Edging and Why We Need It

The other day I started on my fall maintenance in Seneca, KS with some long awaited edging work. Cleaning out grass from inside landscape beds is a chore I usually put off until cooler weather. By the time the summer heat of August is finishing, I am normally caught up on weeds and ready to work on projects that I have put off until later. When I talk about cleaning out grass from edging, it is a job I know I would not have if mowers and homeowners edged their beds properly. The word “edging” can refer to the physical barrier between the landscape and the lawn or the act of removing plant material from between the lawn and landscape.

Grass growing over egingcomp
Grass growing over the edging.

For most, picking out edging for their landscape is an afterthought. There are plants, mulch, and color to think about. We recommend edging before most people get to even realize what it does or how it will look. On many landscapes five or more years old, customers begin to realize how much a difference edging makes in landscape maintenance and appearance.

Picking edging can be easier if you know the advantages and disadvantages of each kind. I will detail them and my own opinions on each. The most easily found types are steel, plastic, concrete, brick, cut stone, field stone, aluminum, and natural.

Steel Edgingcomp
Steel edging

Steel edging has been an industry standard for years due to its ease of install, paint-ability, and durability. Thickness can vary between 1/8” and 3/8” and can come in many different lengths and precut curves and angles. It can be installed after an edging machine cuts the soil or simply hammered into the ground. Steel is most often seen in green or red, but can be painted to match a homeowner’s desire. The biggest problem with steel is what happens as the turf next to it grows and develops thatch. The edging may sink via shrink/swell conditions during periods of wet or drought. Grass will creep over the edging if it is not kept back. A good mow crew will use an edger or string trimmer to create a plant free barrier of at least 1” between the grass and the edging, eliminating the need for removing the grass from landscape beds in the future.  Another issue is installation, if the crew is inexperienced, the steel may have a wavy look to it on straight runs.

Maintained Steel Edgingcomp
Maintained steel edging can look very nice.
Old Plastic Edging
Old plastic edging

Plastic edging is most commonly sold at box stores and local hardware stores as a cheap option. Cheap is the word for it. It is easy to install, but getting it to look good can be a chore even for the most determined person. It can be scarred by mower blades and won’t stop grass from growing over it. After only a few years, it will be pushed by large roots and no longer hold its shape.

Concrete Edgingcomp
Concrete edging gives a nice clean look.

Concrete edging has been the go to for large, expensive homes in the past, and is now becoming the choice for homeowners due to its now comparable price. Concrete edging is fast becoming the industry standard. I usually recommend it to my clients if they need a landscape update. It can be matched to the siding and color of the house; made to look like brick or flagstone; or even flattened to mow over with ease. It creates a larger expanse for the grass to try and overcome, and is less likely to be scarred by mowing or trimming. However, if not installed correctly, it may crack as it dries.

Cut Stone Edgingcomp
Cut stone can be used as edging, but grass likes to grow between the stones.

Brick and cut stone can look nice when first installed, but quickly lose their appeal when grass and weeds grow between the cracks. Recycled brick can be used and placed vertically, but still needs regular weeding. Cut stone can also be very pricey, and may be difficult to install.

Field stone is the choice for my yard, but I have large expanses of cottage garden style, and nothing else really looks better than field stone to me. It is the cheapest option, being free on roadsides, ditches, and tilled fields. However, just like cut stone and brick, weeds and grass grow between the cracks, and it can be difficult to edge between the stone and turf.

Aluminum is very similar to steel in price, size, and durability. Its one advantage over steel is the range of colors it comes in. Aluminum is produced in color, instead of painting, making it less labor intensive for the installer. However, it has never really caught on by landscapers, who can get steel quicker and are already used to steel’s staking methods.

Natural Edgingcomp
Natural edging gives a natural feel, but is difficult to maintain.

Natural edging is no edging. A wide path of bare soil, 4” to 12” is allowed between landscapes and turf. It can be maintained by a trimmer, with herbicides, or tilled. It is great for landscapes with high maintenance, where companies are on properties weekly, and can keep it up. The lack of an actual physical barrier may be the most pleasing to the eye, but is also the most labor intensive.

I hope now you can choose the best option for your landscape and keep that grass out!

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