(How to Build a) Rock Garden

Spring garden in full bloom

By -Georgia Lund-

Rock gardens are the perfect solution for those with brown thumbs, rocky slopes or for those that just don’t want the responsibility of tending to an all-green garden. Rock gardens can transform a barren terrain into an attractive and inviting outdoor space. Since rocks are the feature, with a little greenery tucked in, maintenance for these types of gardens is minimal. Use these tips for creating your unique rock garden this weekend.

Pick a Spot

A rock garden can be a little circle tucked into a small corner of the yard, be sprawled out across a rocky slope or somewhere in-between in size and shape. There’s no right or wrong size or shape, working with the landscape will make the building and maintenance easier.

The only thing to bear in mind when picking a spot for a rock garden is the plants you may want to incorporate into the design. Slow-growing succulents are typically the primary plant in rocks gardens, and they will need plenty of sunlight to flourish.

Rocks and Soil

Alternating placement of rocks and soil are the basis for any rock garden design. Start by placing the largest rocks in the garden shape desired, fill the interior with soil, then add another layer of rocks 6-12 inches inside the first layer on top of the soil. Fill in the interior with more soil to create a two-tiered planter. Another layer of rocks and soil can be added to create a three-tier planter if desired.  Place rocks randomly on top of the soil to create small pockets of soil in which to place plants. Reserve a few rocks to fill in gaps between plants.

Create a Theme

Create a theme for the rock garden for a unified look. A theme can be created with the use of plant color, type or texture. Decorative objects can also be incorporated to create a theme, like a toad house, toad stools and fake (or real) toads.

Plant Choices

Select plants that have the same water, soil, and sun needs. All varieties of succulents will provide drought-tolerant color, height, and texture for rock gardens, plus their slow-growing nature will enable them to eventually fill in all gaps without becoming invasive and difficult to maintain. Spring blooming flowers, like daffodils and tulips, can easily be incorporated into a rock garden too.

Hostas, ivy, hellebores and monkey grass are good and choices for shady rock gardens.


Dig a small hole in the soil and place plants. Water and add a 1-inch layer of organic mulch on top of the soil. After all, plants are planted, place remaining rocks on top of the soil to fill in gaps. In time, the plants will fill in space nicely and grow over the rocks.

Image by: arinahabich

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