Building Berms in the Backyard Landscape Design

Why not try creating berms in your next landscape design? Great for low-lying areas in backyards or wet, swampy areas, which never seem to dry out. What’s a ‘berm’? A berm is a formed earth mound. Sometimes called a knoll, these hilly mounds can be planted with groundcover, shrubs , spreading evergreens, annuals, perennials or sod.

Creating the Berm

I love a rolling, hilly landscape and on the prairies…well it’s flat. Ergo, we decided to bring in truck loads of clean fill (dirt) and wheelbarrow most of it to the backyard in anticipation of creating our own hilly, bermed landscape although it can make your lawn care a bit more challenging.

And, besides enjoying a hilly landscape, certain portions of our backyard were low lying and always filling up with rain water so this made perfect sense.

Fill Dirt

Clean fill can be purchased through local gardening supply stores, garden centers or from ads placed in local newspapers. Many advertisements are for ‘free fill’ so check around. Just make sure that it is ‘clean’ meaning that the fill does not contain large stones, bricks, tar shingles or other garbage.
We had already hauled 7 piles of clean fill to the backyard to start the berming process. Well, not me personally but my husband and his helpers did the heavy hauling.

Raking the Berm

We moved, raked and rolled the fill into place, added a layer of 5-way mix soil and then laid the fresh sod.
I filled in the spaces between the sod pieces with soil and we rolled the sod. Unless landscape-berm-in-chicago-yardit rains, watering every day is most important.
We wanted a center path in between the 2 side berms, so it was important to rake smooth (as best you can) the pathway area.

Outling the Area

Using the same orange contractor spray paint, (visit my Garden Design page for information on the paint) outline your berming area. You can skip this step, but we found it helpful for our ‘helpers’ to see the outline and know where exactly to dump the wheelbarrows of fill.
Begin to dump the fill on the entire outline perimeter. Once the perimeter of the outline is covered with the fill you begin the next section working your way inwards of the outline perimeter.

Careful Considerations

Caution: As you dump the fill, leave yourself an open middle path section. This allows you to maneuver the wheelbarrow. The open middle section is the last to be filled in unless you want to create a path (like we did) with a berm on either side of the path. We created this path to give access to the back portion of our property and to my garden house. Pathways can be created using many different elements: stone blocks, concrete, paving stones, colored gravel, limestone or wood chips, Unless your garden is formal, I like using a small colored bark chips or a colored gravel (very economical).

Wood Chips

Wood chips come in various colors and sizes and dry very quickly after a rain. Should seeds/weeds sprout within the bark, simply rake the chips and the sprouts pull out quick and easy…and no, it doesn’t fly with the wind. Just remember to first lay down either sheets (several sheet thick) of newspaper or landscape fabric. Crushed red stone is another option. It does not track dust but it is more expensive than bark. Once the fill is in place, cover with a layer of 5 way soil mix and roll with a sod water roller.
This next step is purely optional, however applying the MYKE growth supplement prior to laying the sod makes a remarkable difference to the health of the lawn. Use a spreader to disperse the MYKE granules onto the soil (criss-cross pattern). This way the granules can make contact with the sod roots. Thereafter, it is recommended to use MYKE once a season, spring or fall.

Laying the Sod

Next lay down fresh cut sod pieces. It is very important for the sod to be fresh (no yellowing). Many garden centers receive their sod once a week from sod farms. If you are berming a large area, see if you can purchase direct from a local sod farm. Lay the sod tight together in an off-set pattern. Fill in any spaces between the sod pieces with additional soil. Work into the cracks with hand or trowel. This helps seam the pieces together. Roll the sod with the sod water roller.


Water the new sod every day until established (rooted)…about a week or so depending on the sod quality and the outdoor temperature/rain. In my zone 5b, sod can be laid well into October. It seems like a lot of work, but well worth the effort.
There is a side plug and all you need is a garden hose to fill the container. This roller becomes VERY heavy so be prepared to use your muscles. Rolling the sod is an important step and not to be missed. The sod needs to be flattened evenly or you will get lumps and bumps instead of a smooth flat lawn. Rolling also helps the sod make contact with the 5 way soil mix.

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