Rock Garden Ideas

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Rock gardens work well in all kinds of landscapes, but they thrive in difficult areas. Slopes, dry spots, wind exposure and extreme temperatures make the ideal conditions for rock gardens. A bare corner, a hill at the back of the yard that no one wants to mow, a windy and exposed north-facing side yard and the small areas between older urban houses all make excellent locations for a rock garden ideas.

Types of Rock Gardens

The style of your rock garden can reflect your interests, landscape and environment. A rock garden also lends itself to creativity, allowing you to add a contrasting feature or design element to your yard.

Tip

  • Farmers and builders often have rocks from tilling and digging. Ask around and you might find some free, local rocks for your rock garden.

Mountains in the Backyard

Low-growing, hardy plants make a great choice for a rock garden.
Low-growing, hardy plants make a great choice for a rock garden. (Image: rootstocks/iStock/Getty Images)

Alpine plants have great adaptability to a rock garden landscape. The plants typically grow in poor soil and somewhat extreme conditions. By choosing the best plants for your U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zone -- and matching those plants to your soil and lighting conditions -- you’ll bring a little bit of the mountains to your yard. Choose a selection of large boulders and a scattering of smaller rocks. Place alpine plants haphazardly among the rocks for a natural alpine look. Use a hilly site or slope for the best effect.

Dry as a Desert

Succulents add color and texture to a dry rock garden.
Succulents add color and texture to a dry rock garden. (Image: oksix/iStock/Getty Images)

A dry rock garden makes an excellent choice for locations frequented by drought and for desert climates. A dry garden also fills in landscape areas that become dry due to other factors, such as large trees nearby that use the water. For dry rock gardens, choose a selection of rocks in different sizes, colors and shapes. Between the rocks, plant succulents and semisucculents for your USDA zone and the lighting conditions. Succulents require little water, making them the best choice for a dry rock garden.

Zen in the Garden

Zen gardens feature many hardscape elements for rock garden ideas.
Zen gardens feature many hardscape elements for rock garden ideas. (Image: Zerbor/iStock/Getty Images)

Zen gardens and Japanese gardens make use of hardscape features, such as rocks and gravel. Interspersed among the hard features, specimen plants add color and contrast, flowers and texture. A Zen garden might take up a small corner of a yard or encompass the entire backyard. Key elements in a zen-themed rock garden include a path, a water feature and plants balanced with rocks, gravel, sculpture and carefully raked sand.

Elements of Rock Gardens

No matter the style of your rock garden, some design elements will make it a feature of your landscape.

Add a Little Color

Colorful plants bring life to a rock garden.
Colorful plants bring life to a rock garden. (Image: photonaj/iStock/Getty Images)

Rock gardens of any type look boring and bland without the addition of color. Choose plants with colorful foliage and bright flowers to give pops of color among the boulders. Quartz, blue stone and other colorful rocks also bring different hues and tones to the garden. For year-round interest, choose a few low-growing evergreens and flowering bulbs for each season. Perennials and annuals also add color to a rock garden, but opt for ground-hugging varieties.

Tip

  • Grow a small plant or two in the cracks in a rock.

Place the Rocks

Careful placement of rocks serves several purposes.
Careful placement of rocks serves several purposes. (Image: photonaj/iStock/Getty Images)

While no hard rules exist for placing rocks, some ideas make a rock garden appear more natural, while others look intentionally unnatural. Sloped rock gardens look more natural with the largest rocks at the bottom and the smallest at the top, mimicking a rock slide. Bury the rocks partway into the soil to complete the look. For other types of rock gardens, placement of the rocks is about flow, balance and working with the other elements. For example, rock placement should allow room for the plants to reach their mature size.

Tip

  • Careful rock and plant placement provides shade for plants that need it.

Shape the Garden

A curving pathway completes a rock garden.
A curving pathway completes a rock garden. (Image: rootstocks/iStock/Getty Images)

A rock garden, no matter the style, looks best with curves and soft shapes to accent the hardscape features. Curve the borders, create winding paths and design an ambling dry creek bed to accent you rock garden. Soften the backdrop with dwarf trees and shrubs that fit your design, especially if you have a fence or structure behind the rock garden.

For help in planning your rock garden, see How to Design a Rock Garden.

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