Backyard Landscaping and Excavation

Landscaping a Two Tier Backyard into a Single Large Area

By Mark J. Donovan

I recently decided to do some backyard landscaping that involved a great deal of excavating. More specifically, I decided to level out my backyard by shuffling around some large granite boulders and trucking in 120 yards of clean fill and 50 yards of loam.

Originally my backyard consisted of two major levels. Unfortunately it divided my backyard evenly into two relatively useless areas. Both had lawn, however if you were not careful in paying attention where you walked, you could find yourself almost falling off of a cliff. This two tier backyard situation also created a danger when using the riding lawnmower. If not careful, you could easily cause the riding lawnmower to roll and flip if it was driven too near the transition area.

So I decided to pursue landscaping and excavation contractor quotes for filling in the lower level of my backyard to create one gently sweeping landscaped area. I contacted three contractors. One contractor was a pure landscaping contractor.

Landscaping backyard with a backhoe.


Needless to say his quote was extremely high, but I have to admit he was promising a lot. The second contractor I brought in was a large excavating contractor, who did a lot of municipal projects. Unfortunately he wound up not bidding on the project due to the fact that his equipment was too big to get around the side of my home.

Bringing in some sand for drainage. And more sand!


The third contractor was the charm. This contractor was a residential excavation contractor whose work mainly focused on leach field and foundation installations.

He also had the right size equipment, a 10 yard dump truck and a Kubota compact excavator, that allowed him to get into tight areas and still do the heavy work. In addition, because he was more focused on trucking in the fill and loam, compacting it, and coarsely spreading out the loam, his quote was much more reasonable.

Straw has been placed over newly sodded area. Now the yard is ready for some grass growing!


In addition, his compact excavator was also large enough to bury the large boulders (1-2 cubic yards each) in the side of the hill, prior to bringing in the fill.

Yes, I did have to rake the loam, plant the grass seed, and lay down the straw, but it only took one afternoon and I saved a bundled compared to the landscape contractor quote. In addition, I felt like the excavation contractor better understood what I was looking to do, and had the proper tools and materials. For example, the lower area had the tendency to be spongy.

As a result, he used clean fill that consisted heavily of sand to allow for proper drainage in this low area. He then applied 4-5 inches of loam on top of the fill to complete the project.

Today the backyard is immensely improved. The backyard gently meanders down to a brook and the new grass is beginning to poke up through the straw. In a couple of more weeks I should be able to remove the straw to expose the new and expansive backyard lawn.

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