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How Do I Trim?

by Dawn West, All About Lawns Columnist

Trimming your lawn is usually not as pleasurable and glamorous as mowing. However, the difference between a good lawn and a great lawn may only be a trimming and/or edging away. Trimming differs from edging in that edging refers to a vertical trim of the edges generally along sidewalks and driveways. Trimming, on the other hand, is a technique used to cut grass and weeds in areas a mower cannot reach, such as walls, fences, around mailboxes ad light poles, trees, flower beds, and sometimes driveways and sidewalks. Obviously, there can be confusion in differentiating between trimming and edging. As a general rule, it is best to remember edging as a "vertical" cut and trimming as a "horizontal cut."
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Most trimming is commonly done with a gas or electrically powered trimmer that operates a nylon string that spins in a whipping motion to cut the grass. Some more advanced models have reciprocating blades in place of the nylon strings. Trimming should be carried out to "level" the remaining grass so it is flush with the mower cut grass. Again, it is important to remember that the 1/3 cutting rule applies here, too. If you trim in excess of this amount, the trimmed areas may get scalped and look worse then they did prior to trimming. Another thing to remember is to ALWAYS wear protective eye ware when operating a trimmer. Although some trimmers may contain "guards", they are not sufficient for keeping your eyes free of danger! Additionally, most people choose to wear jeans or other clothing over their legs to protect from flying debris and the nylon string that can puncture and cut your skin while power trimming.


Edging can make your lawn look finely groomed along the borders and prevent "creeping" grasses from growing outside of their boundaries. The Vertical cut is commonly made in a straight line fashion along the grass boundaries between sidewalks and driveways. Edgers are typically gas powered or electrical. If you have a smaller lawn that requires minimal edging, you may want to use a pair of vertical cutting shears to do the same job. However, if you have over 1/4 acre of lawn, you may want to look at the gas powered and electrical options.
Edging Example
Edging Along a Sidewalk

Buying Tip

When buying a gas powered Trimmer and/or Edger, keep in mind that each can cost in the ball park of $100.00. A good rule of thumb to use for electrical trimmers/edgers is this: if you can reach any corner of your yard within 100-150 feet of an electrical outlet on your house and will only use the trimmer and/or edger on your yard, then you may want to consider an electrical Trimmer/Edger. They often cost less the half of their gas powered counterparts, are quieter, and require less maintenance then the gas powered versions. Conversely, if you have a larger yard with areas that are in excess of 100-150 feet away from your electrical outlets, then gas powered trimmers may be your best bet. Additionally, gas powered trimmers are much more mobile then the electrical versions and can be carried and transported with every little time and effort. Keep in mind that the gas powered versions also run two-stroke engines and frequently require gas/oil mixing and additional maintenance.

Buying Tip

Edging Trimmer
Edging with a Horizontal Trimmer

Obviously buying both a trimmer and edger for a lawn less then an acre in size may seem like a lot of money. For most people, spending around $200 for these machines is. But there may be a solution. Many horizontal trimmers can be turned to cut vertically as well (for edging). As shown in the illustration, horizontal trimmers can do a very good job of edging as well. Although they may not look as sharp as a true edger, they can usually do the job and save you money at the same time. If this sounds desirable, simply ask if the trimmer you are buying can do vertical edging. Sometimes the trimmer boxes will tell you this before you have to ask for help.

About the Author
Dawn West B.A. holds a B.A. in English from Harvard University and teaches writing at Oregon State University.

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