23 River Rock Landscaping Ideas for Your Garden & Yard

Smooth river rocks in dry river bed with plantings

fotolinchen / Getty Images

River rocks are essentially rocks, gravel or boulders that have been gathered from river beds or other places where water has given them smooth and rounded edges. This can include small pea gravel, larger stones ranging in size from lima beans to avocados, and larger rocks and boulders. River rock can be used for walkways, edging, in beds, in containers, on patios, for rain gardens, and a number of other ways.

Though river rock is a flexible material, there are some limitations with its use. Gravel or stone isn't a great choice for a steep or inclined area as the weight of the stone over time will tend to slide to the bottom, helped along by rain and other factors. Stone can also be difficult to keep looking tidy, so using it in high traffic areas, or places near trees with a lot of leaf litter or fruit debris (like maples, gingkos, black walnuts or crabapples, to name a few) might cause a seasonal mess that will become tiresome to clean up year after year. Using a rake, broom and small leaf blower can help clear the debris.

River rock can be a useful material in a desert or xeriscape garden, and can be used as a coverage instead of mulch and provide drainage. However, due to its porosity it can be a friendly habitat for weeds! To prevent this, lay down landscaping fabric or sand beneath your gravel or rock layer. You can keep weed growth minimal by spraying with horticultural vinegar or salt water.

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    Stone Path

    Garden path made with brown pea gravel, grey river rocks and large pavers

    Fotosearch / Getty Images

    This nice-looking stone path combines two sizes and colorways of river rock (tan pea gravel and grey stones) with large natural pavers, and smartly uses dividers to separate mulched areas from gravel to keep things neat.

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    Gravel Patio

    Grey granite slabs and two sizes of gravel in a patio seating area with fire feature and wicker chairs

    designbybrookside / Instagram

    This minimalist style seating area features a long fire feature and modern wicker chairs on a simple pea gravel patio. Granite edging and slabs for stairs make for a sleek, clean look.

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    Create a Dry River Bed

    Dry river bed with varying sizes of river rock and green plants

    stone.warehouse / Instagram

    If your property has drainage issues, or sloping areas where run-off is a problem, creating a dry river bed can help, in addition to being a beautiful addition to your landscape. This version uses different sizes of river to create a stable bed, and is anchored further with lush plantings.

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    Gravel Firepit Area

    Gravel walkway with circular seating area with firedish and four chairs in autumn

    arnettoutdoordesign / Instagram

    This path ending in a round seating area is a clever use of space in this narrow yard. The shrubs provide privacy and the ending keeps the gravel in place. The stone fire dish completes this simple, functional design.

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    Gravel Patio and Container Garden

    weathered wood fence surrounding gravel patio with wooden bench and potted plants

    teddy_macfarlane / Instagram

    If you long for an outdoor garden space but don't have good soil or time for maintenance, consider a gravel patio seating area with potted plants! This one also has oblong wood planters with Mediterranean herbs.

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    Easy Path Construction

    Path in progress with pea gravel, old bricks, landscaping fabric, bucket and rake

    lorenovation / Instagram

    Once your surface is level, making a gravel path only requires some landscaping fabric, an optional layer of sand, some rocks or bricks for edging, and a rake to spread the gravel. It's a project that can be done in a day and will vastly improve the form and function of your garden! Pea gravel makes for a comfy, ergonomic walking surface too.

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    Colorful Choices

    Yellow-green foliage with round pea gravel and stones in shades of white, black, grey and brown

    SutidaS / Getty Images

    Your local supplier may have a wide variety of sizes, textures and colors available for river rock, including matte surface or shiny stones, and colors ranging from white to black, grey, tan, blue, purple or even pink.

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    Pea Gravel Driveway and Entry

    Modern era house with pea gravel drive and entry next to slate patio

    Elliott Kaufman / Getty Images

    Gravel is an excellent easy to use material for a driveway or walkway and can be simpler to maintain than asphalt in areas that freeze in winter. Gravel's lighter colors also provide a different and somewhat warmer aesthetic compared to blacktop. The pea gravel here works well with the large slates to create a patio area at the entrance to this house.

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    Rock Garden with Creeping Groundcovers

    Rock garden with gravel and larger rocks and creeping groundcover plants

    yanikap / Getty Images

    An easy and attractive garden design can be made with pea gravel, larger river rocks and a selection of creeping groundcovers. Choose groundcovers that like good drainage and don't need too much water, like creeping phlox, creeping sedums, dianthus, and creeping bellflowers/campanula. These are all perennials that can be deadheaded and divided easily.

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    Simple Weed-free Flower Beds

    Garden bed with paver edging and gravel over landscaping fabric and plants

    Munole / Getty Images

    This flower bed-in-progress uses landscaping fabric with holes for plants and river rock gravel instead of mulch for a clean look that works to keep weeds at a minimum. Not all plants are suited to this type of planting, and prefer a more traditional soil culture. But many plants adapt well, including many shrubs, and most drought tolerant plants such as sedums and salvias.

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    An Unobtrusive Landscape

    Sun parasol on table with chair and gravel patio with stone bench

    row_hill_holidays / Instagram

    Sometimes you want the view to command your full attention. That calls for keeping your landscaping plan simple: a gravel patio, a couple of low maintenance ground cover plantings, and seating to enjoy your surroundings.

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    Water Feature

    Fountain and pond water feature made with round and flat river rocks

    Foto-Video-Studio / Getty Images

    River rocks are a great choice to use in building a water feature, because their smooth surfaces catch the light so well as water trickles over them.

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    Neutral Stone and Color

    Pair of red Adirondack chairs with Russian sage and red bee balm

    Solidago / Getty Images

    The gravel and granite boulders in this seating area provide a neutral backdrop for the bright red chairs and plantings of Russian sage and red bee balm in this pollinator friendly garden.

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    Create a Zen Garden

    Zen garden made with gravel and larger stones

    Adastra / Getty Images

    Traditional zen rock gardens in Japan can be very large but you can create a smaller version in your yard using pea gravel and larger stones. The design is meant to display symbolic elements of nature, like the rippled lines in gravel representing ocean waves. using rounded river rock gravel will give your zen garden a smooth texture.

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    Clay planter with cacti, pebbles and stones with gravel patio in background

    Hi-Point / Getty Images

    Using river rock as a decorative accent in your plants lets you play with colors, shapes and textures on a smaller scale. Pebbles can also help anchor plants in place and retain moisture.

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    Xeriscape with Gravel

    Desret landscape with succulents and euphorbia in beds of gravel with stone sides

    beartrapgarden / Instagram

    Xeriscape gardening in areas with low rainfall is a good fit with river rock design. Succulents, cacti and creeping drought-tolerant plants like the euphorbia pictured here do very well in a bed of pea gravel. Stone holds heat and cold, so this desert garden will also cool off nicely at night helped by the stone's excellent conducting properties.

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    Starring: Succulents!

    Two large spiky succulent plants with pale grey gravel and rocks in a garden

    spiky_obsession / Instagram

    Succulents do very well with minimal soil and in fact grow very well in gravel. Being natives to desert climates, these plants thrive with the excellent drainage and heat preservation that a rocky environment provides. They're versatile for design, too, coming in a wide range of sizes, shapes and colors.

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    Build a Stone Sculpture

    Smooth grey river rocks stacked on top of each other to form small sculptures

    JUNHAO / Getty Images

    Many river rocks have flat sides making them easy to stack up and form sculptures. These can be made with rocks of virtually any size, and can be placed throughout your garden, on a table or next to your entrance.

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    Comfy Warm Pet Bed

    Gravel walkway in desert garden with two dogs lying n the gravel

    beartrapgarden / Instagram

    You've probably noticed your dogs and cats love to spend time in the garden on a sunny day. Having gravel surfaces that hold onto the heat provides a nice place for them to lie down on a cooler day, and as a bonus, they're not as likely to get dirty.

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    Combine River Rocks and Clumping Grasses

    Garden with gravel, river rocks and clumping grasses

    katkov / Getty Images

    Combining river rock gravel and small boulders with clumping native grasses is a simple, low-maintenance and striking garden plan. This one has smooth pea gravel and smooth rocks for edging, with rougher rocks placed among the plants for texture.

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    Create a Round Bed for Yucca

    Round bed edges with pavers and gravel surrounding a yucca plant

    Meindert van der Haven / Getty Images

    Yucca are drought-tolerant plants that bloom every few years. Their dramatic shape can command an entire small bed and their low-water needs means gravel makes a good mulch for them. This simple design only requires pavers, gravel, a Yucca filamentosa plant, and, if desired landscaping fabric or sand beneath the gravel.

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    Stone Planters on Stone Beds

    Square stone planters over beds of white gravel with herbs and pollinator plants

    Studio Light and Shade / Getty Images

    This sleek design plan featuring stone planters on a bed of white pea gravel allows for an easy access and easy maintenance herb garden area with Mediterranean plants that enjoy the heated stone surfaces.

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    Pebble Pots

    Flower pot made of pebbles with sedum growing

    catalin_grigoriu / Getty Images

    Feeling crafty? You can create handsome pots for your plants out of small river rock, either layering them with mortar or attaching with waterproof glue to terra cotta planters.