Easier edges for mowing

Have you ever been all excited about a new garden bed you’re going to put in, only to find that your partner is less than enthused? Then after some questioning, you learn that he/she is not really opposed to butterflies…not objecting to seeing additional baby birds in the landscape…not even opposed to having a new birdbath to hose out and refill regularly. Nope, the problem is this: how to mow around the new bed.

“What? (S)he is worried about mowing?!” you think to yourself. Some of us generally wish we could get rid of the lawn entirely, anyway! But that’s very often what’s at the crux of spousal resistance to a new bed.  So, here are two design strategies that can help turn that resistance  into cooperation…

First, design the shape of the bed so that it is easy to mow around. Softer curves are better than jagged edges. Try to expand or lengthen current beds, rather than create new, kidney-shaped blobs that are disconnected from the rest of the landscape. Look at your design on paper, mark out the width of your lawnmower, and try to imagine how you would mow around it.  If your new forms can flow into existing beds or follow the curves that are already there, you can make the mowing easier.

Second, add an edge to your bed. My favorite edging is to use small pavers like bricks (in a neat-and-tidy style of garden) or stones (for a more informal-looking garden). In either case, the goal is to create something that is wide enough that one wheel of the lawnmower can ride right up onto the edging.

brick edge install

In the photo here, both methods were used to make the mower’s job easier: the new bed is a large bed that linked three smaller beds, making the landscape simpler to mow. Grass was removed, then 8″ wide black plastic was placed on the ground under the bricks to keep weeds from poking through. We didn’t dig the bricks into the ground–just placed them on top. In time they may settle a little.

Consider making the edge into a gardener’s path. In some places, the “edging” might even be a nice, wide path made of flagstone or rectangles. Then your edge design is really doing double duty. But be aware that, unlike edging, hard paths do count as impermeable surface area, or “coverage.” If you already have a lot of coverage and you are trying to manage stormwater responsibly and/or you live within the Critical Area, you might not want to add  additional coverage.

I am not saying that every bed needs an edge! (Almost none of my own beds at home have edges, except a few in the front yard next to the front door.) But I do feel that a good edge can mean the difference between acceptance and reluctance, when you’re trying to get buy-in from other members of the household.

I do not recommend the dug-in edges. These trenches can turn into erosion-boosters, draining water away from beds where it is needed and creating a channel of faster-flowing water. When we think about managing the rainwater from storms,  we are usually trying to slow the water down, spread it out, and allow it to infiltrate the soil gradually. These trenches dug around the outer edge of a bed do the opposite! Plus they require a lot of labor to maintain–needing to be re-dug every season. Ugh!

So are you putting edges around your bed or leaving them “soft”? What have you tried and how is it working? I am always curious to hear more about how to make what works for wildlife, easier for people to appreciate and enjoy!

Thanks for reading, and happy gardening!


Chris Pax