The Q&A Archives: Gardening with Rocks

Question: My husband and I have just moved into a new home in Southwest Michigan. We would like to landscape the front of our house. It is facing North, but seems to get quite a bit of sun, so I would say it is sun - part sun. If we were to fill the area in completely with river rock, what types of plants would we be able to put in our garden? Do we have to use mulch?

Answer: Rocks native to your area will look natural and will be the cheapest and easiest to obtain. Large rocks with irregular shapes look interesting in the rock garden, but keep in mind that you'll need smaller rocks, too. Limestone is a good selection. The rock is soft and porous, allowing moisture to seep through, and some determined roots will be able to make their way through the rock. Limestone usually has depressions in it that can be filled with dirt for planting mosses and lichens.

Set the rocks in the lowest, front part of the garden first and work upward. Shovel enough soil around each rock to anchor it firmly. You may need to bury half or more of each rock. After the rocks are in place, let the soil settle around them for a few days, then take a look from a distance to be sure you like the layout before adding plants.

There is an endless variety of plants to choose from. Low growing perennials are the best, but since many of those best suited to rock gardens bloom only in the spring, consider strategic placement of summer-blooming heaths, heathers, herbs and annuals to add color during the rest of the season.

Some purists feel that a rock garden should contain only those plants which grow naturally on rocky slopes in poor soil. Most rock gardens, however, are not located in cool climates with long winters where these plants do well. When selecting your plants, make sure they are right for your climate and exposure.

Think of your rock garden as a collection of potted plants, and tend them accordingly. Loosen the soil in each area occasionally with a small garden fork. Most rock plants do well in poor soil, but the occasional addition of manure or compost will give them a boost.

Routine care will include cutting back any leggy plants after flowering, clipping off dead stems and foliage, and dividing any plants that become root-bound or too large for its space. Check for insects and diseases regularly. Slugs may be especially pesky because they enjoy the shelter found among the rocks. Never let weeds grow in the nooks and crannies. They will easily crowd out plants in small areas.

Here are suggestions for plants to include:
Annuals -

Blue Eyed Grass
Desert Bluebell
Summer Savory
Sweet Alyssum

Perennials -

Balloon Flower
Dwarf Lavender
English Daisy

Best wishes with your project.

« Click to go to the homepage

» Ask a question of your own

Q&A Library Searching Tips

  • When singular and plural spellings differ, as in peony and peonies, try both.
  • Search terms are not case sensitive.

Today's site banner is by Paul2032 and is called "Coreopsis"