DIY Network

How to Make a Rock Garden

With some careful planting and specific stone choices, you can transform a garden headache into a little pocket of Zen.

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mix plant textures by adding rest of plants Watch Video
  • Time

    Several Weekends

  • Price Range

    $5,000 - $10,000

  • Difficulty

    Hard

Highlights:

Step 1: Clear the Slate

You'll want to work with a cleared area of land, so remove any brush, bushes or undergrowth in the area. Using a leaf blower to clear the area of leaves and light vegetation will save time. Use a shovel to dig the bushes out from the roots and use a strong set of shears to cut the branches (Image 1).

Once the larger plant growth has been cleared, use a hoe to remove the smaller vegetation (Image 2). An important step in clearing the slate is shaping it for the addition of stone, plants, and mulch. The goal is to separate the lawn from the bed space by creating an edge using an edger (Image 3). Make a deep edge, so that over time any mulch or stone that does wash out goes into the edge and not onto the lawn.

Step 2: Choose a Design

Once you've cleared the area that you will be landscaping, step back and start thinking about design. Mark out the design with inverted marking paint (Image 1). This helps get a sense of how well the space flows. You can always redo your markings, so play around with the design features (Image 2).

Step 3: Select the Stone

Choose a variety of stone to work with. Options include large boulders (Image 1), small boulders (Image 2), flat stones for the walkway, colored river bed stones and flagstone (Image 3).

You can have the quarry deliver the stones to your site and unload them. If you choose to unload them yourself, start with the smaller followed by the larger ones. Small stones can weigh as much as 100 pounds, while the larger stones can go up to 500, so be careful when you work and make sure you have some help for this step.

Step 4: Install the Boulders

Begin with the hardest stuff; when working with stone that means setting the boulders first. Roll the heavy stones into place using crowbars and stone shims. Create a footing to set the boulders so they both stay in place and look natural. The boulders will sit inside the footing, rather than on top of level ground, which gives the rock garden a more natural look.

roll heavy stones into place using crowbars

Step 5: Choose Plants

Look for plants that are suited to your local climate. They should have multiple textures to enhance and not clash with the aesthetics of your rock garden. For this project, some of their flowers and plants include chrysanthemums (Image 1) and blue rug juniper bushes (Image 2)

Step 6: Create the Riverbed

Use juniper bushes, small boulders, and river bed stone to create their simulated river. Start by positioning the junipers (Image 1) at the top and work down to create a naturally flowing "river" that will empty into a simulated basin (Image 2).

Set the junipers using using a combination of peat moss and fertilizer. The peat moss helps to hold water next to the plant, while the fertilizer feeds the plant. Once the junipers are set (Image 3), dig out the river bed, following the line of the flowers.

Set small boulders along and in the river bed (Image 4) to create a natural flow. Setting these stones isn't formal stonework: it's all about positioning great stones rather than shaping them – so take your time at the quarry when picking them out and take your time at the site when setting them. Just like the large boulders in the planting bed, set these in a footing.

Follow by adding the small river bed stone (Image 5). If you live in an area that has a lot of undergrowth or roots, lay down landscape fabric first and then put the crushed stone or river bed stone on top.

Step 7: Set the Plants

Once you have created your riverbed, you can place the rest of your plants. Work down the landscape and play around with plant arrangement. You want to mix plant textures. Add colorful flowers, but make sure to spread them out so that the look is natural. Lay the plants out in their containers, make adjustments and then begin to set them (Image 1).

Take your time when setting your plants and flowers. Occasionally step back and observe your work, making sure you have not grouped too many of the same flowers or plants together.

If you decide to use plants that come in a container, take them out of the container first, and then scratch the sides of the soil to loosen the roots (Image 2). You want to expose some of the fibrous material so that once they are set they can take in water faster.

Set the plants in holes that are twice as wide as the plant's roots. Do not make the hole too deep. The top of the plant should stick out of the ground about a quarter of an inch (Image 3). Eventually, when you add mulch, the feeder roots at the top of the plant will get water immediately.

Some of the plants you choose may come covered in burlap. As you set it, peel it away from the root, but it is recommended to not remove the whole piece of burlap. It is holding the root ball in place, and removing it entirely puts the plant at risk of having the roots break apart.

Step 8: Set the Walkway

As the final touch, create the stepping stone area. The pathway will serve as a good place to weed and water from, as well as a decorative addition. Dry lay the stones to check for placement and then set them. To set them, trace the stepping stones with your shovel, remove the stone, and dig an individual footing for each stone before setting them.

To enhance the visual impact of the stepping stone area and contrast the mulch, add river bed stone between the stepping stones (Image 1). Use your shovel to place a small amount in between each stone. Do not overdo it. You want your riverbed to retain that natural, under-designed look.

The final step is to add mulch (Image 2). Although the mulch's main function is to decorate the area, it also helps retain water for the plants, as well as prevents weeds from coming through. Once in place, your rock garden is complete.

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