Where a lawn meets the edge of a border is where many a garden battle is won or lost. Some people don’t mind letting the bugleweed, creeping phlox and whatnot co-mingle with the grass. However, I prefer to keep grass out of my borders, which means spending an afternoon or two with a sharp-edged spade, slicing away slivers of turf to create the sharp, neat edge that I like. What I don’t like is having to do this at least twice a year, year in and year out. After realizing I’ve probably edged the equivalent of a football field or two, I decided it was time to draw a line in the sand—or, in this case, install permanent edging.
Border edgings vs. mowing strips
There are many border edgings available, made from plastic, wood, metal or brick. Frost often heaves lightweight plastic versions out of the ground, and they also begin to disintegrate after a few seasons. Metal edging can be difficult to install because it can be unwieldy and requires special tools. Terra-cotta rope edgings or intricate cast-iron creations may be more stylish—and certainly more expensive—but are often ineffective at curtailing roaming turf grass. Then there is the issue of maintenance: all of the aforementioned edgings protrude above ground level, making it necessary to use a trimmer or grass shears to remove what the mower can’t reach. My goal was to eliminate a chore, not create a new one, so a raised edge wasn’t the answer.
More appealing was a mowing strip, a permanent edge with a difference: its surface sits at soil level, allowing the lawn to be mowed without requiring a return trip to cut the edges. Best of all, it would provide the finished look I like, and keep plants, lawn and soil in their respective places.
Choosing a mowing strip material
There are two criteria for a successful mowing strip: the material you choose and how it’s installed. Select a material compatible with other hardscaping in your garden in a width in scale with the size of the bed. A too-wide strip looks like a narrow path; too skinny and the mower’s wheels may veer off. Concrete paving bricks are easy to work with because they are a consistent size and accommodate curves and slight changes in grade. Concrete bricks are less expensive than fired-clay bricks, which often spall in cold climates.
Concrete bricks come in many colours, styles and sizes. Choose bricks with smooth sides so they’ll sit tightly against one another. This makes installation easier and discourages grass rhizomes from sneaking through. We chose a 12 x 18 x 6-centimetre grey concrete brick compatible with the grey pea gravel and flagstone in other parts of the garden.
It’s important that the strip surface sits below your mower’s cutting blade. It should be flush with or slightly above (no more than one centimetre) the soil level of the lawn, not the flower bed. If the wheels aren’t relatively level, sections of turf could get scalped. If the strip is too high, the blade could get nicked.