1. By: Jessie Keith

    Chanticleed

    Clean, tidy edges, like those along the beds at Chanticleer Garden in Media, PA, beautifully frame a garden.

    Good edges frame a garden’s picturesque beauty. They define the garden and help clearly characterize its design while providing a barrier to weeds and sometimes raising the bed level. Manual or cut edges are somewhat high maintenance while permanent edges are relatively low maintenance. Knowing the pros and cons to different edge types is important because a good edge will help define a garden while saving time and labor.

    Cut Edges

    cut beds

    A good cut edge will convert an average looking garden into a finished one.

    Manually cut edges are the cheapest to implement but require the most work because they need to be cut yearly or twice-yearly to maintain good looks and effectiveness. Most commonly, edges are hand cut in spring and then maintained with a mechanical edging tool. The type of turf often dictates how often edging is needed; more aggressive, rhizomatous or spreading grasses like Zoysia grass often require more frequent cutting while less aggressive grasses like Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis) require less frequent edging.

    A cut edge is only as good are the smooth, fluid appearance of the cuts and line. A poorly cut bed can make a garden look amateurish and odd while a beautifully cut bed will make a garden look as sharp as any at a manicured botanical garden. Here are some tips for cutting a good edge in springtime:

    1. Establish a bed line with either a hose, rope or landscaper’s marking paint.

    2. Start with a sharp, flat spade and keep the bed line smooth and even with uniform cuts.

    3. Maintain cuts at a 45 degree angle for best appearance.

    4. Clean the finished edge of debris or excess turf and smooth the bed edge by hand.

    5. Apply mulch, Fafard Premium Organic Compost or leave mold as a garden top layer to keep newly cut beds looking their best.

    Any lawn or turf weeds growing into the beds should be trimmed and/or weeded away throughout the growing season to keep edge lines looking crisp. Bed edges should be trimmed whenever it’s time to mow the grass.

    Plastic or Metal Edges?

    Metal edge

    Metal edging delineates this interesting garden at the US Botanic Garden in Washington DC.

    When comparing plastic versus metal edges, always go with a good, high-quality metal product. Plastic wears down more quickly and is lightweight, relatively shallow and often poorly staked; more often than not it pops up after only a couple of seasons. It is also more susceptible to frost heave and trimmer damage.

    Good metal edging products are easily sunk deeply into the soil and have deep stakes for increased permanence. Pro to semi-pro products are available to the average homeowner online or at large home and garden centers. Any heavy-duty metal edging product that’s easy to curve and install, deep (to help manage weeds) and crafted from aluminum or coated galvanized steel is recommended. Don’t worry about paying a little more money. Quality metal edging will last for years and can save hours of labor.

    Stone and Brick Edges

    Edges constructed of stone, concrete or brick are generally applied for their attractive appearance as well as utility. Paving stone or concrete edgers, generally constructed in 12 inches pieces that can be interconnected, are relatively inexpensive and somewhat easy to install but are often installed incorrectly. Two common mistakes are that they are either not set deep enough or they are set too far apart—both mistakes encourage weeds and cause the edge to come apart and/or heave in freezing weather. Another caveat is that edgers constructed in modular sections exceeding 12 inches are best used for beds with linear rather than curved lines.

    Well laid cut brick makes an appealing garden edge and it's inexpensive.

    Well laid brick makes an appealing garden edge, and it’s pretty inexpensive.

    Natural stone or brick also make good and good-looking edging, but both require a good bit of skill for proper installation.  For natural stone, it’s easiest to work with uniformly cut or shaped and sized pieces. It’s wise to set pieces as deep as possible with the tops only one or two inches above the soil’s surface. This will ensure the stones will stay in place. The possible setback is that natural stone can be expensive.

    Brick is comparable to natural stone in function and installation but is less expensive. One appealing way to install it is to lay it at a 45-degree angle to create a jagged edge. This type of bed edge is best applied along the edge of pavement or a sidewalk, and is easiest to install if a brick-sized trench of uniform depth is created for the edge and set with a 2 inch bed of sand or fine gravel at the base.

    Eco Edges

    There are various recycled edging products to choose from on the market. Many are constructed from recycled rubber, plastics or wood. As a rule, eco edging products tend to be relatively inexpensive and are easy to install, but most are not time tested. When trying a newer product it’s always smart to test it out on a smaller garden space, to make sure it’s the right product for your needs. If investing in quality edging for a large-scale tract of garden, choosing a truly long-lasting product made of metal or stone will likely provide a more permanent border.

    No matter what edging product you choose, be sure that your garden soil is always maintained and amended and beds are kept fed and free of weeds. An edge is a frame that’s only as nice as the picture it surrounds.

    brick edge

    Paving stone edges come in all colors, shapes and sizes and always look finished and professional.

    About Jessie Keith


    Plants are the lens Jessie views the world through because they’re all-sustaining. (“They feed, clothe, house and heal us. They produce the air we breathe and even make us smell pretty.”) She’s a garden writer and photographer with degrees in both horticulture and plant biology from Purdue and Michigan State Universities. Her degrees were bolstered by internships at Longwood Gardens and the American Horticultural Society. She has since worked for many horticultural institutions and companies and now manages communications for Sun Gro Horticulture, the parent company of Black Gold. Her joy is sharing all things green and lovely with her two daughters.