The Iowa Gardener: Choosing the right power edger for manicured landscaping

Natural edges require hard work. A power edger can make it easier. (Chicago Grandstand / TNS)

There is just something about a beautifully framed landscape.

You know – razor-sharp beds and borders and sidewalks with clean, carefully cut edges. So very different than in less well-kept courtyards with grass that grows a little over the edges, the lines between the flowerbeds and the lawn a little more blurred. If landscapes were human, that would be the difference between, say, a modest bedhead and a freshly cut ‘do, straight from the barbershop.

With the help of a Power Edger you can add the finishing touches to your landscape. In fact, on a fine spring day after I finished edging my front yard, a passerby stopped to admire my handicrafts and garden and made him the best maintenance compliment a garden can get: “Wow.”

A Power Edger makes it quick to clear overgrown grass from the edges of sidewalks and paths. It can also be the key tool in lawn beds and edging, an economical, elegant type of edging.

How much work it is depends on your region. In Eastern Iowa, our cooler region has shorter growing seasons and more pliable, softer cool season grasses with less vigorous root systems, like Kentucky Bluegrass, turf cuts easily. It also grows for a shorter season and justifies only a few edges per season – once in early spring and once in midsummer. In warmer climates, where warm season grasses like zoysia grass and Bermuda grass are popular, grass is more difficult to cut, they regrow more aggressively, and the longer growing season can mean cutting edges up to six times a year.

One reason people skip the edging so often is because it’s not a critical task – it’s that extra step, albeit a rewarding one. Edging is indeed a bit of work.

A defined edge around garden beds gives the garden a fresh, finishing touch. (Chicago Grandstand / TNS)

Go on a power trip

For very small landscapes with grasses in the cool season, a half moon or other hand tool trimmer may be sufficient. However, if you need to edging more than a few tens of feet of grass (and you want that sharp, smooth line, the easiest way to achieve with a power tool), an electric edger is probably for you. You can rent, of course, but since you have to do edging regularly, investing in your own edger saves time and money, especially since some are available for the price of just a few rental sessions.

As with all power tools, you want to get the most bang for your buck with the lowest weight, at least with models without wheels. Check the blade size too – some are up to 9 inches long and cut up to 5 inches deep. Also, make sure that the edger cuts at an angle – a nice feature for fancy bedding and lawn edges and for laying some types of metal or plastic edging.

Another characteristic to look out for: trench capacity. This is useful when running cables or electrical wiring through an underground duct. Some edge trimmers have built-in trenching capacity, while others have a kit that you can purchase separately to customize the edge trimmer.

Overall, there are basically two types of Power Edgers: gasoline and electric.

Gasoline edger

These are the most powerful edgers – and how much power you have is important as an underperforming or poorly designed edger just won’t be enough. It will just gnaw the lawn instead of cutting through the lawn and creating a sloppy edge (unfortunately, too common a problem with the cheapest and lightest edger). But almost all gas powered trimmers are powerful enough to avoid gnawing and instead provide clean, fast cutting.

The catch is that gasoline edgings are also the most expensive. Most start at around $ 150. And since they’re powered by two-stroke engines, you will have to deal with every hassle of starting (a particularly acute cold weather problem), a little bit of basic maintenance, and mixing fuel with gasoline.

Weight is not a major issue with most gasoline edgers because they have wheels – either one wheel to guide them or four to support and guide them. Some four-wheeled types even have a neat “curb hopper” feature, where one wheel is set to go up a curb or sidewalk to prevent the machine from tipping over.

Electric edge cutters

Electric edgers as a group are wonderfully light and quiet, so you can use them without at least not annoying your neighbors very much. They also vibrate less than gasoline curbs and have no emissions to choke you or the planet.

Electric edge cutters are available in both wired and battery-powered models. Wired edge cutters are typically more powerful than their battery-powered counterparts, but you can only use them a short distance from the power source.

The problem with corded edge cutters is that they may cut the power cord. Fortunately, in the construction of most edge cutters today, cutting through the cable is rarely a problem, but look for a “cable retention system,” a feature that keeps the cable plugged into the machine.

Battery operated edge cutters have most of the same advantages as wired models, but they also give you the freedom to move far from a power source and not mess around with a cord. They are usually a little heavier and tend to be less powerful. Look for a lightweight model if it doesn’t have a wheel; A heavier model works well, even if it is significantly heavier.

Other options

Other power tools, such as grass trimmers and motorized hedge trimmers, can also be used as edge trimmers, either with built-in functions or by purchasing additional parts.

The effectiveness of these types of custom edgers can vary, but typically all attachments will work better the more powerful the machine is. The least effective edge cutter is the thread cutter, which can be turned into a thread cutter by adjusting the head. These are fine for trimming a bit of the edges around sidewalks and sidewalks, but they’re not very good for cutting through the ground.

Since the quality and ease of use of an edge trimmer vary a lot, do your research online. Check the reviews. If possible, keep a couple of edge cutters at a store to see how they fit in your hand and how they handle. Take a look at the controls and the startup system. If the edger doesn’t have wheels, carry it around a bit to see if its weight is suitable for your strength and if you can hold it for an hour or more, for example.

Also, find out about the return policy. Unlike a snow blower, for example, an edge milling machine is easy to return if you are not satisfied. Most retailers allow you to return a power tool that you found disappointing as long as you have a receipt and it is within a certain period of time (usually 30 days).

With a good Power Edger you are on the way to a much better manicured landscape. Those who have them find them positively addicted because with just a few minutes of work your landscape will look so much better.

Be forewarned, however. When your neighbors see how good your yard looks and realize that you have a tool that makes their yard half as good, they’ll want to borrow it. Be ready to hide your Power Edger – or at least negotiate an invitation to a nice cold drink in your garden later in return for repayment.

Tips for better edges

Do it regularly. Over time, grass grows over the edges of sidewalks and flower beds, slowly picking up soil that is eroding. Don’t cut just once a year, or you’ll inevitably tear off floor slices with the grass, creating an unattractive mini-cliff that is also the perfect bare place for weeds to penetrate. It also creates a raised edge that your mower will flake for weeks.

Edging twice a year in cooler seasons and about every two months in warm climates prevents these problems.

Keep the blade sharp. If your edge trimmer has a knife, keep it sharpened by taking it to a lawnmower repair shop or doing it yourself every few edges. Or have a spare blade ready. Depending on the model, they’re inexpensive, usually under $ 10 and often under $ 5.

Be careful when limiting invasive plants. If you are trimming an invasive grass like Bermuda grass or a lawn infested with bits of weed like purslane, make sure all bits of roots and leaves are removed from the edge trimmer before tackling any other part of the lawn, or you can get the invasive plant spread.

Be sure. Wear sturdy shoes, long trousers and safety glasses to protect yourself from flying debris, especially if you are using heavier edgers. Avoid larger sticks and small stones – try to remove them before you start edging.

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