How to Landscape With Rocks

Rock columns at a gated driveway entrance.

Fotosearch / Getty Images

What separates some of the great landscapes from just ordinary ones is the creative use of rock. Rock is an ideal hardscape material that can bring out the beauty of your plants and add definition and a sense of structure to your planted areas. Rock may be rivaled in durability by other hardscape materials, like concrete and brick, but the only rock is an all-natural material that looks like it could be original to the site. It also requires no maintenance, unlike wood hardscaping. 

  • 01 of 08

    Using Rock in Patio Construction

    Two chairs around a fire pit on a flagstone patio.
    1Photodiva / Getty Images

    For some hardscape projects, you may need to bind your rocks together with mortar. For others, you may decide that brick, concrete, or tile will work better than rock. These and other choices must be weighed carefully before taking on one of the most popular hardscape projects—building a patio. 

    Whether made of concrete, stone, tile, or some other hardscape material, patios are a wonderful way to tie the indoors with the outdoors. An interesting alternative to lawns is the extended patio—an enlarged patio that takes up space where lawn grass would otherwise be planted. Such a patio minimizes yard maintenance and cuts down on your watering needs.

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  • 02 of 08

    Anchoring Planting Beds With Boulders

    Property with stone garage and house entry, stone driveway, and boulders in an island planting bed.
    Ivan Hunter / Getty Images

    This small lawn is dominated by a planting bed, and the design is effective. But this bed would have much less impact without the boulders used to anchor it. Given the use of rock throughout the property (house, garage, and driveway), these boulders also tie the planting bed in nicely with the rest of the scene.

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  • 03 of 08

    Building Stone Walls

    Insert a niche into your stone wall (image) to accommodate a shrub. The latter will soften the look.
    David Beaulieu

    Stone walls can be used for so many things in a landscape:  

    • Separating the street from your lawn
    • Lining the sides of a driveway
    • Marking property corners or boundary lines
    • Enclosing vegetable gardens or flower beds
    • Preventing erosion or terracing a slope with retaining walls

    These ideas only hint at the possible choices and challenges when planning stone walls. One of the most obvious of your initial decisions is whether or not to use mortar to hold the rocks in place. If you are using round rocks, you have little choice but to use mortar. Round rocks are not as stable as flat rocks, and mortar is needed to keep them from moving. 

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  • 04 of 08

    Size and Shape as Factors in Rock Selection

    Stone steps going through beds of colorful plants.
    RiverNorthPhotography / Getty Images

    For all rock work, the size and shape of the stone are central to achieving the look and feel you desire. So choose your rocks carefully. The large, flat rocks used to build these landscape steps assure anyone approaching that their journey will be completely safe. The last thing that you want in a landscape step is instability. Even the suggestion of instability in a landscape step is off-putting.

    On the other hand, do not over-do the use of rocks in landscape design, no matter how stable they are. Make sure that you use plenty of plants in your design in order to soften the look of the rocks, which can be a bit harsh if there are no plants around.

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  • 05 of 08

    Considerations for Retaining Walls

    As with landscape steps, choose your building material wisely when using natural stone to create a retaining wall. Work done with large, flat rocks gives you a sense of stability, which is appropriate for retaining walls. A retaining wall is a feature that is practical, first and foremost. Its job is to retain the soil behind it to prevent erosion.

    There are many factors to keep in mind when building retaining walls. If the wall will be small and simple (with no tricky angles), it may be doable as a DIY project. But large and complex walls should be left to professionals.

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  • 06 of 08

    The Marriage of Rock and Water

    Square rock fountain with water falling over a spillway.
    Bernhard Bohlen / EyeEm / Getty Images

    There is something magical about the combination of rock and water in a landscape. Perhaps that is why Westerners have fallen in love with Japanese gardens, which frequently marry these two elements together. Fountains made of stone are one idea to try out if you are looking for ways to use rocks and water in combination. And you don't necessarily need to install a large fountain to create an impact. It depends on the size of the space. Simple rock fountains can have a big impact on a small property.

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  • 07 of 08

    Using Rocks in a Water Garden

    Garden pond surrounded by rock, off a walkway and patio.
    Eirasophie / Getty Images

    There are other ways to unite rock and water in your landscaping, besides building rock fountains. With their combination of plants and water, water gardens already give your yard an interesting look. But adding rocks to the scene lends even greater variety. Nor do such water features have to be large. You have plenty of plant choices for creating a small water garden on your property

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  • 08 of 08

    A Solid Path to Landscaping Beauty

    Grow moss between cobblestones to create interest.
    Genya Yoneoka / EyeEm / Getty Images

    Stone walkways can be wonderful, but they can also be a bit monotonous if you are not careful. To some degree, it depends on the material that you choose to build with. Take a cobblestone walkway, for example. Cobblestones are delightful, but they are also uniform. Planting a small ground cover in the cracks between the cobblestones is a great way to break up the monotony.

    Examples of short plants that can serve in this role include:

    By contrast, flagstone is a building material that has a lot of variety to it. The stones are irregular in shape and come in different colors. When building flagstone walkways, there is no need to install plant material in the cracks between the flagstones.

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