A frame not only protects and supports a work of art but also enhances its beauty without overpowering it. Similarly, landscape edging frames plantings and creates clean, crisp lines between beds and other areas.
Just as an artist has many selections of frames, landscape contractors can choose from a wide range of edging materials with different functions, styles and costs.
Nearly every landscape gets a frame, notes Robert Nivala, who owns The Landscape Co. in Hampton, Minnesota. “Bed edging is involved in probably 90 percent of our landscapes,” he says. Demand for edging is growing, and the work, which is usually part of a larger job rather than a stand-alone service, is profitable, Nivala says.
Although they are not big-ticket jobs like a patio or an outdoor kitchen, edging installations can be a solid source of revenue, agrees Jim Griffin, landscape architect at Suburban Landscaping, Chicago Heights, Illinois. “It’s a simple installation — you don’t need an experienced bricklayer or anything,” he says. “You can just use general labor.”
He also has seen greater demand for edging in recent years and chalks that up to a rise in disposable income. “I just think people have more money to spend now,” Griffin says. “The economy is improving, and people are putting money into their homes.”
Edging is a great upgrade to offer on a full landscape job, he says. Griffin is also commonly called in to redo edging around older homes. “In some cases, the grass has grown over the edging,” he says. “In other cases, they never had edging in there originally.” In those situations, he uses a machine to cut an edge and then a shovel for touch-up work before installing the edging material.
Traditional edging choices
The property owner’s preferences and budget guide the selection of edging materials, Nivala says. “Each of the different materials has its spot in the landscape,” he says. “Each one could be better for different people, depending on the look they’re going for and which will perform the best.”
Polyethylene, or poly, edging is a popular choice because it is both inexpensive and subtle, Nivala explains. It is hardly visible, letting the landscape shine. It is the minimalist choice.
Yet some contractors don’t work with this material at all. Jeff Marshall, owner of Marshall Brothers Landscaping in Eliot, Maine, says poly edging tends to push up out of the ground during the long New England winters. “Then the lawn mower hits it, cuts the plastic, and it looks awful,” he says. Marshall predicts that poly edging is on its way out.
Griffin says he has been replacing a lot of poly edging with concrete bullet edging, which is made up of interlocking stones. It costs about $10 to $12 per linear foot installed, about four times as much as cheaper poly options.
He installs the edging to allow a mower tire to run right along the top of it. “It eliminates a lot of the trimming involved,” Griffin says. “People like [bullet edgers]. They’re very attractive, they come in five or six different colors, and they do hold up to the winters.”
Suburban Landscaping also installs aluminum edging. “It works well. It’s very easy to use on curved beds, it makes a nice, straight edge, and it goes in quickly,” Griffin points out. Installation costs run about $5 to $6 per linear foot, slightly more than his charge for poly at $3 to $4 per linear foot.
When cost isn’t a primary concern, Nivala often installs concrete edging. It comes in a variety of colors and decorative finishes and offers customers certain advantages. “It’s clean, it lasts a long time, and they can mow the lawn easily by putting their tire up against it,” he says.
“Concrete edging is by far the easiest to maintain — you can seal it to preserve the concrete. And it really divides your lawn and landscape beds very well, whereas some of the other edging can get overgrown with grass.”
After years of using subcontractors to install this edging, Nivala’s company saw an opportunity to get into the business and recently purchased a new concrete curbing system. “We have a trailer that has the equipment to do the whole thing,” he explains.
The extruded concrete requires a little more expertise to install than some other types of edging. “With poly edging, all of our guys are trained in the installation,” Nivala says. “If we’re doing concrete curbing, stone or steel edging — some of the higher-end — then I only have two or three of my foremen trained to install those.” Because these installations tend to be complex and the materials costly, he entrusts only certain employees to do the work. Nivala’s prices for edging range from about $3 per linear foot for poly up to $12 per linear foot for concrete or natural stone. Steel falls somewhere in between.
David Land, president of Tulsa Landscape in Oklahoma, says steel is his standard go-to edging. He works with “a medium-grade material, not the big-box store stuff that bends anytime a mower wheel hits it.” His steel edging runs from about $4.50 per linear foot installed up to about $9 per linear foot for heavy-duty 3/16-inch versions.
Land also has tried some composite edging products, but he hasn’t found one he likes yet. He does prefer composite to steel, he says, because it looks better as it ages.
Marshall works mostly with natural edging – that is, a deep-cut edge that does the job all by itself, with no edging material. In fact, it’s a signature look for his company. “It’s the biggest selling point for me. When people go onto our website, it’s the edging that catches their eye,” he explains. Photos on the site help people visualize the look and convince them to try it, Marshall reports.
This work, he says, helps give him an edge — pun intended — over other landscape contractors. It is all done by hand, and he charges based on how long the job will take to complete. The cost can make it a tough sell, Marshall admits.
At one time, he tried to use a walk-behind bed edger, but he found that handwork — starting with a shovel and finishing with an edging tool — produced a better result and gave him more leeway to create intricately shaped beds. Usually, semiannual maintenance is enough to keep a sharp edge. “We tell the property owner to make sure that whoever is doing the mowing shaves the edge to keep the grass from growing into the bed … and then uses the weed wacker sideways to keep the grass from falling in,” Marshall says.
Land has found that he doesn’t need to limit himself to products that are sold specifically as landscape edging. Most of his high-end installations include natural rock edging. He even sources the stones for clients. “I’m fortunate in this area of Oklahoma that I have about 40 quarries within 100 miles of me. Some of them won’t deal with a landscape contractor — they want someone who is going to buy 10 truckloads of rock. But I’ve found some of the quarries will work with us,” he explains. Working directly with a quarry versus buying from a stone yard can cut his costs by about half.
He asks for rock that’s “chopped” to 3 or 4 inches thick — a little thinner than what is typically done for rock walls. “Sometimes we even get them to process it for us — tumble or antique the edges, the way you would with pavers,” Land says. The result is a custom look, and for certain clients, that’s important. “We probably have one or two calls a month from people specifically to upgrade their edging. They might have steel edging or plastic edging or no edging.”
He varies the way he installs the rock edging. “Sometimes we lay it on grade. Sometimes we’ll mortar it in. Sometimes we’ll stack it a couple rocks high,” he explains. The installation technique and the price of the rock determine the overall charge; installed prices typically range from $6 to $12 per linear foot, but he has even done jobs that ring up to $30 per linear foot. Customers are typically willing to pay a little more for this natural look, he says.
No matter the material, a good edge should offer form and function. It should keep mulch off the grass, where it burns the turf, which then makes landscape beds bigger and bigger, Marshall says. “That’s the real purpose of an edge,” he explains, “but to the homeowner, it’s the aesthetic they want.”