How to Landscape With River Stones


River stones, with their smooth contours, varied colors and wide range of shapes accent the landscape with a natural element that suits nearly any landscaping scheme. Colors include red, yellow, green, black, white and mixed colors. Texas A&M University's Extension website recommends using river stones—the small ones—as a mulch for water conservation. Landscaping that employs more natural elements, including stones, fits with contemporary concerns for environmentally materials in the yard. Creating a plan and working with the sizes and features of the stones leads to a landscape that enhances the yard and echoes nature.

Things You'll Need

  • Small river stones
  • River stones in various sizes
  • Shovel
  • Lava rocks or other landscaping rocks, (optional)
  • List the areas of the yard and the purposes for the river rocks in the landscape. For example: Front yard: rose garden border, sidewalk edging; Kitchen garden: herb garden border and accents; Back yard: vegetable garden border and larger rocks to discourage the dog from digging; Fountain area: rock garden.

  • Place river stones end to end along a sidewalk or the edges of a path. If you have limited amount of stones, space them 2 to 3 inches apart. Otherwise, place the stones end to end.

  • Dig a narrow trench 1-inch deep along garden's edge to create a border. A close-set river stone border reduces erosion and adds a decorative element. Dig with the tip of the shovel and smooth the trench with the edge of the blade.

  • Lay the river stones end to end in the trench so they touch. Replace the dirt along the edges of the river stones and press it down. This integrates the stones into the garden and helps hold them in place. Laying them in the shallow trench creates a more finished effect than lining them up on the ground.

  • Repeat steps 3 and 4 to create other garden borders in the landscape.

  • Spread a 1-inch layer of small river stones in plant bedding areas as a mulch. Rake them to make them even.

  • Arrange larger river rocks in flower and vegetable gardens as accent pieces. Interspersing river stones in a garden between the plants may also help discourage pets from digging in the planted beds. Dig a shallow hole the size of the stone at a depth at least 25 percent of the stone's height. For example, for a foot-tall stone, dig a hole 3 inches deep. Seat the stone in the hole and tamp the loose earth around it with your shoe. This secures the stone and gives it a look of belonging in the landscape.

  • Create a rock garden on the south side of the house to add an ornamental area and reduce water use in the yard. Tumble the rocks over the area for the rock garden for a natural effect, then add more decorative rocks toward the front and at the center to increase the visual appeal. Lava rocks and other landscaping stones combine well with river stones to add different colors and textures to a rock garden.

Tips & Warnings

  • Lay the borders for flower beds before adding small river stones as a mulch. The border helps to keep the river stones in the bed.
  • Cover cracked cement, uneven areas or other problem zones in the landscape with a rock garden.
  • White river stones reflect heat--avoid using white near plants.
  • A small rake helps to remove leaves from river rock mulch.
  • Rock gardens work well with succulent and cactus plantings to add interest to the landscape and offer a way to dress up difficult to plant areas.

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  • Photo Credit blumen image by Marty Kropp from
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