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Over the Garden Fence

Edging and Mulching Landscape Beds

Here we are, nearing the end of May. Maybe the beds in the backyard look OK, or maybe not? We love our lawns, yet grass can move into our landscape beds in a stealth-like manner while we are waiting for better weather for weeding and edging.

Putting a strong clean line on the landscape beds really makes a difference in how they look. It brings out the strong curves that make the bed flow through the yard, and that edge is the important transition from bed to lawn. Grass will grow towards and into the beds about 3 to 4 inches a year, so annual edging is quite beneficial.

With new plantings and a recently created bed, perhaps the best edging is a simple one made with an edging tool or flat spade. Too often beds are created, lined with an edging material that in a few short seasons can be found well underneath the evergreen and shrub branches at the ground because we did not realize just how much those plants are going to grow. Another good reason to hold off with any permanent edging is bed creation occurs over a few growing seasons and the bed edge should be able to change with it as well. Perennial flower beds come to mind as a great example. Increasing the number of plants with different bloom times and colors usually means a deeper bed out into the yard; easy to do if edging material does not have to be moved as well.

Bed lines that are too close to plants can make the bed look tight and confining. Opening up an established bed as the plants have grown and matured provides a relaxed view of the annuals, perennials and shrubs.

In addition, there are a variety of mulches that can be used in landscape beds to clean up the look. Naturally colored mulches will retain their color longer than dyed mulches. Mulches also can vary in size consistency. Mulches that are screened more than once show up more uniform once spread. You might consider using a higher quality mulch in those beds that are seen regularly and up close, compared to the back screening bed a good distance from the home.

Mulching flower beds can be a bit tricky, as many of our perennials grow each year from the crown of the plant and are not able push up through mulch. Be careful about mulching into the crown of those plants. Mulch is typically put down at about an inch deep, once settled, in flowerbeds, compared to landscape shrub and evergreen beds, where 2 to 3 inches is pretty common. When mulching to the lawn edge, if possible leave some open dirt. This makes touch up edging easy and keeps the grass from moving into the mulch too.

About the author: Richard Hentschel’s expertise extends across several subject areas with specialties in lawn care, fruit tree production, woody ornamentals, and home and community gardening. During his 45-year career in horticulture and agriculture, Hentschel became a well-known and respected expert for commercial and homeowner audiences, industry organizations, and media. He retired from University of Illinois Extension in April 2022 with nearly 30 years of service as a Horticulture Specialist and Educator in northern Illinois.