April 1 2002 12:00 AM

It?s a hot new idea that?s been around for nearly three decades ? concrete border edging. And it?s finally taking residential and commercial landscaping by storm. Concrete borders provide an attractive, permanent edging with little maintenance, making mowing around beds and walks a snap. Patrick Roach of Borderline Stamp USA in Phoenix, Arizona, says of the concrete edging industry, ?It?s a sleeping giant, slowly moving across the country.? Maybe it?s time to add this profit center to your business. It costs little in materials, while it creates large profits.

It all began in Australia. Richard Eagleton created the first curb machine in 1973. It was a rough machine, made to extrude curb as a border. He later sold the rights to three different companies, not realizing how small the world was becoming.

Most of the machines are basically the same. The difference is in the marketing. Some companies will sell the machine outright; other companies will franchise areas. One company sells what they call ?a total system,? that insures your success. Whichever way you choose, opportunities abound.

The idea is simple. Concrete is put into the hopper of an edging machine and is pushed through a form in the machine. Out comes a concrete curb, the right height, width, and shape for a particular bed or walk, just like making giant pasta. Not only that, the edging can be custom-colored and stamped to look like brick or flagstone, and can even house rope lighting.

Bob Mathias, president of Lil? Bubba (The Concrete Edge) in Orlando, Florida, boasts the benefits of concrete edging. ?Landscaping is a work of art. The concrete curb acts as a picture frame that frames the landscape bed.? Just as you wouldn?t put a Rembrandt into a plain, skimpy frame, he says, you wouldn?t surround your landscaping with just anything; you would find the appropriate frame.

?Landscape bricks can tip over and break,? says Allan Coleman, owner of Deco Curbing, in Clermont, Florida. ?Concrete edging is one piece and can fit almost any contour.?

Ease of Application
Concrete edging can be applied to residential landscaping as well as larger commercial sites. Almost any size or shape landscape bed can be edged with concrete, even tree rings. It doesn?t attract insects like landscape timbers or other wood products. Concrete edging also provides an effective weed barrier, and prevents decorative stone or mulch from spilling onto lawns or driveways. Larger concrete extruding machines are used for applications such as parking lots, street curbs, medians, drive-thru business lanes, school yards, cemeteries, and golf cart paths.

Derryl Farar is foreman of the curb crew for the Phoenix, Arizona division of Valley Crest, a nation-wide landscape and site construction company. He works closely with design architects, who develop individual curbing plans for their customers. ?You can make concrete edging do whatever you want it to do, within the bounds of the nature of concrete,? he says. It is an ideal design medium.

In Farar?s area, concrete edging is used in apartment complexes to act as a barrier so rainwater or irrigation water doesn?t settle against the building?s foundation. An L-shaped edge is placed against each building. Water is then directed away from the building, and into the lawn or flower beds, just as a splash block is used for downspouts.

This type of edging can also reduce mowing and trimming time. ?Concrete edging cuts down on maintenance a lot,? Coleman says. Since the edging is continuous, without the spaces necessary between bricks or pavers, no weeds can grow through the concrete, making it an effective weed barrier.

Fred Haentze, a partner in Evergreen Lane Landscaping/Border Magic in Harleysville, Pennsylvania, agrees, ?You don?t have to weed whack. You can drive your mower up onto the edge of the concrete and cut right around it.? Concrete edging is quite strong, able to withstand loads up to 3,000 psi.

Borderline has an L-shaped lip on the turf side of its edging designs which allows the mower wheel to run right along the concrete. In addition, some edging designs for Border Magic have a wheel groove for the mower, and other designs are merely sloped so the mower can move over them.

Installing concrete borders is easy and fast. ?There are no forms to build or tear down,? Mathias says, ?And you mix the concrete on the street.? Haentze adds, ?There is no need for cement trucks on the customer?s property.?

There is also no need for deep excavation or extensive disturbance of existing landscaping. Using a sod cutter, the operator takes up the sod and 1?" of topsoil. This provides a level area on which to place the concrete.

?All you need is a machine, a wheel barrow, and one or two workers,? Mathias says. Two people can install 300 linear feet of edging a day. These machines are fast, and material costs are low. For example, depending on the application, machines can extrude concrete at a rate of 8 to 15 feet per minute for somewhere between 35 and 40 cents per linear foot. Most residential applications can be finished in a day. This means you get more work done in a shorter time, which translates into bigger profits.

Learning how to handle the concrete mix is important. Marcia Girard, president of Creative Curb in Irvine, California, says, ?If the mix doesn?t have the right consistency, it can crack or lack strength. A lot depends on the time of day you purchase sand. The moisture content varies.?

Sam Thrush, national sales manager for Border Magic in Rantoul, Illinois, says that compaction is vital to how the machine extrudes the cement. ?If it?s not compacted well, the edge can crack or become brittle.? He suggests holding back the smaller machines to get a solid compaction. His company also puts an additive called ?Extend? into the mix, which eliminates any spider cracking on the edges as you make turns. Other companies suggest hand troweling over the top, after extruding the cement.

Concrete edging is also very durable, even when extruding curves. Coleman says that the best way to control cracking around curves is to put a cut into the edging every three or four feet. The cut goes half way through but doesn?t show from the outside. This cut acts as an expansion joint, Haentze explains, allowing the concrete to expand or contract during freezing and thawing.

?These machines are easy to work on,? says Girard. ?Replacement parts are easy to find, and are usually only needed when the machine is not cleaned properly.? Simple, immediate cleaning can keep these machines running for a long time.

Colors and Patterns
A rainbow of colors and a variety of stamping products are available in concrete edging, making it one of the most versatile edging products for landscape design. Color is added to the cement mix, so the color is uniform throughout the concrete. Almost all the manufacturers of the equipment offer color packages with their machines.

A variety of extrusion forms which create the shape, width, and height of the edging can create whatever curbing design you have in mind. You can make a simple edge, a curb, or a slanted edge. Pattern stamps are available in a multitude of styles. Concrete edging can look like brick, slate, tile, cobblestone, fieldstone, flagstone, and random rock styles. Brick stamps can create single brick, double brick, soldier course, and basketweave designs. Some use roller and metal stamps which are dipped into a contrasting color powder, adding grout lines and multi-colored overlays. Other companies put the color on the edging, then roll the stamp over it. Both create realistic looking brick and stone.

These machines can also lay garden paths and walkways, stamped in a number of paver styles. They can stamp brick, tile, slate, and stone walkways and match colors with the curbing. Some machines are available to extrude 14-inch garden paths on up to 36-inch walkways.

Decorative Lighting and Other Extras
Border edging lends itself easily to decorative lighting. Borderline?s machines have a flute in the bottom of the machine, which creates a channel in the back of the curbing where foam backer rod is placed. The day after the concrete is extruded, the operator peels off the backer rod and clips in 110 low-voltage, rope lighting. Because the light comes from the back of the edging, it is not harsh and produces soft, subtle lighting, directed onto the beds themselves. This lighting can be added to either standard or stamped curb.

Thrush says his machines can also place rope lighting in his curbs either installed directly into the feature or into an existing job. Haentze notes, ?To do either, the curb must be extruded and left to set up for two days to two weeks. Then you come back and cut a groove into the back of the concrete. Rope lighting is then pushed into the groove.? Lil? Bubba, in contrast, attaches tube lighting onto the top surface of the concrete edging, and marks off landscape areas and walkways, like holiday lighting. Timers can be attached to any system to automatically switch the lighting on and off.
Gordon Buckland, owner of Edgetec International, Inc./Kwik Kerb in Altamonte Springs, Florida, offers a special coating called Alumagel for his concrete curbing. ?It glows all night,? he says. It comes in green, yellow, orange, red, and blue ? colors which can complement the rest of the landscape.

Concrete edging is easy to learn. All of the concrete-extruding machine companies offer training on-site, so you can learn how to handle the machine efficiently. Practice is necessary in order to feel confident with the machine. Training runs from two to four days, allowing participants to observe concrete edging on-site and to have hands-on experience. Some training sessions also provide information about maintenance, marketing, and specialized stamping. They also show how to get the mix just right.

Adding concrete border edging to the list of your landscaping services will expand the creative design possibilities you can offer your clients. ?As an add-on, you can market this new service to your existing customer base,? says Buckland. The attractiveness and custom-design possibilities of concrete border edging will make it an easy sell.

April 2002