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How to Level Ground for Playset and Swing Sets

How to Level Ground for a Swing Set Or Playset - Easy Tips

Outdoor playsets with monkey bars are every child's dream come true. But before those prized slides and swings provide years of laughter and joy, there's work to be done. And here's a crucial first step that can't be skipped. Leveling the ground beneath the playset is crucial to resist the wear and tear over the years.

Skipping this vital prep can turn playtime into a parent's nightmare if equipment tips or shifts on unleveled earth. We’ve got you covered.

This comprehensive guide explores the complete process for correctly grading your yard and establishing a flat, stable base where playsets can thrive for years. Let’s level up!

Key Takeaways

  • Choose the right backyard location for playsets considering space, sunlight, drainage, and safety.

  • Inspect and prepare the area by removing obstructions and addressing structural issues.

  • Use tools like string lines and levels to identify and fill in high and low spots to create a flat surface.

  • Maintain safe surfacing by raking protective mulch or rubber to the right depth and re-leveling the subsurface over time.

Kidkraft Lookout Extreme Wooden Swing Set Playset

    Choosing the Right Location in Your Yard

    The first step when prepping your yard is selecting the right spot to situate your swing set or playground. There are several factors to consider when choosing an optimal location:

    Consider the Space Needed

    • Refer to the manufacturer's instructions for how much open space is required around the playset for safety. Most recommend at least 6 feet of clearance on all sides.

    • Bigger play structures need more room. Be sure to leave enough space for kids to run around.

    • Account for the area needed to properly anchor equipment into the ground.

    Sunlight and Shade

    • Sunny spots allow kids to enjoy pleasant weather but can get hot in summer. Look for areas with a mix of sun and shade.

    • Shady spots under trees keep play cool on hot days, but avoid too much shade which keeps areas wet.

    Proximity to the House

    • Locate close enough to home for safety and convenience, but not too close to risk damage.

    • Keep away from rooftop driplines and consider noise levels if near windows.

    Drainage and Terrain

    • Choose a relatively flat spot, avoiding uneven ground or slopes greater than 5%.

    • Grade should slope 1-2% away from the house to prevent water pooling.

    • Avoid low-lying areas or dips where water collects after rains.

    Underground Utilities

    • Call 811 before digging to identify any buried pipes, wires, septic tanks, etc., and mark locations.

    • Keep the playset area clear of utilities to allow for proper anchoring.

    Obstructions and Other Safety Issues

    • Check for overhead obstacles like power lines and trees.

    • Look out for large rocks, roots, stumps, sprinklers, or other hazards.

    • Don't place over septic tanks or leach fields.

    After deciding on the optimal spot in your yard, take time to research the best playset options that fit your space and budget. Companies like Backyard Discovery have excellent selections of playsets and swing sets to choose from.

    Check for Structural Issues in That Spot

    Once you've identified a promising spot, thoroughly inspect the area for any pre-existing conditions that need addressing:

    • Remove rocks, roots, stumps, sprinkler heads, or other obstructions.

    • Evaluate drainage and soil compaction. Fill excessively wet or muddy spots.

    • Check for large dips, holes, or uneven grades that must be leveled.

    • If the terrain is severely sloped or uneven, you may need professional help grading the yard.

    • Plan ahead for any retaining walls, grading, or drainage improvements needed to create a flat space.

    Address any underlying structural or soil problems first before attempting to level the surface.

    man using rake to level ground

    Tools You'll Need to Level the Ground

    Leveling and grading a yard requires some manual labor, but the right tools make the job much easier:

    • Shovels and rakes - Choose round-tipped shovels to dig and move soil efficiently.

    • Leveling bar or yard rake - Essential for smoothing and grading large areas. Can also use a long straight 2x4.

    • Stakes and masonry string - Used to check flatness and identify high/low spots.

    • Tape measure - For spacing stakes evenly and measuring depth.

    • Wheelbarrow (or tractor) - Makes moving soil and fills material easily.

    • Rototiller - Useful for breaking up compacted soil if regrading a large area.

    • Landscaping rake - For smoothing soil and removing ridges after tilling.

    • Hand tamper - Compacts loose fill after grading to prevent settling later.

    Don't have the right tools? Consider renting tillers, excavators, or other equipment for large leveling projects.

    Step-by-Step Process to Level the Surface

    Once you have the proper tools, it's time to start leveling the ground where your wooden playground set will be installed.

    1. Remove Sod if Needed

    First, outline the full perimeter of the swing set installation area using spray paint or stakes. Then, cut out and remove any sod that currently exists within the marked area. Carefully cut the sod into manageable sections, roll up each section, and dispose of it or reuse it in another part of your yard. After taking up all the sod, thoroughly inspect the ground and remove any remaining roots, stones, or debris left behind. Rake the soil smooth.

    2. Dig Up High Spots

    To identify any high spots, hammer stakes firmly into the ground around the perimeter every 3-4 feet. Attach masonry string between the stakes, pulling it taut so that it encircles the entire area and defines your desired grade benchmark. Examine the string line carefully and use a round-tipped shovel to dig down any areas of soil that rise above the height of the string line. Removing these high spots will gradually level out the space.

    3. Fill in Low Spots

    Now examine the area for any low spots or dips in the soil that sit lower than your masonry string grade line. Use a shovel to fill in these low areas with high-quality imported topsoil. Add the topsoil in thin layers no more than 6 inches deep at a time, using a hand tamper to thoroughly compact each layer before adding the next. This prevents sinking or settling later. Avoid just lightly topping off low spots with soil. Instead, fully backfill any holes or depressions completely so the soil is built up evenly across the space.

    4. Spread and Rake Topsoil

    With the main regrading done, top-dress the entire space with high-quality topsoil to establish a lush, even base layer. Dump several wheelbarrow loads of topsoil or screening in piles spaced around the site. Then use a sturdy metal rake to spread the soil out, working systematically across the whole area. As you rake, remove any stones, roots, or other debris. Smooth out any lumps, divots, or voids in the soil to create a uniform surface.

    5. Compact and Re-Grade Soil

    Once the topsoil is distributed evenly, go over the area with a hand tamper, applying pressure to compact the loose soil before the final precision grading. Then use a leveling rake or long, straight 2x4 board to fine-tune the grade. Work systematically across the area, filling any remaining divots and raking high spots to create a perfectly flat, level surface. Re-tamp softened areas as needed. The masonry string line should now rest evenly on the ground around the entire perimeter at the correct height.

    6. Final Grading and Compaction

    For the finishing touches, carefully rake over the soil again, removing any ripples, bumps, or unevenness. Roll a weighted lawn roller or use a plate compactor to further compress and stabilize the soil. However, take care not to over-compact the subsoil, as drainage is still needed. The finished grade should be smooth, even, and firm enough for equipment anchoring.

    pair of hands holding a level bar measuring ground flatness

    Verify the Flatness for Proper Installation

    With grading complete, double-check surface flatness before installation:

    • Place stakes around the perimeter again, 3-4 feet apart.

    • Run a masonry string line around the boundary, securing it tightly.

    • Inspect the string line closely for sagging sections or gaps under the line.

    • Fill any remaining dips until the string rests evenly on the surface all around.

    • For smaller playsets, use a 4-6 foot long straight 2x4 with a level.

    • Drag the board along the surface and fill/level any spots where the board teeters or wobbles.

    • Account for natural settling over the first year by crowning center very slightly.

    • The string line or level should rest evenly on the ground around the entire perimeter when done.

    Allow soil to settle overnight before the final flatness check.

    Once the ground is properly graded and leveled, the next important step is choosing and installing appropriate protective surfacing material. Level ground provides a sound base, but a protective surface layer is also crucial for safety. The depth required for the surfacing depends on the type of material used. Here are the recommended depth requirements for common playground surfaces:

    Surface Material Depth Required
    Engineered wood mulch 8-12 inches
    Rubber mulch 9-12 inches
    Sand 9-12 inches
    Pea gravel 9-12 inches
    Rubber tiles Per manufacturer
    Poured rubber 2-4 inches
    Grass Not recommended

    Maintenance Tips for a Level Surface Long-Term

    Perform regular maintenance to keep the playground's subsurface flat and safe:

    • Annually inspect the perimeter for areas that have settled, eroded, or become uneven.

    • Check for protruding anchors, footings, or hardware. Hammer down or cover.

    • Rake and relevel any low spots with added topsoil, tamping down firmly.

    • Control drainage and runoff to prevent soil erosion around the site.

    • Preserve protective surfacing depth by raking and fluffing regularly.

    • Every 2-3 years, dismantle and re-level the entire subsurface to maintain flatness.

    With proper installation preparation and diligent maintenance, your playspace's surface should stay smooth and safe for many years of fun.


    Leveling the yard for a an outdoor swingset takes diligence, but it's a crucial first step. Done right, it creates a safe, stable base for playtime fun. The process demands elbow grease, but using the proper tools eases the workload. And the payoff? Years of joyful play memories.

    With smart planning, structural prep, and proper installation over leveled earth, your swing set or playground will provide endless smiles. So grab those tools, rev up the rototiller, and let’s flatten things out! Smooth terrain means successful playtime ahead. Your kids are counting on it. Let's prep the perfect playground base today - and enjoy the sounds of their laughter for years to come.

    children playing on the Lifetime Adventure Tower With Monkey Bars - 90630


    Do I need to install a playground border when leveling the yard?

    Installing a playground border is not necessary but can be beneficial. The border helps to define the play area and prevents the spreading of mulch or other ground coverings. It also adds a neat and finished look to the playground.

    Is it necessary to put rubber mulch or wood chips under a swing set?

    While it is not necessary, using rubber mulch or wood chips under a swing set adds an extra layer of safety. It cushions falls and reduces the risk of injury. However, if the ground is already level and covered with grass, it may not be required.

    How do I prepare my yard for a playset or swing set installation?

    To prepare your yard for a playset or swing set installation, start by clearing the area of any debris or obstacles. Then, level the ground using appropriate techniques. Ensure that the area is safe, free from hazards, and easily accessible for children.

    Can I use a playset on an uneven yard?

    While it is not recommended, playsets can be installed on slightly uneven yards by making necessary adjustments during installation. However, it is best to level the yard to ensure the playset's stability and prevent any potential accidents or injuries.

    Previous article How to Stain Your Wooden Playset - Tips for Long-Lasting Beauty

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    About The Author

    Andy Wu - Resident Expert

    Andy Wu - Resident Expert

    Andy Wu is the resident backyard products expert and hails from Atlanta, Georgia. His passion for crafting outdoor retreats began in 2003.

    As a fellow homeowner, he founded Backyard Oasis to provide top-quality furnishings and equipment, collaborating with leading manufacturers.

    His main focus is on sheds and generators!

    In his spare time he like to hike the tallest mountains in the world and travel with his family.

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