On Rocky Ground

By Chelle Cordero

July 2, 2012 5 min read

Are you planning to put rocks in your garden? Their uses can be as varied as the colors and shapes you can find. Rock gardens can be purely ornamental or completely functional. They do well in wetlands or drought areas. And rock gardens fit all shapes and sizes of areas.

If your land suffers frequent droughts, consider using groupings of colored rocks to decorate your garden; intersperse a drought-resistant plant here or there, and you'll have a beautiful space for outdoor living. Use pavers to create walkways and patios, and stick solar light stands into the ground, and you have the perfect place to entertain. Flat rocks or slabs of slate can be used for paths through the garden.

Zeroscaping uses lots of rocks and only a few plants to create a landscape that requires little water. Xeriscaping refers to the conservation of water through creative landscaping and grouping plants together based on their water needs. You can easily reduce the amount of water needed by limiting the open turf area and using rocks and pavers to adorn your yard. Incorporating mulch and woven fabric (which allows the water to drain and the ground to breath) will help reduce the amount of maintenance, as well. With just a minimal amount of planning, zeroscapes can make natural Xeriscapes.

Rocks can also be used to help step an uneven piece of property or even form the basis of a retaining wall; look up do-it-yourself instructions for retaining walls if you plan to do that. Use sizable rocks to hold back loose soil, dig out an area in the soil about a third of the size of the rock, and press into place. Putting a layer of sand or loose gravel under rocks and pavers used for steps and watering the rocks in place will help them set.

Using rocks in your garden can also help improve drainage. Similar to the rocky bottom of a creek, rocks can help direct water flow away from your house or increase natural drainage to keep a seating area dry. Using colors or textures, you can design your garden to resemble restful and attractive looks, such as creek beds, Zen gardens (also called Japanese rock gardens), deserts, woods or any natural setting. Benches and small gazebos will help create a peaceful respite in your own backyard.

Before you begin your garden project, decide on a focal point, and sketch the placement of rocks and any plants, bushes or trees. If you have difficulty visualizing, use stools, pillows, upside-down buckets or any other lightweight moveable objects to help your proposed rock placement and make sure that it works for you. Rocks, especially larger ones, are much more tedious to move than the lightweight substitutes. Finally, check your local zoning laws and/or with your homeowners association to ensure your planned garden does not violate any local ordinances.

If you use gravel for edgings or to improve drainage, avoid using ultra-small and fine pieces, as neighborhood animals might mistake it for a litter box or burial ground. Small gravel also has a tendency to get stuck in shoes (or bare feet) and can get tracked into your house. Use a wheel barrel or hand truck to move larger rocks into place and avoid back injuries.

When laying out walkways, dig out a little more than the depth of your pavers, put down a layer of planting membrane, cover it with fine gravel, and set your pavers tightly in place. If the walkway is going to be spaced-out slabs of rock, eliminate the membrane and fine gravel.

There are many reputable home garden stores that carry supplies for rock gardens, including the rocks, pavers, mulch, ornaments, plants, membrane fabrics and even professional plans. You can also visit construction sites and ask whether you can help yourself to rocks that have been unearthed. Often these construction companies will only need to cart the rocks offsite, so they might welcome someone else removing them.

Another good source for rocks and stones are local quarries, which often sell a variety of shapes and sizes for reasonable prices.

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