get the edge on your landscape

by Roger A. Page

If ever there is a place to “keep it simple” when it comes to your landscaping, it is in learning to use a hand edger to sculpt immaculate edges. Sculpted edges offer discernible advantages over permanent structural edging – stone, rock, brick, plastic, treated wood and whatever else you can imagine. Unless a situation requires terracing or retention where structural barriers are unavoidable, hand-carved sculpted edges allow for expansion and adaptability that will likely save you from headaches down the road.

Aside from the heaving and shifting earth, amplified in our region where frost is in play, there is another important reason to choose sculpted edges over structural ones. While structural edges must remain permanently fixed, the landscape intends to expand. As it does, it is painless to maintain balance by periodically extending a cut edge to stay in sync. Using unsophisticated tools, sculpting an edge is an easy skill to master, and by sidestepping perils of dislodged stonework, uprooted bricks, rippled plastic, rotted railroad ties, fungus-laden treated lumber, etc., sculpted edges are arguably the surest way to sustain constant elegance.

Sculpting requires only a few essential tools and accessories: a quality hand edger, a curved-shaft string trimmer, two 12-inch nails, 50 feet of fluorescent nylon string, eye protection, perhaps a wheelbarrow to haul spoil,and, on occasion, knee pads. As an added plus, the process itself – given normal conditions– is uncomplicated. Even if conditions are less than ideal, say you encounter knotted tree roots, excessive stone or rocks, or the worst—shallowly buried electric lines, fear not. I have put forth extensive details in the book The Landscape Tamed, available on Amazon. You are also welcome to visit me on YouTube, where you will find videos that explore more comprehensive details. 

For now, though, let’s assume you have clear sailing and refer to “Steps to the Edge” in the sidebar on this page.

Ok, after following the steps, how hard is that?

Another tool that is handy to have is a sod cutter shown in the pictures. Often you will need to remove more turf than the edger can do; additionally, provided you can work while on your knees, a sod cutter is invaluable when cultivating mulch. Uses for the sod cutter are covered at length in the YouTube videos.

I hope to have said enough here to encourage you. There is no way to cover everything you will experience hands-on, and equally no reason to deter you from discovering your own methods of efficiency. The one thing I can promise you is once you have mastered sculpting, you might never tire of hearing, “Wow! Look at those edges!”

Steps to the Edge

1. Using a string trimmer, plane grass quite tightly in the area where the new edge is to be cut; picture the fringe of a putting green.

2. Run your string line to cover the straight stretches of the edge. Generally, a common source of measurement exists for reference. If the edge is to extend five feet from a foundation, measure five feet out from one end of the foundation, sink a nail halfway into the ground, measure five feet from the opposite end, sink the other nail, and stretch your line.

3. Score the proposed edge by cutting just deep enough to be able to visually assess the scoring once the string line is removed.

4. Remove the string line.

5. Connect your arcs. Most planting beds will wrap around different sides of a structure or dwelling. With straight edges scored for reference, the next step is to score connecting arcs until you are satisfied they are in harmony with the straights. There is a little more to it, all covered in the book and on the videos, but the goal is to arrive at a completed scored edge that is visible and acceptable before committing to the final cut.

6. Cut the deepened edge and toss the spoil up into the bed where you can gather it for disposal later.

7. Using your curved-shaft string trimmer, move slowly along the cut edge, careful to maintain a 90-degree angle, and zip the overhanging grass. Note that once the edge is established, this is the only step required to routinely sustain it. You might need to grab the hand edger a time or two during the season to freshen the edge, but for the most part, a string trimmer will be the only tool needed for maintenance.

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