaining walls or terracing tiers. Otherwise, there’s a real danger of the wall collapsing under the soil’s weight.
Fill in the hollow using a mixture of hardcore, subsoil and topsoil, compacting the infill at several depths, ensuring a free-draining surface. As you fill the hollow, build the retaining wall or terraces to prevent the retained soil from moving. As you make the wall, include weep holes in the design to avoid trapped rainwater from adding to the forces held back by the wall. Remember to build the garden’s surface with a slight slope to assist drainage, as a perfectly horizontal surface won’t allow rainwater to disperse. Typically, create a fall of 2cm for a span of 1m sloping away from your house. Finally, turf the top to prevent soil erosion.
How Long Does The Job Take?
The time taken to level a garden depends on the soil volume moved and the time taken for the soil to compact. As a rule of thumb, allow the soil to settle for at least 48 hours, but preferably several weeks. Alternatively, use a plate compactor after adding 60cm deep soil layers, repeated after each layer. Don’t forget to water the ground, which helps infill the cavities in the soil.
Settling time aside, the time taken to level everything depends on how many people are available, how steep the slope is and how much volume you have to fill in.
Even levelling a small garden isn’t a quick job, and you should allow at least 14 days for the smallest garden, not including waiting time for compaction. Although, as we’ve already mentioned, you can speed this up by using a plate compactor.
Must I Comply With Regulations?
There are several regulations to comply with when levelling your garden.
Generally, most gardening projects won’t need planning permission. However, sometimes, you must apply for permission. Planning permission depends on your local authority’s plans for the area. And it’s their job to look after your neighbours’ interests by monitoring how your project changes the area’s appearance. If in doubt, contact your council’s planning department for advice.
Major Changes In Elevation
Whether you need permission depends on the retaining wall’s height and the complexity of the design. If you’re significantly changing the garden’s elevation or slope, it’s sensible to check with the local authority beforehand.
Adding garden sheds to your newly levelled garden is covered under permitted development rights, so planning permission isn’t necessary. However, the shed must have an internal floor area of less than 30m2 or use less than 50% of the garden. Furthermore, it must be behind your house’s front elevation and not a self-contained accommodation.
All paved areas, larger than 5m2, must allow rainwater to drain naturally without overloading the drainage systems. The Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS) regulations manage the causes and effects of urban surface water runoff, and you must have planning permission for this size of paving.
Many homeowners build decking on their new levelled garden, which generally comes under permitted development rights as long as you comply with their requirements.
Before beginning the excavation, check with your local utility companies to ensure there aren’t any buried electrical cables, gas supplies, water or drainage pipes. If there are, check for planning permission from the local authority and permission from the utility company.
UK Building Regulations
Approved Document M of the UK Building Regulations states that outside work must not make access to and from the house more difficult than previously. You must provide additional entrance methods such as pathways or access ramps if it does.
Party Wall Act
When levelling your garden, ensure that you don’t affect your property’s boundary or the outside walls and foundations of your neighbour’s house. The Party Wall Act 1996 covers these situations. So, look on the UK government’s website for more information.
Garden Levelling Job Tips & Saving Money
What are weep holes?
Weep holes are small holes or slots in the brickwork, stone or concrete that allow excess water to drain from the retained soil behind the wall. If the water can’t drain, its additional weight causes considerable pressure on the wall, causing collapse. A structural or civil engineer should calculate the size and number of weep holes depending on the soil type, wall height and average rainfall.
What material can I use for the retaining wall?
The options available are
- Brick can match your property and create an attractive finish. However, they are the most expensive option.
- Natural stone looks good in the garden and blends into the planting. Stone is also expensive.
- Concrete blocks are cheaper to buy and lay than the other types. However, they don’t look pretty and need disguising to look attractive. Some blocks are hollow; you can fill them with soil and incorporate plants into the design.
- Wood – Reclaimed railway sleepers are the only wood that’s strong enough to withstand the soil’s weight. Don’t be tempted to use any other type.
- Gabions are wire cubic nets filled with stone. You often see these supporting slopes on the side of major roads and motorways. Their design allows plants and vegetation to root in the stones’ cavities. They’re great for building terraces.
The slope in my garden is very steep, what can I do?
If your garden is steep, a retaining wall will be too high and unsafe when it has to cope with the weight of retained soil. Instead, design the garden into steps or terraces. To make them attractive, you can give each terrace tier a different theme and plant it accordingly.
How high should retaining walls be
A structural engineer must design a retaining wall to prevent collapse under the weight of the retained soil. Like any other wall, it needs a level concrete foundation stretching its length to avoid collapse and subsidence.
Generally, a wall 60cm high needs a concrete foundation to be at least 20cm deep. If you want a higher wall, hire a qualified structural engineer who considers the ground conditions, wall dimensions, water table, average rainfall and many other factors in their design.
What machinery is used to level a garden?
The most popular machine used in garden levelling is a mechanical excavator or mini-digger. It has caterpillar tracks that grip in muddy conditions and an arm with a bucket to lift and move soil. It’s much better than shifting dirt by hand and saves many hours of manual labour. Typically, the amount saved by not using manual labour pays many times the cost of hiring this machine. The only requirement is that there’s enough room to operate the excavator.
If you want to save money when levelling a garden, hire a professional who knows what they’re doing. Ask the landscaper which trade and professional associations they belong to. Good associations to look out for include:
- Society of Garden Designers
- Association of Professional Landscapers
- National Association of Landscape Professionals
- British Association of Landscape Industries
One of the best ways to save money when levelling your garden is for you to do as much unskilled work as possible, thereby preventing the professional from wasting time. For example, if your garden’s overgrown and needs shrubs removed, do this beforehand. Similarly, if you have an existing patio that’s in the way, try to remove as much as possible before the levelling starts.
How can I level my garden cheaply?
The cheapest way to level a garden is to provide a low retaining wall or terracing using reclaimed railway sleepers. Cut some to length and concrete them about 60cm into the ground. Then, using galvanised coach bolts, fix horizontal sleepers onto the uprights. This job is simple enough for anyone with basic DIY skills. Not only do they look good, but they also provide a strong and sturdy barrier when you start to move the soil.
Can I level my garden myself?
If you have a small garden with a shallow incline and plenty of spare time, it’s simple to level it yourself. Furthermore, this guide has plenty of hints and tips to help you along the way. However, suppose you have a steep or large garden. In that case, it’s probably better to hire a professional landscaper to do the levelling and a structural engineer to design the retaining wall.
Can you put soil on top of grass to level it?
You can put soil on top of grass to help level the lawn. Probably it’s one of the easiest ways to level bumps and hollows in an uneven lawn, allowing the grass to grow through. Adding topsoil onto a lawn is known as topdressing, specifically used to remove hollows and unevenness. However, if your garden has a steep incline, don’t expect the grass to grow through. Because if there’s any more than a few centimetres of soil, the turf will be buried for keeps.
With land being so expensive, it makes sense to use every square metre of your land. Therefore, hire a garden designer or landscaper to level your garden so you can use every bit. But, how do you find a suitably qualified professional?
Complete the form on this page and get garden levelling quotes from up to four professional landscaping companies. Then select the best option to suit your circumstances.