Making the Grade in your planting bed
You will most likely be using some type of mulch in your planting bed, so when raking out to final grade within the bed, keep the soil several inches below the top of the bed border. This will keep the mulch in the bed, even when animals and humans take shortcuts across the planting area. Bark mulches are often top dressed with a thin layer every few years to keep a fresh look, so keep this in mind when establishing grade.
Making the Grade in your Lawn
If your planting bed adjoins lawn, take great care levelling and compacting soil along the edge of the border. Your lawn rolling process most likely missed this edge, so use your foot to pack the soil along the border, raking back and forth as you establish grade.
What’s the proper lawn grade along this edge? Consider that your lawn gradually “thickens” over the years. Hopefully, your lawn maintenance practices work to limit the development of thatch, so let’s assume that the mature thickness of the sod will be one and one half inch. If you grade your soil one and one half inch below the border, you will, after two to three years, be able to mow along the edge so as to eliminate trimming altogether. Unfortunately, you’ll have to trim this edge until your sod thickens to normal.
If you grade the lawn to near the top of the border, you can eliminate initial trimming altogether. But what happens in a few years? Your sod has “grown” to well above the border and this edge becomes unsightly. If the lawn adjoins a walk or drive, its height above the hardscape is not only unsightly but also dangerous, possibly causing you or your visitors to trip.
Making the Grade in your hardscapes
Soil grades for pavers and other hardscape surfaces take considerable planning. You’ll need to excavate native soil and replace with compacted crushed rock and a bedding of sand. The exact amount of excavation and backfill will depend on your soil type, minimum temperatures and proposed use of the hardscape area. Each installation is unique and should be engineered carefully.
Since the soil grade level changes dramatically between a lawn or planting bed and a hardscape surface, substantial borders are required. One inch lumber is not sufficient… two by six, eight or ten cedar or redwood works well for straight runs. For curved hardscape surfaces, special edging is available from several manufacturers.
The processes of creating and grading your landscape areas involves considerable hard work and careful planning. Take care to get it right the first time!
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About Dan Eskelson
Dan has had his hands in the soil for most of his adult life as a gardener, landscaping contractor, golf course superintendent and landscape designer. When the ground freezes, he builds websites, produces video and plays the hammered dulcimer. Full bio here.