Landscape Basics 101 – Edging

The winter months give us the opportunity to slow down a little and evaluate all the occurrences of the hectic spring through fall seasons.  As landscapers, we sometimes forget there may be very basic questions in our clients’ minds concerning why we do things in a certain way—why we choose some materials over others, or why we plant plants in a particular fashion.  So, over the next month or so, we hope to offer some primary information about how we landscape and why we do the things we do.

One of the questions we are asked by clients most often is one that we honestly don’t pay very close attention to, and that is, “What kind of edging should I use to line my landscape beds?”  Quite frankly, we sometimes gloss over this detail because, generally speaking, we don’t really like most edgings of any type.  We find them artificial in appearance and an intrusion on the garden; at best, they are a necessary evil. That having been said, we do realize that in order to maintain a neat and orderly landscape “picture”, edgings are often necessary—especially for the homeowner who doesn’t have time to putter around the garden. The following are the primary types of edging we use on our landscape installations.

A natural or “shovel cut” edge is probably our favorite type of edging.  It is simply a sharply defined cut or trench in the yard that clearly designates the landscape bed, but naturally blends into the overall garden.  It is attractive, easy to maintain or change, and can be dug to any depth: shallow for annual or perennial beds, quite deep for large tree and shrub beds if so desired.  Unfortunately, this option also requires periodic maintenance to keep it looking its best, and is not the best option if you have an aggressive turf like Zoysia or Bermuda grass.

Plastic edging became popular around 25 years ago because it was cheap and relatively easy to install.  That is where its desirable properties end.  Cheap.  It looks artificial, it is easily damaged by lawn mowers or string trimmers, and has a tendency to heave out of the ground, thanks to our Midwestern winters.  We generally discourage using a product that doesn’t last, is unattractive, and wastes natural resources.

For homeowners who like a clean, neat, and low maintenance landscape, steel or aluminum can be a good solution for bed edging.  While it costs more than plastic edging, it lasts much longer, and more importantly, it virtually disappears into the gardenscape.  Metal edging can heave over time and may need to be reset after a few years; steel edging can and will rust, though its very narrow profile prevents this from being an eyesore. (One note of caution: if you have small, bare-footed children, walking on or standing on steel edging can be quite uncomfortable.)

Our final types of edging are perhaps the best and most useful types, but need to be used with caution and restraint.  Brick and stone edging are very long lasting, can be quite attractive in the right situations, and can be effectively used to help control drainage or water issues.  However, the style of house and overall landscape should dictate the possible use of stone or brick.  If the house is of brick or stone construction, then a solid edge of comparable material can be quite pleasing, or if the property contains hills and valleys with stone outcroppings, etc., then stone edging can be very appropriate.  Additionally, if water is being introduced into the landscape, then stone is often a natural choice. However, ranch homes with wood siding often do not make the best backdrop for rows of granite or limestone rocks lining the yard.  Brick and stone tend to be quite expensive, and though installation is usually not complicated, it can be quite labor intensive.

The above are the primary types of edging we install.  These of course are not the only types available on the market; in some instances, especially where water is involved (man- made features or naturally occurring) decorative gravels can be used in “bands” to delineate edges, provide buffers, offer walking surfaces, and blend together stone areas with turf.  Other options include poured concrete borders (think “forever” and I hope I don’t ever change my mind or the plants ever grow too big) and various types of wood edging—none of which work very well in the Midwest.

If you are in doubt about which edging version may be best for you, call one of the Greenleaf professionals and we will help guide you through the decision and even show you examples of what might look best in your landscape.  Happy gardening!

Contributing editor:  Don Archer, Don Archer Designs in partnership with Greenleaf Garden Services