steel edging

Steel edging is installed on a new planting bed design in Summerville.

The holidays require healthy boundaries.

For example, your great aunt tells you the baby name you’ve picked out is the worst name she’s ever heard. That actually happened. Sometimes we need sharp boundaries to remain happy and sane during the holidays.

If you find yourself looking for some "me time," consider a walk outside to evaluate the balance and boundaries in your yard. It all begins with planting beds.

Mulched beds should provide adequate space for trees, shrubs and flowers. Most importantly, they need to be large enough so plants don’t trap moisture against the house and promote decay. Properly designed beds can also reduce maintenance by allowing plants to reach mature height without pruning.

My wife’s grandmother loved to shear the hedges in front of her house. They were so tight that you could bounce a soccer ball off of them. It wasn’t just her love for geometric shrubbery that made her so committed. If she didn’t shear them they would get ten feet tall. The real problem, however, wasn’t pruning. It was the wrong plant for that location.

Shearing, for most of us, is a chore. And smart design can eliminate it. For instance, a loropetalum is a great shrub for foliar appeal and flower color. But placed in front of a window and you’ll be pruning that poor thing until you just feel sorry for it. A soft caress mahonia, however, would be a better choice because it won’t get much taller than three feet.

Bed line design is just as important as what’s planted inside it. In landscape design, a line is created by juxtaposing two materials on the ground plane. In this case, it would be mulch meeting turf. The contrast of opposing materials will create a visual line that’s either flowing and informal or straight and formal.

When it comes to line, an ordinary square bed just isn’t living up to its potential. Flowing curves, however, are much more appealing. We want lines that draw the eye through the yard in a pleasing manner. You can experiment with new bed lines using a designer’s high tech tool. It’s called a garden hose.

Pull it out and lay it across the lawn. Tweak it here and there, stand back and observe. Go to the curb, look at it from the driveway, and see it from the front door. Determine where you want the lines with the garden hose, which allows you to experiment before digging.

Once you’re satisfied, spray painting the line allows you to get the hose out of the way. Now you can treat any turf inside the bed with an herbicide. If the soil is poor and you’re motivated, bring in quality topsoil and compost. Your local suppliers can deliver it by the cubic yard or you can pick up a truckload at Bee’s Ferry. A berm, or mound, of quality soil is often a good solution to poorly drained areas.

In some cases, the addition of weed barrier can be placed on the ground before planting and mulching. However, this is optional and often only a temporary solution to weeds. My preference is to avoid it.

Visit local nurseries for plant recommendations. Bring photos on your phone or make a list of generic plants you’re looking for, such as small shrubs to put in front of the window or something colorful as an accent. Local nurseries know what works in the Lowcountry.

Once your new beds are planted and mulched, consider how you want to maintain the bedlines. Over time, they lose shape. Eventually they wander as turf encroaches. However, the addition of edging will permanently keep them sharp. There are lots of options, but I suggest steel edging rather than plastic. Steel provides clean lines that are easy to maintain, will keep the mulch contained and reduce turf from growing where you don’t want it.

Of course, if this all sounds like too much work, buy yourself a gift and hire a landscape designer. They can provide the plan for you to install or just do the whole thing. Either way, good luck this holiday season.

And Merry Christmas.

Tony Bertauski is a horticulture instructor at Trident Technical College. To give feedback, e-mail him at tony. bertauski@tridenttech.edu.