This past week we began working in the backyard of one of the nicest clients we’ve ever had–it’s a small backyard, no real room for grass. She has garden beds that were set off by curving decomposed granite pathways that were installed by another company–but installed badly. The steel edging that holds the decomposed granite in was fraught with mistakes, large and small. What’s the big deal, you might ask? It’s only edging; you don’t really look at that, anyway. It’s the beautiful plants that your eye will seek out, right? Well, sort of.
There are two major concerns to me when steel edging is improperly installed. The first is safety: if there are any jagged edges, that’s a safety concern. I wouldn’t want to think of a child running through the garden, tripping and falling on unsafe steel edging. Yikes. Second concern is aesthetics: it just looks crappy. You know how you spend a lot of time and money on that family photograph from the big reunion up in Grand Forks? Would you put it in an old, cheap frame that was falling apart? Of course not! You’d always look at the frame and not the smiling faces inside it. Landscape edging is the same: it creates a frame for your garden, separating pathways and grass from your mulched and planted beds.
I took some pictures of this edging before we removed and reset it so I could show you what the problems are and how to avoid them.
Mistake #1: This edging doesn’t align. It not only looks sloppy, but the gap will allow materials (soil, mulch, grass, gravel) to pass from one side to the other. You’d think this was a result of old edging that had shifted over time, right? Wrong. This edging was put in a month ago. When installing the edging, have one person hold the the length of steel edging tightly up against the next one while the other person hammers the stake in place to hold it together.
Mistake #2: Wonky curves ahead! Yikes, this is one of my aesthetic pet peeves, but it happens so easily. When you’re installing edging to create beautiful sweeping curves, it can look good from one angle but not another. There shouldn’t be any “jogs” in the curve like you see above. When our crew installs edging, Alfonso will set the edging with the stakes temporarily halfway in the ground, and Alejandro and Carlos check the lines and curves out from various angles. They’ll make any necessary adjustments before hammering the stakes down permanently.
Mistake #3: Exposed stakes. I hate this, because to me, it screams, “I’m lazy and don’t really care about finishing this project up!” For goodness sakes, does it really take that much more effort to whack the hammer down a few more times? This not only looks bad, but it’s a safety hazard. You want to trip and fall on that? You want a kid to trip and fall on that? No way. But, you say, I have a rocky yard and the stake hit a rock and wouldn’t go down any farther. I’m pretty sure that’s what happened here, and the prior crew just gave up. If this happens to you, simply cut off the top with an angle grinder outfitted with a 4″ metal cut-off wheel. Nice and clean.
Mistake #4: Well, there are actually two mistakes here, but one is hard to see. First and most obvious, there is a really big gap between the edging pieces, but the two pieces are actually different material. They’re both unpainted steel, but one is a different gauge from the other, as well as a different height. You can tell by looking at the stake slots that they’re different. They’ll never align correctly because of this. I understand wanting to use the material you have on hand, but try not to create a safety hazard when your pieces don’t match up.
Now here’s some odds and ends advice/tips: Don’t use a carpenter’s hammer to hammer down the stakes. Use a mallet, and if you need to hammer the edging down in between the stakes, put a piece of 2×4 on top of the edging so you don’t mar the top of the edging. Use end caps where your edging stops for a finished, clean look. If you need to make a 90 degree turn in your edging, measure and pencil in where you want the turn to be on the piece of edging, and then lightly score it with the angle grinder. You’ll get a crisp turn that will awe and impress all of your friends!
Pop quiz tomorrow. And, FYI, I won’t hold you to remembering the name of the angle grinder if you promise to pay attention to detail when installing your edging. It is important, and you can thank me later when your landscape looks like a pro installed it!