I’m not the only one who gets bizarre sidebar ads online that promise to solve all of life’s problems using “one weird trick,” right? If I am, I guess the title of this post won’t make any sense to anyone….
Whatever, I don’t care. It made me laugh when Sam said it, so I’m sticking to it. Basically we were in the throes of installing metal edging around our lawn, and I was documenting it for the blog, and then he described our method as “one weird trick” and the rest is history. What’s the trick, you want to know? Painstakingly dig a giant trench with a shovel! So probably exactly what you were expecting it would entail.
But back to the beginning. What were we doing, and why? As you may recall when I shared my landscape plans a few weeks ago, one thing we want to do is add some definition around our lawn. Our goal is to create a solid, bounded rectangle, and then the rest will be bushes and planting beds eventually. This will make it easier to improve and maintain a nice lawn section (we hope…), while also delineating the parts of the yard that shouldn’t be lawn. You can see it’s the greener section labeled “back yard” in the 2022 version of our outdoor space, below.
If you’re confused about what I’m saying, here’s some lawn edging in action in other people’s beautiful yards:
As you can see, it can be done using a variety of materials — steel and aluminum are the most common for metal edging, and then there’s also plastic, stone, and even wood edging. What works best all depends on your budget and aesthetic, but I’m partial to the slim, more modern profile of metal.
After some research, I decided to go with aluminum edging rather than steel because it is more affordable and lighter weight (thus easier to work with). Aluminum is also a lot easier to work with if you’re doing curved edges — which I wasn’t, but I still figured I’d mention it in case you are! I read lots of reviews, and settled on the brand “Permaloc” (which is actually what’s shown in the top left photo above).
I was able to find a package of six 16′ lengths (which is pretty much exactly what I needed for my lawn, 16′ on the short sides and 32′ on the long sides) for $230 from an online store called Gardener’s Edge. They were having a 15% off sale, so I ended up getting it all for $219 including shipping. Not nothing, but pretty reasonable for almost 100′.
I waited patiently, and it was delivered a few weeks later but what I can only imagine was a very strong UPS driver. The box wasn’t very heavy (easily carried by two people), but was definitely somewhat unwieldy given that it was 16′ long. (It was delivered intact, I just didn’t take a photo before opening it up.)
Our first step was to lay it out to get the basic idea of where we wanted it to go. I used the deck as a starting point, knowing I wanted the front corner to be even with the end of the deck and 3 feet away from the edge.
Then we assembled the lengths together to understand exactly what our dimensions would be (since the lengths overlap with one another a little bit to attach together, it’s not as simple as 16′ x 32′). The product instructions online say you can use a hacksaw to cut it if you need smaller dimensions, but we didn’t need to do that so I can’t attest to how easy/hard that might be.
The pieces attach together like so. Make sure that the flaps slide under the little tabs that hold them flush, and use a rubber mallet to knock it together.
And if you’re turning a corner where two pieces attach, you first bend the overlap flaps into 90 degree corners and then slip them together the same way.
This gave us our final dimensions, but the aluminum bends pretty easily — so we couldn’t count on it providing a straight edge to dig along. Instead, we used marking paint, which is spray paint that will come up in a few weeks assuming we get some rain. We worked by measuring out from fixed points (like the edge of the fence), then stretching rope between those points to get a straight line, and then spray painting over the rope.
That gave us a pretty good rectangle to work with.
Next it was time to start digging. We started by using a lawn edging tool, which is basically a semi-circle on the end of a handle. Our plan was to cut a narrow slit in the lawn and then just slip the edging into it.
You just thrust it into the ground and them stomp/jump on it to put it in all the way.
(Note that if you’re digging in your yard, you should call 811 a few days in advance so that they can mark any utility lines that might be buried (power, cable, etc). We don’t have any in our backyard, fortunately.)
However, we quickly discovered that our lawn is too full of roots and rocks for this to really work. Even though we thought we were getting the tool in plenty deep, when it came time to slip the edging in it wasn’t going down far enough — clearly we were hitting up against rocks and roots. Instead, we needed to use a regular shovel to excavate a wider trench so that we could get deep enough and remove the obstacles as we went.
We made sure that one edge of the trench was a vertical wall along which the edging would rest, and then we could fill dirt back around on the outside (which made sense, because we plan to dig up most of the sod on the outside eventually anyway, to make planting beds).
It was pretty hot so it was definitely taxing work to dig about 96′ of trench along the border of the yard. Still, it only took a few hours of solid work (Sam with the big shovel, me following behind with a trowel to tackle any remaining roots and rocks).
Once we had the trench dug, we moved the edging into place so that the top edge sat just above the surface of the grass. The goal here is to still be able to mow as usual with the edging sticking up just a little, not a lot.
Then we used the stakes that came with the edging and hammered them down into the ground to secure the edging in place. This was tricky because of the aforementioned rocks — we were only able to get some of the stakes in place because many of them hit rock on their way in (they are very long). However, we figured once we packed dirt back around it, it would be nice and secure.
That brought us to our final step: filling dirt back in around the edging, trying to pack it so that the edging sat as straight as possible.
And voila, a well-defined lawn!
Okay so it’s still very underwhelming because the grass is in rough shape, there’s dirt and pink spray paint everywhere, and there aren’t any planting beds yet to actually be separated from the lawn, but it’s a step in the right direction. Right? Right?!?