On the Edge

Appearances are everything in today's highly visual society. Keeping up appearances when laying the groundwork for aesthetically-pleasing landscape designs means paying attention to details, both seen and unseen. The purpose of landscape edging is to separate the different elements of a landscape from each other: turf from flowerbeds, groundcover from mulch, aggregate from lawn. It also holds loose materials such as gravel, mulch and soil in the specified areas, keeping them in place to maintain the integrity of the landscape design safely, cleanly, neatly and as originally defined. However, landscape edging should not be confused with retaining walls or other large separating borders. It is designed to blend into the landscape and provides a fine line that divides one section from another without standing out in any way.

There are many types of landscape edgings and borders specified for landscape designs. Polyethylene/vinyl, metal, wood, stone, brick and concrete curbing are among the choices available for landscape edging. Natural edging, also known as trenching or old-fashioned spading, is another option. Primary points to consider when choosing landscape edging are aesthetics, ease of installation and maintenance, compatibility with the landscape design and long-term durability.


“Landscape edging should serve its purpose, yet not be seen,” says Andy Vande Hey, president of Vande Hey Company, Appleton, Wis., who specifies landscape edging that blends into the landscape for his company's clients. “An edging that rises above the ground surface is, in effect, a border and can detract from the overall look and aesthetics of the landscape design. Landscape edging achieves the look of a harmonious, cohesive whole while functioning as a virtually invisible barrier between the various elements of the design.”

Vande Hey, who has more than two decades of green industry experience working in a northern climate, prefers poly/vinyl landscape edging that holds up (in effect, stays down) against frost heave in northern climates. “Poly/vinyl holds up remarkably well in a frost environment and installation is much easier than with a spaded edge, which is labor intensive and can be costly to maintain over time,” Vande Hey says. Poly/vinyl works well for straight edges and bends easily for curved designs. It has no sharp edges, so the edging is safe to handle during installation. Vande Hey advises to “realize that not all poly/vinyl landscape edgings are created equal.” Choose a reputable manufacturer and install edging per the manufacturer's instructions, which will result in a landscape design that retains its eye appeal and is easy to maintain for many years. Vande Hey also recommends choosing landscape edging that must be staked into the ground. If it is not a requirement to stake the edging you're working with, it is not going to stay in place for long.


Metal landscape edging made of steel or aluminum, while more expensive, is also very popular among landscape professionals for its durability, ability to hold landscape lines in place and resistance to rot. Aluminum is lighter in weight and easier to work with than steel, which has a tendency to rust. However, metal edging has sharp edges and does pose some safety issues. Not only can metal fragments occur when the edging is cut by a lawn mower or heavy machinery, but the edging can also damage machinery blades and fragments can potentially harm people.


A more recent development in landscape edging, concrete curbing, is growing in popularity and is available in a variety of shapes, colors and patterns. This kind of edging requires a special curbing machine and a trained operator to install. While providing a permanent installation, concrete curbing can develop cracks and chips over time, and is not ideal for cold climates.


Wood edging and bender boards, while popular in the past, are rarely used by landscape contractors today. Despite its natural beauty, wood's lack of durability makes it unsuitable for most professional design applications.


Natural edging, also known as spading or trenching, means digging a line along the turf and flowerbed. With no physical barrier to define the two, you will need to redefine the edge each year or sometimes more frequently. Expenses and the work can add up over the long run. Natural edging, along with poly/vinyl and concrete curbing, offer an easy mow line.


Brick and stone, while appealing to the eye, are a little more expensive forms of edging and, in effect, borders. They last a long time and can give a nice look to the edge. However, bricks and stones can eventually shift out of place. Vegetation can also creep into the cracks. In a climate where frost heave occurs, cementing bricks and stones is not a suitable option.


One trend in edging beginning to take place is the use of “L” shaped paver restraints anchored into the ground using steel stakes. Available in poly/vinyl and metal, some landscapers are finding paver restraints a better application for landscape edging because digging out a 5- to 6-inch deep trench is not necessary. Rather, they can spade back a few inches of ground, place the paver restraints onto the spaded area, anchor them with stakes, and cover with groundcover for a clean landscape edge.


No matter which landscape edging material or method you use, proper installation is key to keeping landscape designs in place. The idea behind edging is not to have to go back and replace or fix the landscape edge. The right edging for the job should be easy to maintain. Even in a climate where frost heave occurs and can result in contractor callbacks, you can diminish this problem through the use of proper installation techniques.

If choosing to use poly/vinyl or metal buried edgings, follow the installation instructions provided by the manufacturer. Be sure to choose edgings manufactured by reliable companies that recommend and provide anchoring stakes for installation. There are three different ways to install buried edgings. One method is to install the edging by simply placing and pounding the edging into the ground. Most assuredly, this type of installation will make the edging pop right out of the ground. Other buried-edgings manufacturers recommend digging a trench with a spade or trenching machine and placing the edging into the space. This type of installation is prone to frost-heave and contractor callbacks. The best and most reliable installation method for buried edgings is to anchor the edging with stakes pounded into the ground. After digging a 6-inch trench and placing the edging into the trench, pound a stake (preferably steel) at a 45-degree angle through the edging toward the trench wall. This method securely holds the edging in place.

Typically edging is not a decoration, with the exception of stone or brick. A typical landscape edging installed in the ground is meant to be functional and blend into the landscape and not stand out in any way, shape or form. The edging should provide a fine line that divides one landscape element from another and is sight unseen. Overall, the total effect when the landscape edging is in place is to separate the different landscape elements from one another and to maintain the aesthetic integrity the landscape designer had in mind. Edging should also result in minimum maintenance for years to come. The right landscape edging turns first impressions into lasting impressions, which reflects well on the landscaping professionals on the job.

Aymie Clayton is sales manager with Oly-Ola Edgings, Inc. (Villa Park, III.).

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