Install Landscape Timber Edging With These Easy Steps

  • 01 of 10

    Install Landscape Timber Edging in 10 Easy Steps

    Image: landscape timber edging used to frame a sedum bed.
    Landscape timber edging used to frame a bed with colorful sedum plants. David Beaulieu

    Landscape timber edging is quick and simple to install. In this 10-step tutorial, you'll learn how to install an attractive framing to any flower border, perennial flower bed or similar planting. Our border planting is right up against a wood fence on the property line. We wanted to define it better by framing it in wood, thus the project presented here. The photo on this page shows you what the wood looks like after it has aged. The next image reveals the end result of our landscape timber...MORE edging project immediately after it was finished.

    Some of the shrubs and perennials in this particular border planting had already been planted, approximately one year prior to the project. As long as you do not have a lot of plant material that will be right in your way, this approach (that is when you install landscape timber edging as an afterthought) is doable. But there are advantages to laying your timbers first (see Page 5), prior to planting anything in the bed. Once your bed is overflowing with plants, you have less maneuverability during the project.

    Take note that, while attractive, this framework of timbers will not entirely keep grass stolons from invading your flower border. There are various ways to combat this invasion:

    1. Some people sink barriers into the ground adjacent to the timbers (metal roof flashing, plastic lawn edging, etc.).
    2. Another tact you can take is to eliminate the section of lawn that parallels the flower border. You can do this by digging the sod, laying down a narrow strip of landscape fabric, and applying garden mulch on top of the fabric.
    3. A third approach is to sink an initial course of timbers deeper into the soil, then stack the second onto it with the two with spikes.
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  • 02 of 10

    Pressure-Treated Landscape Timbers, Other Supplies

    In this picture, landscape timbers are used as edging. Landscape timber edging is attractive.
    Picture: the finished installation of landscape timber edging. David Beaulieu

    Any description of supplies for this edging project must, of course, include the pressure-treated landscape timbers, themselves. If you wish to read more about the safety concerns related to this product, please see my discussion on pressure-treated lumber.

    About the Pressure-Treated Landscape Timbers

    Landscape timbers are essentially 3x5s, but they are rounded on two of their four sides, which makes them more visually appealing. However, as we will see later, the fact that landscape timbers are...MORE not perfectly even can be problematic if you are a perfectionist. We did not get a perfect match when stringing them together lengthwise to create the long side of our edging framework in our project.

    We needed 40 board feet in pressure-treated landscape timbers for this edging project, which entailed buying 5 landscape timbers. The calculation was simple, in this case:

    • At the lumber yard, each landscape timber is about 8 feet long.
    • The length of the border planting is about 32 feet (so 4 landscape timbers will cover that).
    • Its depth is about 4 feet; multiply that by 2 to provide edging on both ends (1 landscape timber cut in half will do the trick).

    Other Supplies

    In addition to the pressure-treated landscape timbers, supplies needed for this edging project include digging, measuring, cutting, and joining supplies. Here is a complete list of the necessary tools, etc.:

    • Hand edger
    • Shovel
    • Edging stakes
    • String
    • Mallet
    • Garden hoe or steel rake
    • Tape measure
    • Level
    • Square
    • Saw
    • Drill
    • Galvanized corner braces
    • Galvanized mending plates
    • Gloves
    • Safety goggles (to wear when sawing)
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  • 03 of 10

    Run String Between 2 Stakes to Mark the Length of the Border Planting

    Picture: run string between 2 stakes to mark the border for landscape timber edging.
    Picture: run string between 2 stakes to mark the border. David Beaulieu

    The first supplies that you will be using in this landscape timber edging project are the ones geared to measuring. That is because the first step in the project is to determine what the dimensions of the border planting will be. As already mentioned, these dimensions will dictate your purchase at the lumber yard; so this step actually precedes buying the landscape timbers.

    Using a tape measure, we determined our border planting to be about 32 feet long. We laid down a scrap piece of lumber at...MORE each end of this 32-foot length, just to serve as a temporary indicator. The second step is to mark this length with a guideline, using string and stakes. Here is how to do that:

    1. Tie one end of a ball of string around an edging stake.
    2. Drive this edging stake into the ground, using a mallet, at one end of the border planting.
    3. Walk towards the other end of the border planting, unwinding the string as you go.
    4. When you get to the other end, cut the string and tie it to another edging stake.
    5. Drive the latter into the ground.
    6. If the string is not taut, wrap it a little tighter around one of the stakes.

    Now it is time to work on the other dimension: the depth of the border planting.

    We decided to expand our border planting, so as to end up with a depth (or "width," if you prefer) of about 4 feet. More precisely, there will be 4 feet of actual planting space. But in our measurement, we had to take into account the 3-inch thickness of the front-facing landscape timber, which will be joined to the side piece to form a corner. So we had to measure out 4 feet 3 inches, at each end.

    Note that we chose to lay the landscape timbers in such a way that they would give us an edging with a height of 5 inches. We could have laid them the other way (that is, with a height of 3 inches), but that alternative presents two disadvantages:

    1. It gives you less height for containing the mulch in your border planting
    2. Since the rounded edges of the landscape timbers would be perpendicular to the ground, you would not have a flat surface to which to apply the corner braces and mending plates (this will make more sense later on in the tutorial)

    With that 4-foot-3-inch measurement in mind, move the stakes with the string accordingly.

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  • 04 of 10

    Use a Hand Edger to Begin Removing Sod

    Picture of hand edger. For a small space, hand edgers may be easier to use than mechanical ones.
    Picture of a hand edger. David Beaulieu

    Now plunge a hand edger (picture) into the ground just under the string, starting at one end and working all the way over to the other end. With this third step in the project, you are essentially translating the straight line from the string to the ground, creating a mini-trench.

    Why a hand edger (manual) instead of a power edger (mechanical)? I attribute my choice to a combination of personal preference and the fact that our project involved a relatively small space. For a larger space, it...MORE might have been worthwhile to fuss with a mechanical beastie. But anytime it is feasible to avoid having to mess with a (potentially) temperamental gadget, I will choose a manual tool -- for the sake of my peace of mind (and to avoid the noise).

    With the mini-trench (created by the hand edger) in place, now it is time for Step #4: Remove any sod that remains within the confines of the border planting, using a shovel.

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  • 05 of 10

    Why It Pays to Plan Ahead for Your Edging Project

    Removing grass is more difficult in a planted bed because due to position, shovel catches string.
    A shovel easily gets hung up on the guide string, unfortunately. Solution: install timber edging prior to planting, thereby giving yourself a better angle for the digging phase of the project. David Beaulieu

    Planning ahead for this edging project -- as is so often the case in DIY projects -- will make the work easier. In this case, I am referring specifically to the issue of whether you should install the edging prior to planting in the bed. As I mentioned earlier, while it is certainly possible to install landscape timber edging as an afterthought, you can make your life a bit easier by installing the edging first, then transplanting your plants into the bed. Here is why:

    As you can see from my...MORE photo, it is very easy to have your shovel get tangled up in the guide string (while you are removing any sod that is in the edging's way) when you are working from outside the bed. If my plants were not already installed, I could work from the inside of the bed, thereby easily avoiding the guide string while digging. But I cannot do so because I have plants in the way.

    This is not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, to be sure. However, little frustrations add up when you are working on a project. If you can eliminate some of them, you can facilitate your work and derive more pleasure from it.

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  • 06 of 10

    Rake the Ground to Make It Level

    Remove sod to prepare edging. Using level, make sure the ground you just raked is even.
    The result of our work thus far: a nice, even surface on which to place the landscape timbers. David Beaulieu

    Now it is time to finish preparing the ground at the edge of the border planting so that it is ready to receive the landscape timber edging. Note that, in our case, we did not have to remove any sod at the ends ​since our plant material had already been installed in these areas.

    Step #5 is to even out the ground (from which you just removed the sod). To accomplish this, you can use a steel rake or a garden hoe.

    In the process of evening out the ground, you will probably encounter stones, roots,...MORE etc. Remove these. When you think you have the ground reasonably even, walk on it, right along the inner edge of the string, to pack it down. Add soil if necessary to bring the area up to the proper level, then pack down again. You want this soil along the edge to be packed down so that the landscape timbers will not "settle" on you (that is, sink down into the ground over time).

    You can check for level as you go using a carpenter's level (picture). But, obviously, this project assumes that you have an overall area to work with that is basically flat.

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  • 07 of 10

    Cut a Landscape Timber in Half

    Landscape timbers need to be sawed for this project. Picture shows sawing of landscape timber.
    Picture: cutting a landscape timber with a chop saw. David Beaulieu

    Step #6 involves cutting one of your 8-foot landscape timbers in half. The purpose of this step is to furnish you with the side pieces for your border planting.

    It just happened to be most convenient for us, at the time, to use a chop saw (picture) to cut the landscape timber. But you could use a different type of mechanical saw (for example, a circular saw) or even a hand saw to accomplish the same thing.

    If you want to avoid sawing altogether, ask at the lumber yard if they will make the cut for...MORE you. Home Depot and Lowes are generally pretty good about cutting up lumber that you are buying from them to specified lengths.

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  • 08 of 10

    Use Corner Braces to Build the Corners

    Corner braces are form 'elbows' in building projects. As picture shows, corner brace is screwed in.
    Corner braces are very handy for forming easy "elbows" in building projects. David Beaulieu

    I am very visually-oriented. So I like to lay out the pieces, where possible, before doing any joining in a project such as this one. So before building the corners, we formed a temporary corner by laying out the landscape timbers (one 4-footer and one 8-footer, placed so as to form an elbow) in the corner area. The string and stakes were still in place so that we could double-check ourselves.

    This is an especially helpful step for those of us who are absent-minded. For example, it would have...MORE been easy for us to forget that we needed to build the corner in such a way that it would come out 4 feet 3 inches away from the fence (measuring to the outer face of the landscape timber), rather than just 4 feet. Exactly how you join the two landscape timbers together to form a corner determines whether or not you stay true to that measurement.

    Once you have verified that you are, indeed, on the right track, take the two landscape timbers back out to a spot where you can work with them more easily (assuming you have plants in the way in the border planting, as we did). Now use corner braces to join landscape timbers together to build a corner (picture). Galvanized corner braces are preferred, since they hold up better to the elements.

    With the landscape timbers situated so as to form an elbow, we laid the corner brace in the "crook" of the elbow. To double-check that your landscape timbers are meeting at a right angle, use the carpenter's square. Then, using a drill, we simply screwed the corner brace into place. But if you encounter any resistance (as you may if you hit a knot), you can pre-drill a pilot hole.

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  • 09 of 10

    Set the Corner You've Formed Into Place

    Border planting corner formed by 2 landscape timbers. As picture shows, they make a tidy corner.
    Picture: one corner of the edging, set into place. David Beaulieu

    Having a partner with you makes this step easier. Pick up the corner you have just formed, and walk it back to the end of the border planting. Lay it in place (picture).

    Repeat what you did in Step #7 (prior page), only do it for the corner at the opposite end.

    Once the two corner pieces are in place, now you can "bridge the gap" between them by filling in with the two remaining 8-foot landscape timbers to complete the 32-foot-long side. Again, being visually-oriented (and paranoid about...MORE getting a measurement wrong), I laid out the remaining landscape timbers before securing anything permanently.

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  • 10 of 10

    Using Mending Plates, Plus an Idea for Landscape-Timber Raised Beds

    Use galvanized mending plates for outdoor projects. Mending plates can unite timbers (picture).
    Like corner braces, mending plates come in handy for joining landscape timbers. David Beaulieu

    All that is left to do now to complete the edging project is to join the remaining landscape timbers together. But since these landscape timbers abut each other end-to-end, rather than at right angles (as was the case with the corner pieces), corner braces will not do the job. We need a different kind of fastener.

    Enter the "mending plate." In the photo, I have laid two landscape timbers down on their sides and abutted them, spanning the crack between with an example of a mending plate,...MORE just so that I could provide you with a close-up photo demonstrating what a mending plate is and why it is useful in such a project.

    As I noted earlier, landscape timbers will not always line up perfectly, end-to-end. In this photo, you can see what I mean. But the slight discrepancy is not noticeable from a distance.

    Now fasten the 8-foot landscape timbers together, using mending plates. Secure the mending plates with screws, just as you secured the corner braces.

    Finally, remove the stakes (the ones with the guide string tied to them) from the ground. You are finished. Go back to slide 2 to review what the completed structure looks like if you wish. Or if you would prefer to use plastic edging rather than timbers, see my tutorial on how to put in lawn edging.

    What About Landscape-Timber Raised Beds?

    Note that, to build a raised bed out of landscape timbers, you could start out with a base similar to what we have built in the present project. You would then stack other landscape timbers onto that base, driving rebar all the way through them (after drilling accordingly to provide holes) into the ground. It is best to stagger the joints when building a landscape timber raised bed.

    More resources for raised beds: