putting a fine edge on things

pine-edge2OKAY, I WILL ADMIT TO A BIT OF A COMPULSION about edging. It is my contention that even a mediocre garden can look pretty swell with a clean edge on it (or at least you’ll impress people with your mastery of edging in and of itself). With many, many hundreds of linear feet of garden edges to cut between turf and border each year, I ought to know. Want to see how?

edging-gearThe gear is simple: A step-on half-moon edger (the thing I also use for dandelion digging); a short-handled claw or cultivator of some type for peeling back the parts I want to remove, roots and all; and a tip bag or wheelbarrow for collecting and hauling away the debris. Sometimes I eyeball things to plot my course; other times I warm up some lengths of garden hose in the sun first, to make them really flexible, and place them where I think the edge should be, stepping back and adjusting a few times before I use the hose as a guideline for my cuts. In spots like along the stone walkway (above), I just cut right up against the stones, where the turf was overgrowing, no other guidelines needed.

edger-footI simply step on the edger, cut firmly into ground where the new edge is meant to be, then after tiring of that I bend to the task of peeling back the unwanted turf and weeds with the claw. And repeat. One caveat: This edging by essentially expanding the beds works great for many years, since your beds will probably want to get bigger, anyhow, as your gardening confidence grows and so do your plants. Eventually, however, you have to stop letting the beds expand. Rather than cut away excess, you’ll have to re-seed lost or damaged edges with grass seed, as I need to in some scruffy areas along the vegetable garden edge (bottom photo), where there are missing bits in the foreground to be patched. Tip: Sometimes I recycle wedges of turf extracted from another area to patch these divots, like mini-sod-laying. Very satisfying, like doing a jigsaw puzzle. The piled-up mulch near the rhubarb in that same picture was waiting to be spread on all the exposed soil surface, once the new edge was cut and patches sown.


Every other mowing or so, clip the grass at the edges with a grass shears (either the stand-up or hand version). Combined with the occasional repeat with the half-moon edger to yank out errant bits here and there, it should keep things nice all season. I don’t use a weed whip; too noisy and violent for me.

A final tip: If I stayed ahead of plants like perennial geraniums that want to spill out and over the edge, smothering dollops of turf with their encroachment and messing up my lines, it would save a lot of patching later, making the task of edging more of a mere fine-tune here and there. Put that on my list of garden resolutions: Keep plants in bounds. Problem is, they never obey (and I get distracted, too).



  1. margaret says:

    Welcome, Cathy. I have lusted after the professional/institutional steel edging that can be buried in the ground and barely pokes up above, but it is VERY expensive and installing it on curvy hillside beds like mine would be a serious job for experts. Read: I never spent the money, and just kept buying plants instead. :) So edge we must, the old-fashioned way. Glad to “meet” you.

  2. Sarah says:

    Wow, beautiful. Every year, I try a little harder to garden. Unfortunately I have only been gifted with a terrible brown thumb. Hopefully following your blog (I was at the Martha show Wednesday and discovered you there!) will give me some good ideas so that I can have well edged, beautiful beds like you. Wow.

  3. Judy says:

    So why did this catch my eye? Am I compulsive too? I think it is because I’m still trying to “tame” this garden that I inherited two years ago when I moved to this house. My gardening is relegated to weekends these days as I have a 40 hour a week job and two grandchildren. The boys love to garden too, but still not using tools with sharp edges while they are around. So this weekend promised to be “bookended” with a soccer game and a birthday party, but I was determined to edge in some gardening. A trip to the two local island hardware stores didn’t produce the sought after step-on half moon edger, but a trip on the internet did. Can’t wait for it to arrive. Also managed to get to a plant exchange and passed on bags of crocosmia and came home with herbs, Rose of Sharon and a raspberry plant. I garden when I can. Love the blog, keeps me inspired as your writings always have over the years.

  4. Chris says:


    I’ve tried a half moon edger for sidewalk edging but was disappointed. The edging came out far too wide despite my best efforts.

    Any idea how to get a nice, tight, professional looking edge along a sidewalk with one of these half moon edgers?

    Even based on this nice article, I am going to give it another try. But I’m wondering if there is any special trick (e.g. prying straight up on the moon, prying back on the moon, using a smaller hook).

    Thank you.

    1. margaret says:

      Welcome, Chris. As I sit here in the snow with frozen ground and no grass visible, I am trying hard to conjure in my mind’s eye what movement I use alongside my stone walkway compared to along beds where there is no paving material to deal with. (I don’t have sidewalks here on my dirt road, but my long front walk is giant slabs of stone, so not dissimilar.) This is indeed the toughest spot to do, and leaves a wider bare strip than I’d like, but it quickly grows back. I think I angle the blade so that I am cutting less deeply beside the walk, and instead of creating a shallow trench (as the wiggling of the tool toward you and away from you creates before lifting the severed sod) I try to just cut off a shallow strip of the sod, the part that wants to overtake the walkway (often it has no soil attached at all, but has already started to form a mat and creep up and over the walk).

      Does this sound familiar? So hard to describe what I often do solely on instinct.

  5. susan says:

    Need to purchase an edger for my beds – any suggestions on where to purchase (web site, stores) or what to look for when shopping for one. thanks for the help!!

    1. margaret says:

      Welcome, Susan. Yes! Must purchase an edger. I have failed finding additional ones, and keep using my old nasty one year after year. I recommended this one recently, but one person said they didn’t love it…and again, I cannot find one like mine, exactly. But I am always on the lookout at garden centers.

  6. Bill says:

    A good pointed shovel will do the same as the half moon. Drive it in at an angle to the edge of the turf and use the dug-up soil minus the grass to build up other areas for new plantings.

  7. joey says:

    Great tools … and I agree, crisp edges are a must! After 34 years, we’ve edged out about as far as possible in many areas … and my garden keeps growing. Love the bird’s eye view from my upstairs windows!

  8. Paige Orloff says:

    Thank God for this post, which I have emailed to my mother and my husband, aka the garden critics, who were starting to talk about wood, and plastic and all manner of hideous foreign objects along my (admittedly haphazard) beds. I have ordered myself a step-on half-moon edger, and to heck with them both!

  9. Squirrelgardens says:

    I also ordered the half moon edger with handles online. There are hardware store and landscaper suppliers all over scratching their heads and wondering why all those edgers are finally popular. Foreign matter does not belong next to graval paths and plant borders. Thanks again!!!!

  10. Anne P. says:

    Hello, Margaret and all – My first post. This wonderful blog is constantly distracting me from my work, but so happily!

    I speak in favor of my personal weedwacker, a Black & Decker heavy-duty battery-powered one. It doesn’t fling grass or pebbles at me, my shoes don’t get grass covered, it isn’t smelly, I can start it myself by inserting one of two batteries, the spring-loaded cutting head can be swung around to become an edger which digs a nice groove into the edge of the bed either providing my genuine edger guideline or getting me through instead. The charge for each battery lasts just as long as I do, it doesn’t hurt my problematical back, and I don’t have to ask my husband to do it for me! It’s great for keeping an edged bed in check. I am only 65, but my back requires me to definitely pace myself, so I can trim and edge on a reasonable schedule. For first-time or heavy-duty bed-building, I would go the half-moon or squared-off spade route.

    Thanks for the constant inspiration! Anne

    1. margaret says:

      @Anne: You are welcome, and thank you in return for all the positive feedback. I am fascinated by your description of this tool, which I will have to now go look at online at least, if not more. :) Interesting! See you soon again I hope.

  11. Eileen Jones says:

    Seeing your lovely edges validates for me my reluctance to commit to any kind of hard garden border. Limestone, bricks, pavers, and wood all have drawbacks, are expensive if there are many linear feet to edge, and require weed-whacking – something I am reluctant to take up, especially since I have fallen in love with my reel mower that does not use any power except calories. Thank you for showing me that plain edges are beautiful and look more natural than hardscaping.

    1. margaret says:

      Welcome, Eileen. I, too, hate the weed whacker, and on my *very* uneven terrain the bricks etc. would not work. If I did use them (if I had a rectangular, flat bed anywhere) I would insert the brick or stone so that I could mow up and over it…no whacking needed. See you soon again I hope.

  12. dawn says:

    I must admit to long being mystified by the fine art of edging. I’ve carefully read this (as usual) interesting and well-written post with all the replies. So… I use a spade myself, dig into soil at an angle, and then lift up the dirt, kind of like you would with a shovel. It basically appears as if you’re creating trench around the bed. I usually throw the excess dirt sans weeds toward center of bed. The edges look nice, but then if you fill it in again with mulch, it loses that crisp, neat quality. Am i doing it right? Somehow, my edging never looks as good as professionally landscaped beds.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Dawn. I find it hard to get a clean edge without the tool; a square spade may work, but not as well, even. Not sure. I don’t cut at an angle really with this tool; that’s the other difference I can report reading your comment. Not sure what is right or wrong, but I keep in practice and just pray my edging tool doesn’t ever quit.

  13. Brenda says:

    LOVED those crisp edges! I’m now inspired to do some this year.

    I bought an edger this summer, but when using it I realized that it was unsharpened. The edge is very blunt and I believe they’re sold this way so there are no “accidents” at the hardware store. So now I need to sharpen it because it’s arduous to try to force a wide, blunt edge into hardened soil. Perhaps other edge-newbies are experiencing similar difficulties.

    Do you ever need to resharpen your edger?

  14. Mary Lou says:

    I recently purchased a Hound Dog Steppin’ Edger – 32.95 at Amazon.com. It cuts a very clean edge and is quicker to use than a shovel. It’s also easy to edge along curves with it. I think it would work well along a sidewalk, although I haven’t tried it.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Mary Lou. Thanks for the tip. I am married to my basic old-fashioned one, and determined that someday I will have another just like it…so I keep looking. :) See you soon, I hope, and meantime, happy edging.

  15. Brenda Dumont says:

    Margaret, I must tell you that I found a new technique for edging. It is probably more backbreaking than your edger but I think it yields better results. It’s my long bladed scrub shears!! With the ground still semi-moist it’s really “fun.” I’ve edged by the street, driveway and it looks so good! I have one garden area where I took out the icky black edging my husband put in 20 years ago. I even edged that in no time flat. I know my neighbors must think I’m nuts but I’d like to say it’s very “green.” No noise, no fumes, just plain elbow grease. Give it a try and see what you think.

  16. bavaria says:

    Sharpening your shovel or edger makes the work so much easier that you will never go back to cutting with a dull tool again. I keep my square blade spade sharpened with a bench grinder, but a hand file would work just as well.

  17. Niki White says:

    Darn… I sure wish I read this in May, June, July… any of those months. You kept talking about keeping up on edging but I kept getting distracted by 10 million other garden chores and never looked into it. I wondered how you kept up with all the gardens at your place without letting the grass creep into the beds. NOW I GET IT! Sheesh! Better luck next year for me, but at least I can go into the winter months with some nice edging haha. Thanks Margaret!

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