Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
April, 2004
Regional Report

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These lake stones soften the hard edges of a concrete walk.

Edge Those Beds!

It seems I'm forever on my hands and knees trying to pull wayward grass out of mulched tree beds and mint out of the lawn. Or standing on a spade trying to put a new edge on a naturalistic landscape bed. My mulch seems to spread into the grass over the season, and my beds are getting larger and requiring more and more mulch to replenish them. I need edging!

Although we like to think of garden beds as keeping to themselves, tidily contained, nature doesn't see it that way. Where there's room to run, a plant will do precisely that. And even if we are fastidious about maintaining a garden bed, we often don't pay enough attention to the spot where different surfaces come together. Not paying attention means messy edges and encroaching lawn.

There are countless ways to edge beds, and many materials can be incorporated into a landscape without it seeming that we are drawing endless lines in the garden. A defined edge does not mean a formal garden, merely a maintained one.

Trench Edging
The classic edging, or lack of edging shall we say, is a V-shaped trench dug where lawn meets mulch. This does a nice job of edging a bed and works for a while at keeping the two surfaces separate. However, it is labor intensive since it must be redug at least once a year, and if not maintained it will simply disappear.

Hardscape Edging
A more stylistic, as well as permanent, method is to edge with bricks, flat stones, commercial pavers, flagstone, or even wood. Bricks, especially recycled ones that have buttery soft edges, give a sense of permanence to a garden. If properly placed, they look as if they've always been a part of the landscape. Bricks can be installed by slipping them into the soil on end, on their sides, or flat on their faces. Each installation method gives a different look. Flagstone gives a more naturalistic look to the garden, as do flat rocks. Wood also is quite naturalistic looking, but you are limited to straight lines instead of curves.

Installing Bricks and Pavers
Although any of the methods can be used, laying the bricks or pavers on their faces, flush with the surrounding turf, is the most practical when used in a bed-lawn interface. This makes mowing easy since you simply place the wheel of the mower on the edging. Occasional trimming may be necessary with a string trimmer or hedge clippers, but that's all that is needed. The bricks will hold the mulch in place and generally keep the lawn from encroaching.

The most permanent way to do this is to dig out a trench, add an inch of gravel topped with two inches of sand, and then top with the pavers or bricks. Set the lawn side of the pavers at the same level as the soil beneath the grass, and the bed side a bit higher to contain the mulch.

If you choose to set your pavers, bricks, or wood raised above the turf, the area will take a little more maintenance since you will definitely have to trim the grass every time you mow.

With a little attention to installation and matching your garden style, you can have lower-maintenance edges to all your garden beds. Also, be sure to consider using edging materials for style accents, not just practicality.

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