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Maintaining turf edges

By Todd Layt

Dedicated edger versus brush cutter. Which is best?
Machines, techniques and planting ideas to make 
edges easier to maintain.

A big chunk of a landscape maintenance contractor’s time is spent on trimming lawn edges. Is a dedicated edger better than a brush cutter? We timed and tested both types of machines, and try to answer that question. The results could save you time and money. Using chemicals to maintain edges is another possibility given the right plant and turf selection. Certain plant and turf types can make maintaining those edges so much easier. Which hard edging materials are easy to maintain? 

I am still amazed how many contractors only use Brush Cutters to maintain edges, even spade type edges. Common sense would tell you a dedicated edging machine would be faster. So we experimented to see if this is true. Firstly we measured out a series of 8 metre long sections along an area of turf and garden without any hard edge. We tested Tanaka and MEY dedicated edging machines, then we tested an amazing new Honda brush cutter. We did the same on turf alongside concrete, and then around natural rocks, and finally along a Link Edge.

Along the area with no hard edging and along concrete edging it was amazing how much faster the dedicated edger was. Over multiple tests, it took an average of 18 seconds to do the 8 metre section with the MEY edger. 20 seconds with the Tanaka, and 45 seconds with the Brush cutter with a cord, and 50 seconds with a blade. So that means if you are using a brush cutter to maintain this type of edge you are more than twice as slow. So why do so many keep using a brush cutter for these types of edges? I can only think habit. If it was based on financial or time management everyone would use dedicated edgers for less complex edges like these. Both the Tanaka and MEY machines were quicker if the edge had already been defined previously. Even to define the edge the Tanaka and MEY edger’s were much quicker than the Brush cutter. The Tanaka took just 26 seconds and the MEY 25 seconds. Both did a good job. The Tanaka is lighter and easy to push on a defined edge, but the MEY machine could make deeper cuts and ploughed through tough grass and made the initial edge a little easier. But both machines worked really well. I would recommend both of them. The Tanaka is probably easier to move from job to job being lighter, but on hills the extra weight made the MEY a good choice. The key here is that both machines are more than double as fast as a brush cutter for spade type edges, or edges next to concrete and pavers. My suggestion is that every lawn mowing contractor should have a dedicated edger.

You will however still need a good brush cutter for many edging situations. For example around rocks or other angular edges the brush cutter was much better. The dedicated edges simply did not work around these types of intricate edges. The brush cutter is also needed to trim vertical lawn growth near edges. The machine we tested was a Honda Brush Cutter. I have used Honda Brush cutters for the last 5 years, and have 2 different models. This new one is a big step up in quality and functionality. It felt great to use. The feeling is hard to explain, you just have to try it. It’s lighter, it’s still four stroke, it’s even quieter than the past models, and boy does it pack a punch. It had more power and trimmed better than my older model. So the verdict is every lawn mowing contractor should have a dedicated edger and a brush cutter in order to improve productivity. If you are a one man band, having the right tool will save you time and money, but if you are a larger company, having the right equipment will save wages easily enough to pay for a dedicated edger in a few months. Staff training is then essential to make sure staff know which machine to use where.

If metal or aluminium edges like Link Edge are used, then the dedicated edgers did not work. Here you need a brush cutter, or even just a mower. The great thing about using Link Edge as a hard edge however is that if you get the installation right, most of the edging is done with a mower. We had a gravel area on one side of the edge, and turf on the other. If you get the level flush, that’s to say the edge, the turf and the gravel are all the same height exactly, we have kept an edge by simply mowing over the top, with the very occasional trim with a brush cutter and yearly squirt of roundup in a few spots. So if you have to install a hard edge, I must recommend Link Edge, provided the installation is done correctly. By just mowing over the top, saves a huge amount of maintenance. Link Edge is quick to install, and is a relatively cheap hard edge option. It looks modern and can save on maintenance. One thing I have learnt about using this product is that you need to choose the right version for your site. The standard one is OK for most situations; just make sure it is not sticking out of the ground too much when it’s installed. For areas that have possible vehicle traffic, it is essential to use the heavy duty version. Again make sure it is flush with the ground, or vehicles may bend it. Installed correctly this product is fantastic.

Choosing the right turf type can also save a lot of money on edging. Buffalo turf does not have rhizomes, so it is very easy to keep and edge without a hard edge or by just using a dedicated edging machine. The edger easily chops of the runners that grow above the ground. All Buffalo types are good for around gardens, although Palmetto does grow slower into the garden than all other popular Buffalo types making it the best Buffalo for edging. Of the turf types that have underground runners (rhizomes), Empire Turf is easy to maintain as it spreads so much slower than Couch or Kikuyu. Tests have shown that Empire needs 6 to 10 times less edging than Couch and Kikuyu. Looking at figure A, this large turf area along these gardens with no hard edging would have only been possible using Empire Turf. This area only gets edged about 5 times per year. That’s a lot better than the 12 to 15 times with Buffalo, and 30 times or more with Couch or Kikuyu per year. But whatever the lawn, the dedicated edger makes the job very quick. The lawn in figure A was also used for testing chemical edging. We made sure we only planted non- grass ornamental plants around the Empire turf.  Plants such as Dianella Little Jess and Lomandra Tanika. Then once per 8 months we sprayed the invading Empire turf with Fusilade. It kills the runners of Empire that have grown into the garden, without hurting the plants or the Empire turf connected to the sprayed parts. That is a huge saving in edging. This system could also be used for Buffalo, but it may need 3 to 4 applications per year instead of the 1 or 2. If fast growing Couch or Kikuyu were used it would need 8 to 10 applications per year, making chemical control a little unfeasible. This technique can be used to keep grass from growing into plants on large projects like roadsides. Even if the grass is growing all over the plants, Fusilade will kill the grass without hurting the plants. Make sure you do not use Fusilade on true ornamental grasses such as Poa or Pennisetum, as the Fusilade will kill these plants.

Another way to make defining an edge easy is to use border plants alongside a spade edge, then use Buffalo or Empire Turf, and use a dedicated edger regularly. Mondo Grass is one plant that works well particularly in shade. A lot of landscapers buy the Mondo in Instant Border Strips which are basically 500mm long strips of Mondo. Aranda is a new small Dianella that defines a border beautifully. Its compact foliage does not spread, and its low 200mm height makes it perfect for borders. It grows well in cold or hot humid regions. From Sydney south Dianella Baby Bliss or Lomandra Savanna Blue make excellent blue foliage borders. If you want red type tones, for Sydney south use the only small growing Phormium called Sweet Mist, or in Queensland Rhoeo is a great choice if used correctly. All of these plants can have the grass sprayed out of it with Fusilade.

Maintaining turf edges on many sites can take as much time as mowing the lawns. So if I told you there is a way to halve the time taken to maintain some edges, is that of interest to you? The dedicated edging machine does this. More time can be saved using the right type of hard edge, and even more time can be saved by using the right turf and the right plants. Happy edging.

Figure A