How to edge a lawn – 6 steps for creating a professional finish
Whether you go for straight or curved lines, edging a lawn correctly will give your backyard a smart, elegant look
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 already in place, there are a few reasons why it's worth spending the time getting it right.
'Edges define each area of the garden – flower and veg beds, paths, seating areas and lawns, and it’s lawns that are affected by poor definition,' says gardening expert Tim Rumball. 'Their flat nature leads your eye to the edges in search of form, and if the edges are not sharp it will show. Cutting a clear edge on the lawn not only defines its edge, but also the edge of each flower border, path or other garden feature it butts up against. That’s why lawn neatness matters so much.'
Tim Rumball was editor of Amateur Gardening magazine in the UK for 20 years. He is a keen grower of edibles and wrote a popular series called Grow, Cook and Eat. He is also know for his practical no nonsense approach to gardening.
How to edge a lawn
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 backyard pavers, will accentuate the space, highlight planting and show off the overall plot design.
Here's how to edge a lawn in six easy steps.
1. 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 backyard. While straight edges create a formal feel, more irregular, sweeping lines introduce a sense of movement and lend a much softer mood.
'First, look at areas of lawn where there is no edge,' says Tim Rumball. 'Where shrubs and other plants or objects throw shade on the lawn the grass often retreats, allowing the border soil to advance. Deal with the shade by cutting back plants or moving objects, or by recutting the edge line deeper into the lawn, expanding the flower border. Shifting the edge line can only be done a limited number of times!'
‘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 planting a new flower bed or redefining existing beds and borders, a maximum distance of around 3ft 2in deep is ideal. This will allow enough space for plants to intermingle without the border proving too awkward to weed or maintain.
2. Mark out a new lawn edge
‘It’s really important to mark out your flower bed 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.’
Another technique to achieve super straight edges is to use a wooden board as a guide. 'Straight lines are easy,' confirms Tim Rumball. 'Set a garden line along the full length of the edge you want to cut. Lay a stout, straight plank of wood along the line on the lawn side and, standing on the plank, cut right along its edge using a half-moon lawn edger. Thrust the edger blade into the soil tight on the plank, then lean the handle forward a little to clearly define the cut. Shift the plank along as you advance up the lawn.'
If you want to create a curved lawn edge, Tim has this advice: 'Tackle curves by laying a hose exactly along the line you want to cut. Peg it down with tent pegs on the lawn side so it holds its shape, then using a half-moon edger, cut carefully along the outside edge of the hose. Follow through with the border spade removing waste turf or flicking soil into the border until you’ve got a clearly defined edge to the lawn with a vertical drop-away into the border at least 2in deep.'
Many professional landscapers use grass landscaping paint, such as this Seymour temporary marker paint from Amazon, 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
You can 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.
Radius Garden Carbon Steel Edger | $39.99 at Amazon
Featuring a carbon steel sharp edge that can easily cut through sod, this manual edging tool is designed with an ergonomic handle to ensure you get a better grip, while also reducing hand and wrist stress.
4. Cut 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 2 inches in from the edge and dig into the lawn about 2 inches 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. Correcting 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 by planting grass 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.
6. 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.
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.
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.’
Repair the damaged section, which is now within the lawn, by filling with topsoil and reseeding. The best time to plant grass seed is either in spring or fall, depending on the type of grass you are growing, so do bear this in mind.
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
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.
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.
If you're also mowing the lawn at the same time, make sure you know the correct mower height for spring so you can keep the rest of the lawn looking just as smart as your new edging.
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 2-3 inches 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.
Edging your lawn is an easy way to elevate the look of your grass, creating sharp, clean lines so that the edges of your flower beds or paving are clearly defined.
Although it might seem like a lengthy task the first time, once your edges have been created, maintaining them is relatively straightforward if you make it part of your regular lawn care routine.
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.
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