How to Use Rocks in Landscaping

Use Rocks to Structure the Landscape

Choose rocks that are similar to the native stone in your region. This creates the most natural look. Choose similar colors for all the stone in your garden, including paths, patios, rock mulch and accent rocks. If you want contrast in your landscape design, vary the shade of the rock color but not the hue.

Use rocks of varying sizes to unify the composition of your landscape. Small rocks or sand on a pathway will complement larger accent rocks placed across the garden, making the entire landscape seem to flow together.

Construct garden retaining walls or terraces from stone. Stone that is precut specifically for building mortar-free garden walls makes this a good do-it-yourself project.

Pave patios and walkways with stone, either naturally shaped or cut to regular geometric forms. Place the stones in a sand bed, adding soil between the stones so that small ground cover plants can fill in the cracks.

Take advantage of naturally occurring rocks when they serve a purpose. Don’t remove rocks that already work well as stepping stones or stairs, for instance. If the arrangement of stones seems incomplete, just add more stones to finish the work that nature began.

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Add Texture to Your Garden With Small Rocks and Gravel

Create naturally textured walkways with crushed granite or gravel. Crushed granite compacts to a firm, comfortable walking surface with a smooth appearance. Gravel is looser and rougher looking and adds an interesting underfoot crunch to your garden strolling experience. Both crushed granite and gravel provide good drainage.

Mulch garden beds with small rocks. Loose rocks help retain moisture around shrubs and trees and also inhibit weed growth. For ground cover, rocks about 1 inch to 2 inches look best.

Create an organic design in a plain gravel bed by raking a flowing pattern into the gravel. Accent the gravel bed with strategically placed rocks. Japanese Zen gardens are a superb example of this technique.

Use Rocks as Garden Accents and Sculpture

Place moderate-sized rocks in planting groups and flower beds. Select rocks that highlight the colors and shape of your plants. Space the rocks sparingly and irregularly throughout your garden for a natural effect.

Place large rocks or boulders, singly or in a group of two or three, as a landscape focal point. Boulders add important scale and height to large garden spaces.

Select boulders carefully for shape so that they can also serve as garden seating or functional landscape features like small footbridges. If you plan to use a boulder for seating, be sure that the texture of the rock is comfortably smooth.

Stack rocks on top of each other to add mystery to your landscape. Garden visitors will wonder how and why the rocks were stacked. Stacked rocks also give a sense of impending movement or potential energy, since they always appear as if they might topple.

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Tips & Warning

  • Consider synthetic or fabricated rocks when large rocks or boulders are too costly or inconvenient to place in your garden. Fabricated rocks come in all sorts of colors and textures, and are a fraction the weight of natural stone.
  • When placing boulders, for the most natural effect, bury 6 to 12 inches of the boulder beneath the ground.
  • Smooth stones may become slick with moisture and algae in shady locations, so for patios, select flagstones that have a rough texture.

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