How to edge a lawn – for a professional finish

Learn how to edge a lawn – and give your garden a smart, elegant look

Lawn edging
(Image credit: Burgon & Ball)

Edging a lawn is an easy but effective way of shaping your plot. A simple and therapeutic task, the results can hugely transform the look of your outside space and enable you to create borders, patios and paths with a smart, professional finish. It can also make ongoing maintenance and jobs such as weeding and mulching borders easier and quicker to do.

Whether you are starting from scratch cutting borders from a lawn, redesigning existing ones or just smartening up lawn edging ideas already in place, there are just a few expert tips to follow in our easy-to-follow advice.

How to edge a lawn

Garden ideas

(Image credit: Charlotte Rowe)

Whatever condition your lawn is in, smartening up the edges will make it look 10 times better. A crisp, smooth defining line between grass and surrounding soil or paving, will accentuate the space, highlight planting and show off the overall plot design. 

1. How to decide on the shape of the lawn

Changing the shape of your lawn and its surroundings can dramatically alter the look and feel of a garden. While straight edges create a formal feel, more irregular, sweeping lines introduce a sense of movement and lend a much softer mood. 

‘You can also use shapes to create optical illusions: straight borders down either side of a garden can make it look smaller, whereas a sweeping curve can make it feel bigger than it actually is,’ says Rainer Schubert, managing director at garden tool specialist Burgon & Ball.

When it comes to creating new or redefining beds and borders, a maximum distance of around 3ft 2in (1m) deep is ideal. This will allow enough space for plants to intermingle without the border proving too awkward to weed or maintain.  

2. How to mark out a new lawn edge

‘It’s really important to mark out your flower bed ideas before you start cutting, to give you a line to follow,’ Schubert continues. ‘It’s really not a good idea to try to do it by eye! For straight lines, use string stretched between two canes. For a perfect circle, use string tied to a stake in the ground at the center point, then walk around it, holding the string taut, using marking paint on the ground. To mark out a gentle curve, you could lay a garden hose on the ground, or a length of rope.’

Another technique to achieve super straight edges is to use a wooden board as a guide. Moving it lengthways in stages as you work along the line. 

Many professional landscapers use grass landscaping paint to draw their designs out. Coming in an easy-to-use spray can, simply spray the cutting line on the grass redrawing any corrections if needed. Most paints wash away after spraying with a hose or rainfall. Creating an outline with handfuls of sand also works well and can be hosed or brushed away once the edge is cut.

3. Use the right tools

Choose from manual and automated edging tools. From side attachments available for petrol and electric lawn mowers, to cordless edgers with rotating circular blades there are plenty of powered tools that will handle the job competently. These really come into their own when maintaining a newly created edge or at least cutting fresh growth from a regularly trimmed outline. If you are looking to cut a new edge into a lawn or significantly change its shape a manual edger will give neater and more precise results.

The ideal manual tool for cutting crisp lines in turf is a half-moon lawn edger, also known as a step edger. Long handled with a semi-circular blade – sometimes with a serrated edge – it is designed to be stood on with one foot and pushed cleanly into turf to create a clean cut.

4. Start cutting the edge

Edging a lawn with a manual half-moon lawn edger can take a while, depending on the size of the lawn but is very satisfying. Developing a good technique will ensure good results and can combat back strain. Working at a 90 degree angle to the grass to create a straight downward edge. The team at lawn experts Rolawn also add, ‘Place the edging tool roughly 5cm in from the edge and dig into the lawn about 5cm (2in) deep. As you lift the edging tool, the excess lawn and soil should lift with it. This can be dropped into a bucket for removal to your compost bin, or local garden waste facility.’ 

Continue your way around the lawn, closely following the guideline, to create a smooth, jagged free edge.

5. Lawn edging issues to watch out for

You may come across some resistance when cutting your lawn edge. If you do, it’s important to identify the obstruction, so you know how to deal with it before pressing ahead. Irrigation pipes, electrical cables and substantial roots are all likely causes and should not be cut through. The best solution, if they can’t be moved is to adjust the direction of the edge if possible or skip over the obstacle and pick up the cutting line just the other side.

6. How to correct your line

If you need to redraw your cutting line, simply mark over the existing one – as clearly as you can – and be mindful when you come to cutting in this area. It often helps to stand back and take a fresh look at your proposed outline just so you be confident in your decision.

If you do have to alter a line that’s already been cut, then – depending on where you want your new line to go - you can leave the surplus turf in place and fill the cut with compost and lawn seed or move the line back into the existing lawn before recutting. 

Narrow cuts in a lawn should be able to repair themselves given a few weeks and moist, warm weather conditions.

7. Achieve a smart finish

Once you’ve established a crisp, vertical edge to a lawn it is important to trim it regularly. During warm growing periods, such as spring and early fall, this may need to be done weekly. Grass slows in growth during hot and cold weather reducing the need for any clipping.

When is the best time to edge a lawn?

Spring is undoubtedly the best time to edge a lawn, as during this time the grass is growing steadily and the underlying soil is soft enough to cut into. It will also give any newly added sections or repaired lawn edges time to regrow and establish before the heat of the summer takes hold.

How do you edge a lawn without an edger?

A clean, sharp, straight spade is a good alternative to any lawn edger. Ensure the blade is as flat as possible, many spades are slightly concave which can lead to unsightly, scalloped edges. Use a wooden board for neat straight lines or a rope (or hose) as a guide for sweeping curves. Step on to your spade and push it down into the soil 2-3inches (5-7.5cm) and pull the blade backwards and forwards slight, to create a groove. Repeat along the line and once the groove is completed, carefully remove the surplus turf by sliding the spade underneath. 

Should you mow before or after edging?

There is some debate as to which is the best practice, but the RHS suggest mowing the lawn first, before clipping the edges with long handled shears. This way the results tend to be neater and more even and there’s less chance of compressing newly cut edges with the lawn mower.

How to repair a broken or crumbling lawn edge

If a section of lawn edge has become too damaged to successfully create a firm edge in line with the rest of the lawn, you can repair it. 

Family run Jacksons Nurseries suggest, ‘If you have a broken open edge in your lawn (if one of the edges does not extend right to the border for a short distance), it's best to cut out a square section of turf that contains the broken edge using your edging iron or garden spade. Under-cut the turf to remove it, then turn it through 180 degrees and re-lay so that the straight edge aligns with the lawn edge.’  and there is a gap in your lawn a short distance from the edge.’ 

Repair the damaged section, which is now within the lawn, by filling with topsoil and reseeding.

How to maintain lawn edges 

Once a sharp lawn edge has been established, keep it looking its best by trimming with long handled shears once a week. Grass tends to grow horizontally so it is important to clip off any of these spreading rhizomes and any long, straggling blades to prevent them invading neighboring borders. 

Stand on the lawn, facing the border and work your way along the lawn edge with the shears. Hold the side of the shear’s blade against the soil edge as you snip to maintain an even cutting line. Be careful to avoid nicking chunks out of the lawn edge with the tips of the blades.

How to keep manual edging tools sharp

Lawn edging

(Image credit: Burgon & Ball)

Clean sharp tools are the key to creating a neat, professional lawn edge. Filing the cutting edge with a metal file or sharpening stone works well but a simpler way is to fill a bucket with damp coarse sand and repeatedly push the cutting blade down in to the mix. This will also help to remove dirt and combat rust.

Jill Morgan
Jill Morgan

Jill Morgan has spent the last 20 years writing for Interior and Gardening magazines both in print and online. Titles she has been lucky enough to work on include House Beautiful, The English

Home, Ideal Home, Modern Gardens and Gardeningetc.com. Although much of her career has involved commissioning and writing about reader homes and home improvement projects, her

everlasting passion is for gardens and outdoor living, which is what she writes about for Homes & Gardens.