How to Choose Edging Plants for Your Landscape

Consider Purpose, Conditions, and Design

Mixture of annuals and perennials
David Beaulieu
In This Article

Edging plants are any plants used to provide a well-defined border between features in your garden. Edging plants can create a border between your property and the neighbors, separate your garden from a driveway or sidewalk, or define a border along the edge of your perennial garden. Choices of edging plants can vary widely—from a row of tall bushes to form a privacy hedge, to a row of tiny alyssum that edges the front of a perennial flower garden. 

Key Questions to Ask When Choosing Edging Plants

Choosing the right edging plants can be tricky, but a good place to start is with some key questions: 

  1. What is the purpose and usage of the space you are edging? What do you hope to accomplish? Some plants are best for merely defining visual borders while others can offer a literal physical barrier. 
  2. What are the conditions of the location? Sun or shade? Dry or soggy? Secluded or high-use? Make sure to choose plants that will thrive in the conditions. 
  3. Do you have broader landscape-design goals? How will your edging plants fit into that scheme? Perhaps you have a particular color scheme in mind or are set on achieving a low-maintenance landscape.

Purpose of Edging Plants

Perhaps the most important consideration when choosing edging plants is their purpose. For example, if you have a frequently used stone path, you might wish to soften the hard, cold lines with edging plants, but it's also important not to interfere with its function as a walkway. The solution here is to select short plants—perhaps something with leaves and flowers close to the ground—that will soften the hardscape feature. Using a mass of plants of all one species, such as a ground cover, will give a softened visual impact. In this example, avoid plants that are messy, such as those that drop berries, since they could create a slippery safety hazard and a tiresome cleanup chore. 

If your purpose is to define a property border and provide privacy, the best plants would be a row of tall shrubs. Although this pushes the standard definition of "edging plant," even a row of trees planted as a wind-break is a type of edging plant—one that is planted with a specific purpose in mind.

Staircase in green fern. Asturias, Spain
Anton Petrus / Getty Images

Growing Conditions

Growing conditions have a huge impact choosing edging plants. Hostas might make a fine edging along a sidewalk in dense shade but will not work in a location that bakes in the hot sun all summer. In regions with cold winters where sidewalks are treated with salt to melt ice, the plants that edge those sidewalks must be chosen for their ​ability to tolerate alkaline, salty soils.

Almost any plant can become an edging plant if it serves the intended purpose, but the classic edging plants are low-growing plants that form the lowest tier of landscape design. Here are some examples of plants for specific conditions.

Edging Plants for Shade

Edging Plants for Full Sun

Edging Plants for Salty Soils

Edging Plants for Alkaline Soils

Edging Plants for Acidic Soils

Flower garden in summer
Pink begonias and blue petunias BasieB / Getty Images

Consider Landscape Design Goals

The same design elements that apply to the overall landscape also should be considered when choosing edging plants to fit into your own yard. Things to consider include:

  • Overall color scheme
  • Blooming season
  • Texture
  • Form, scale, and line
  • Proportion
  • Harmony
  • Flow and rhythm
  • Ease of maintenance
Boxwood, Begonia, Alyssum and Dusty Miller in a formal garden
Boxwood, Begonia, Alyssum and Dusty Miller Medioimages/Photodisc / Getty Images