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Economical edging for beds

Q: I have five large planting beds that I would like to edge. Because of the large size of the beds, most edging I’ve seen is cost prohibitive. Do you have any cost-effective ideas?

Linda Fox, Pittsburgh, PA

A Victorian edge is a low-cost design solution that requires only a sharp spade and some elbow grease but results in a natural look that's easy to maintain. A Victorian edge is a low-cost design solution that requires only a sharp spade and some elbow grease but results in a natural look that's easy to maintain. Photo/Illustration: Virginia Small

A: Kate Feely, a landscape designer in Omaha, Nebraska, responds: It seems as though gardeners are on a never-ending quest for the perfect edging material. With so many products and materials available, it is hard to know which one is best. Regardless of the type of edge used, there is no maintenance-free solution. Pesky turfgrass and weeds always seem to find a way to invade an edge, and many edging materials heave out of the ground during freeze-and-thaw cycles. An edge can also create a maintenance problem for mowers when an edge is installed above ground level and doesn’t allow a mower to cut right up to it. And finally, edging may become a focal point and can actually detract from the landscape design.

Wood, in the form of landscape timbers and railroad ties, can effectively define a straight-edged bed but is nearly useless when it comes to curves. And don’t forget that railroad ties contain creosote, which will leach into the soil and contaminate plants. Landscape timbers can be cut in shorter lengths and installed vertically to handle curves. Because most wood rots, you will need pressure-treated landscape timber or wood that doesn’t readily break down.

Although metal edging is a material that is more expensive, it is often the choice of professionals. It can be used in curved beds or bent to 90-degree angles for a linear landscape. Metal lasts nearly forever and will blend into the landscape if installed properly.

Though it is more cost effective than most of its counterparts, plastic edging lacks aesthetic value; it is often noticeable in a landscape and can appear tacky. Plastic often works its way out of the ground during freeze-and-thaw cycles, and it is easily damaged by a mower’s passing blade. Stone, brick, and concrete will last nearly forever, but they are not good alternatives when cost is a factor. And if they are not mortared together, sneaky grass and weeds will find a home between each piece. They can also wreak havoc on mower blades. Your best bet is the natural or Victorian edge, also referred to as a Victorian trench. This is the most cost-effective edge available, requiring only time and elbow grease. To attain this edge, use a sharp spade to make a vertical cut in the turf at the edge of a bed. Remove soil to a depth of 3 to 4 inches, at a 45-degree angle to the freshly cut vertical edge. With a rake, smooth the soil to slope toward the border plants; this creates a beveled cut. Smooth out the remaining soil. If need be, you could rent a bed trencher for a day or hire a local landscaping company to create a trench for you.

To maintain a clean line, the beds should be retrenched in spring or as needed. A Victorian edge will blend into any landscape and is as effective as any product for providing a barrier to grass and weeds and for containing mulch.


From Fine Gardening 115, pp. 22