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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.

slice

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).

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  1. Once you get past the task of doing the actual edging, maintenance is made easier. Weeding is a breeze in a well-edged garden, and you can easily take stock of what’s planted because it’s all so readily visible.

    I remember my grandfather using that trusted garden-hose trick for his edging!

    And thank you for not advocating the weed-whacker. There is something wreckless about those things. Things not meant to be whacked very frequently are!

    -Andrew

  2. GardenGuyKenn says:

    A gardener after my own heart. Crisp edges are a must! I use the same method… there are no two greater tools in the garden shed!

  3. Nancy Bond says:

    Edging makes garden beds look better than just about anything else you can do to them…plus, it makes it easier to maintain and mow near them. Nice job!

  4. Sherrie says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed the photos from todays blog. I have long been a fan of edging. I think it is similar to a well framed piece of art, it finishes off the masterpiece nicely with out drawing attention away from it.

  5. I don’t have a half moon edger, so I use a spade. I hit rocks all the time. It makes my joints hurt after awhile. You drive the spade down with your leg and all of a sudden your knee is jarred to a full stop by a rock. Do you ever hit rocks?

  6. Rick says:

    Edging flowerbeds where you have warm season invasive turf grass is always interesting. I have edged beds at work (working as a grounds/landscaping supervisor) one week, and needing to do it again the next. But when the soil is freshly turned up, the turf clipped and manicured, it makes the landscape look like a million bucks.

    Kathy-
    You need to come to Southwest Missouri and my backyard. “Do you ever hit rocks?” you ask! There is never a time I don’t hit rocks!

  7. teaorwine says:

    Fabulous entry, here. My oakleaf hydrangeas are spilling over and I simply cannot edge further out (sprinkler head). My husband suggests trimming some back of the blooms! I cannnot bear to do so,they are so luscious this year, though I may have to in the end. Perhaps a vase of the creamy panicles in the house is ahead for me.

  8. Elaine says:

    I must confess that my husband does all that in our yard and I just tell him how beautiful it is! I love a finely edged yard.

  9. Ken Smith says:

    Your first photo shows the effect of a clean edge lined w/dirt on the left and on the right a linear edge showing purely vegetative cover. Strangely, I prefer to see a garden photo w/the veggie edge, no dirt. Then when I walk about the garden my prefence is a nicely trimmed edge with the contrast of dark earth. Go figure.

  10. James Novara says:

    What a great article.

    While my better half is the true green thumb in the house, I am a champion of the detail work so this topic is where I have an edge. (Ba-Dum-Bump)

    But seriously, in my opinion nothing makes a garden look more “cared for” than nice clean edges. I’m a big fan of them.

    I could not agree more about not using a weed whacker to do your edges. Gardening is supposed to be relaxing and fun. Little nicks on your legs and arms from high speed dirt and pebbles hitting you (not to mention the noise) just doesn’t spell relaxation or fun to me.

    By the way Margaret, your site has gone from fantastic to “Wow!” in no time flat. Keep up the great work.

    -James

  11. margaret says:

    Welcome, James, and how much do I owe you for saying the nice things I bribed you to say?
    I am glad that we agree on edging, weed-whackers (and your better half).
    I migrated to a groovy new server in TX over the weekend and coulda’ used your help, but you were probably out gardening. ;-)

  12. Libby says:

    Yes! Those weed whackers are just awful. We tried one last year: I was always afraid it would either turn around and whack me, or do the same to all my plants. Now I am back to the old fashioned, bend-over kind of shears: much, much better!

  13. dennis r says:

    margaret,
    what do you do to keep the edges so neat & well defined all the time? how often do you go back & re-edge?
    dennis r
    zone 5
    hudson valley

  14. margaret says:

    @Dennis: Clipping with grass shears every couple of weeks (every other mowing); re-edge (a little here and there) with half-moon edger May, July, September probably.

  15. joyce says:

    Edging does make all the difference in a garden’s appearance. I have the half-moon thingie and yes, the beds get bigger every season. I like to fill in the trench with packed mulch to discourage the lawn from encroaching.
    One of the most charming looks (to my eye) is a shrub like hydrangea spilling over a neatly edged bed onto the lawn.(or masses of pink soapwort) So I employ large rocks to hold them back while my husband cuts the grass, and then I let them sprawl. Joy!

  16. Cathy says:

    My husband and I just returned from a drive around several neighborhoods to see what kind of edging would best suit our garden. I have recently spent many hours digging out a ‘snow on the mountain’ ( or goutweed ) bed that has been in our garden for about 30 years!
    Needless to say this was an ordeal. Now we need to plan a new bed and that includes a border. We priced concrete edging but the company was asking far too much. Coming across this site has confirmed our decision to go ‘natural’. Thank you for the step by step directions and for the support of those who have already commented.

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