Just like every picture benefits from a beautiful frame, each garden looks more complete with the right set of edging plants.
What types of edging plants should you consider as you try to add color, complete a look, or create a private space away from prying eyes?
What Are Border Plants?
Edging plants, also called border plants, can simply be defined as plants placed in a specific location to create a frame or perimeter of some kind.
While almost any plant — ranging from low-growing flowering plants to ferns, from dense and unruly shrubs to topiary plants, and from conifers to deciduous trees — can serve as an edging plant, the choices that will make it into a landscape designer’s shortlist will very much depend on the purpose edging plants are meant to serve in a garden.
Edging plants can be used in a variety of ways:
- Border plants can serve as living privacy hedges — though property owners choose penetrable green “walls” instead of tall fences, the goal is to keep prying eyes out. Homeowners who are hoping to host dinner parties in their gardens, who want to be able to sunbathe in their swimming costumes without shame, or who don’t want potential burglars to be able to “case” their home by looking in through the windows from the street may choose living privacy hedges.
- Edging plants planted along the perimeter of a property do not have to be tall and dense, however — some people simply wish to clarify where their property ends and their neighbors’ begins. In this case, low-growing bushes or even pretty flowering plants can serve their needs just as well, while allowing more sun to reach their garden.
- Edging plants are commonly grown alongside driveways and garden paths, too. In this case, the edging plants serve a practical as well as decorative purpose. The border plants quite literally guide anyone who passes by to their destination, and beautify the garden as they do so.
- Border plants are additionally used to make a garden look more professional or put-together. They may frame a raised garden bed very nicely, for instance, or they may mark the border between a lawn and a flower garden. Edging plants that are used in this way can be thought of like a picture frame — they take your raw material, the garden plants you have already placed into your garden, from chaotic to manicured.
Are you designing a garden, or are you hoping to take your current garden design to the next level by adding some beautiful edging plants? The four categories we just covered can more practically be separated into just two — functional edging plants for your garden, and decorative edging plants.
Functional edging plants serve a practical purpose, while decorative border plants are planted simply to beautify the garden. While most people will find that they could benefit from some functional edging plants, mind you, these, too, can tie your garden design together to create a garden that feels complete and perfectly framed.
Choosing the Right Edging Plants for Your Garden: Considering Your Landscaping Goals
Whether a gardener is in the process of selecting the perfect set of edging plants with a functional purpose — such as privacy or a wind barrier — in mind, or a homeowner has their heart set on the idea of border plants that are purely decorative, everyone has a unique vision for their landscape. Edging plants should fit into the goals you have set for your garden, so before you begin to narrow your choices down, consider:
- What color palette dominates in your garden, or what shades you would like to see. The edging plants you choose can match or contrast, but they should complement the other plants you have selected for your garden. A slightly darker shade than the one that dominates in your garden often works well for edging plants, but if you enjoy playing with color, it is a great idea to consult a color wheel to see which colors contrast with the main shades in your garden. Edging plants often work well as accent plants.
- The overall look you are hoping to achieve. Would you like your garden to be manicured or wild and natural? If you prefer a more natural and romantic vibe, there is no need to stick to one, or one type, of edging plant, and you can plant good companions right next to one another to achieve a more lively look.
- That edging plants can add depth and texture to your garden— do you want them to be prominent or soft and gentle?
- If you are planning to mass plant the same species of plant as an edging plant, how does it look when it’s planted in a straight or curving line?
Based on these basic elements, it may help to create a vision board, using pictures you have found online. What plants do you especially like the look of, and what kind of atmosphere are you aiming to create with your edging plants? It is usually easier to discover your likes and dislikes when you see visual representations, so make use of the world wide web to design your ultimate garden!
Practical Considerations to Keep in Mind When You Choose Edging Plants for Your Garden
Once you discover what general vibe you would like to create with your edging plants, you are well on your way to selecting the right plants to frame your yard and the smaller features in your garden. Before you do, however, remember that:
- You will need to consider the cultural conditions each plant you like the look of thrives in. This includes lighting, soil, and climate requirements. That perfect edging plant won’t stay perfect for very long if you are unable to meet its basic needs!
- Besides the cultural conditions of your edging plant candidates, it is also crucial to consider how adding these plants may affect your existing plants. Tall shrubs or trees may, for example, rob garden plants that require full sun of the bright light they deserve.
- The size and proportions of the edging plant you are thinking about adding to your garden. Flower beds should be framed with edging plants that are barely taller or wider than the plants growing in your beds, for example.
- The growth cycle of the edging plant. Evergreen plants and trees are often chosen as privacy hedges because they protect your home from prying eyes throughout the year.
- The plant’s care needs. How much effort are you willing to put into maintaining your edging plants? Manicured bushes or topiary plants generally require a lot of hands-on maintenance, while woody shrubs are often a lot easier to care for.
At this stage in your garden design process, you should have considered your aesthetic preferences, the purpose your edging plants will serve in different parts of your garden, and know that you need to take the care needs of the plants you’re considering into account as you select the perfect edging plants.
The types of edging plants you can choose for your garden can best be divided by size — so next up, we will be looking at trees, shrubs, and smaller plants to put to work in “guarding” or framing your garden!
Trees to Use as Edging Plants in Your Garden
Want to increase your property value? Trees are one of the best ways to do so, excluding steps that require planning permission. What’s more, they can make for great edging plants to frame your driveway or mark your property line. While gardeners have plenty of amazing options to choose from, the trees in this list are uniquely suited to be grown as edging plants.
1. European Beech (Fagus Sylvatica)
European beech trees belong to the Fagaceae botanical family and are extremely popular as edging plants in public parks or large gardens.
These deciduous trees are most treasured for their striking light gray bark, which contrasts beautifully with their amazing burgundy colored, deep copper, or variegated leaves.
While European beech trees are often planted to serve as a centerpiece in a garden, they can make for excellent edging trees on driveways and around property borders.
Before you consider mass planting European beech trees, it is important to know that:
- Some European beech trees can grow as tall as 40 feet (12 meters), with a nearly equally impressive spread. Tall trees cab be wonderful edging plants in especially large gardens, but people with more limited space may look for cultivars that grow to be no taller than 24 feet (seven meters) as well.
- The fact that most European beech tree varieties prefer to grow in full sun makes them a good choice as edging trees, but keep in mind that the sought-after tricolor variety needs partial shade and is therefore better suited for more sheltered locations.
- European beech trees thrive in sandy, loamy, or rich soils with a slightly acidic pH level. Their soil should be well-draining, and European beech trees can be planted in coastal gardens as well.
- The slightly wild and untruly look of these trees makes them a great choice for people who love cottage gardens.
- Because European beech trees are deciduous, they can mark a property line very nicely, but should not be counted on to serve as a living privacy hedge all year round!
2. American Arborvitae (Thuja Occidentalis)
Thuja occidentalis, more commonly known as the American arborvitae or Eastern white cedar, is an elegant evergreen from the cypress family that is popularly grown as a hedge or to serve as a foundation barrier, and when planted relatively closely together, the American arborvitae is a wonderful choice for a living privacy hedge as well.
These elegant needled evergreens have a tidy columnar to pyramid-shaped growth habit that makes them popular in more manicured gardens.
Before you choose to add American arborvitae trees to your garden as edging plants, you should know that:
- Young specimens may be small, but these trees can grow to be up to 40 feet (12 meters) tall.
- These trees are rather fragrant!
- American arborvitae trees attract wildlife to your garden, including birds and squirrels.
- These trees thrive when they are planted in locations that receive full sun to partial shade, and are well-adapted to a variety of soil conditions.
3. Gingko Biloba
The gingko biloba tree is widely admired, but few people know that, despite the fact that this tree is deciduous, it is actually a conifer. These interesting trees are famous for their unique leaves, and are bound to bring texture and color to your garden when they are grown as edging plants.
Gingko biloba trees:
- Thrive in full sun to partial shade, making them a great choice as a border plant along your drive way or even around a children’s play area.
- Copes well with a variety of soil conditions, through gingko trees love loamy or sandy soils.
- Are quite drought-tolerant when they mature.
- Only need to be fertilized during the beginning of their growing season, in spring.
- Are slow growers, meaning that people who are looking for smaller trees to grow as edging plants will be in luck for a long time.
4. Honeylocust tree (Gleditsia triacanthos)
The honeylocust is a big tree known for its beautiful green leaves, which resemble fern leaves. Honeylocusts are p.art of the Fabaceae family, and are native to North America.
This gorgeous tree can often grow to be as tall as 60 to 80 feet (18 to 24 meters) and wide when mature! The honeylocust will make a fine addition to your garden as an edging plant long as you’re able to give it the care it deserves.
Thinking about adding a honeylocust to your garden? Take a look and see if this tree will perform well in your garden:
- Because honeylocusts thrive in sunlight, they need to be planted in a spot where they will get six hours or more of direct sunlight, making them a good choice along a property border.
- Honeylocusts aren’t very pick about their soil conditions at all, and will do perfectly find in moist and slightly dry soil too. They can also survive periods of drought and floods too. Young honeylocusts will need to be watered every week for the first year to help them grow and stay healthy.
- While honeylocust trees do prefer loamy soil, they won’t mind other types too, as clay and sandy soil can also be good choices.
- This stunning tree can prevail through a variety of climates, though it’s important to keep in mind that any temperature below 33 degrees Fahrenheit will kill your lovely tree.
Superb Edging Shrubs for Beauty and Privacy
Gardeners who aren’t ready to plant tall trees along their property border, or who are looking for smaller shrubs to frame areas within the interior of their gardens, have plenty of wonderful bushes to choose from. Woody shrubs transform throughout the year, and remain beautiful even if they loose their leaves. Thanks to their dense stems, they never stop offering a privacy barrier, either.
1. Mop Head Hydrangea (Hydrangea Macrophylla)
Also called the French hydrangea or bigleaf hydrangea, Hydrangea macrophylla is a shade-loving shrub that’s often chosen as a privacy hedge, a foundation hedge, or an edging plant to grow along a patio.
Its beautiful flowers, which can appear in shades of pink, purple, blue, or white, bloom during the summer and add a softer and more elegant touch to your privacy hedge.
These shrubs are low-maintenance, and prefer dappled sun, partial shade, or deep shade. Mop head hydrangeas are well-adapted to a wide variety of soil conditions, including loamy, sandy, rich, and even clay soils.
They aren’t picky about pH levels at all, and are resistant to most plants diseases as well. It’s hard to find a more beginner-friendly edging plant than the mop head hydrangea, but these wonderful shrubs do have a slight downside — they are mildly poisonous to people and pets alike.
2. Red Twig Dogwood (Cornus sericea)
Red twig dogwood, also called American dogwood, is a superb choice for an edging plant — not only does this striking multi-stemmed shrub feature striking orange, purple, or burgundy leaves during its growing season, it also has exceptionally gorgeous bright red stems. In the winter, when the red twig dogwood’s leaves shed, they make way for amazing white berries that contrast beautifully with the red stems, creating your own personal winter wonderland.
Red twig dogwood may be the right border plant for you if:
- You’re hoping to create a privacy hedge, security hedge (getting through the dense stems is almost impossible, and whimsical winter garden — all in one.
- You are going for a decently-sized shrub. American dogwood grows to be five feet (one and a half meters) tall, with an equally wide spread — tall enough to prevent drivers from looking into your home or garden, and low enough for you to be able to look out.
- You want the most beautiful shrub possible! Once you start growing this shrub, conifers will lose their magic forever.
- Would love to attract pollinators, small mammals, and birds to your garden.
3. English Lavender (Lavandula Angustifolia)
Lavender may primarily be known as a herb, but make no mistake — English lavender, often called common lavender or narrow-leaved lavender, is a rather tall evergreen perennial shrub native to the Mediterranean.
This wonderful shrub is part of Lamiaceae (mint) family and usually grows to be around one to two feet (just over half a meter) tall with a spread of two to three feet. Lavender, is of course well known to be an incredibly fragrant herb with a gorgeous smell.
Not only do the lavenders flowers smell nice, though, they also have a fantastic purple color and a nice funnel or trumpet shape.
English lavender could make for an amazing choice to your edging garden, but before deciding you will want to know that:
- Lavender plants flourish in full sunlight and don’t do very well in any kind of shade. When finding a spot in your edging garden for the English lavender, make sure it in a spot that isn’t shady.
- The common lavender is very drought tolerant and can survive long periods without any water. Lavender also, in fact, does very well in dry soil, and doesn’t like its soil to be too moist — which could lead to root rot.
- Lavender thrives in dryer soils, making a well-draining sandy soil a very good choice for this fragrant shrub. As for soil pH levels, English lavender usually prefers alkaline to neutral pH level.
- If you own any furry friends, know that lavender is toxic to both cats and dogs as well as horses.
Fantastic Flowers and Smaller Plants to Frame Your Garden
Not all edging plants are used to hide something — many, indeed, are instead used to highlight central features in your garden, or to frame your property border. Gardeners who are seeking to invite, rather than repel, may choose delicate grasses or mesmerizing flowering plants to frame their gardens or walkways.
1. Sweet Alyssum (Lobularia Maritima)
Also known as the carpet flower or simply as alyssum, Lobularia maritima is a low-growing herbaceous perennial that produces elegant white, purple, or pink flowers — and why not select different specimens so that your warm and inviting hedge or frame can truly come to life?
Alyssum prefers plenty of sunlight with some afternoon shade, and tolerates a wide range of soil conditions, so long as they’re well-draining. Sweet alyssum should be watered every week or so, if your area has not enjoyed any rain recently, but don’t require fertilizer.
Plant them around your home, or use them to frame your perimeter, and you’ll be able to enjoy an easy-going fragrant plant that makes anyone feel welcome?
2. Daylily (Hemerocallis)
Go with old-fashioned orange daylilies if you prefer a more traditional look, or choose pink, purple, red, or white cultivars if you’d like to add a unique edging or border plant to your garden. Either way, daylilies are the perfect way to frame walkways and butterfly gardens.
These low-maintenance plants grow to be just about a foot (30 centimeters) long and thrive in full sun to partial shade. Because they are quite drought-tolerant, daylilies won’t suffer if you forget to water them once in a while.
Trees serve as an excellent wind barrier for your yard, while also adding some much-needed shade that can even reduce your energy costs.
Shrubs are the go-to if you are looking for privacy, while flowering plants play an important role in visually framing your garden.
All these types of edging plants can play a unique role in making your garden come together to create a finished whole that you’ll be able to enjoy throughout the year.