33 Best Plants for a Rock Garden

Rock garden plants blooming

Don Johnston/All Canada Photos/Getty Images

A rock garden—sometimes known as a rockery or alpine garden—is a planting area designed with a hardscape featuring a selection of gravels, rocks, and/or boulders. It typically includes softscape plants suitable to those conditions. The beauty of a well-planned rock garden is the rocks and plants work together to elevate each other's impact.

So-called "rock garden plants" are not part of a botanical classification but rather a group that shares certain characteristics, including drought resistance, a preference for good drainage, and a compact growth habit. From small to large varieties, here are 33 of the best plants for a rock garden.

Tip

To get plant selection right, be mindful of your rock garden conditions. Group specimens with similar growing requirements.

  • 01 of 33

    Yellow Alyssum (Aurinia saxatilis)

    Yellow Alyssum

     

    hecos255 / Getty Images

    Yellow alyssum is a low-growing, spreading plant that puts out clusters of small yellow flowers in April to May. It thrives in poor soil and is considered a drought-tolerant plant.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 7
    • Color Varieties: Yellow
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Dry, average to sandy, well-draining
  • 02 of 33

    Ice Plant (Delosperma cooperi)

    Ice plant

     

    shihina / Getty Images

    The purple ice plant is often used as a spreading ground cover, and it can flower all summer long. The plant is tolerant of heat and drought, though it will die if it does not have good drainage.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 6 to 10
    • Color Varieties: Red-purple
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Average to lean, dry, well-draining
  • 03 of 33

    Angelina Stonecrop (Sedum rupestre 'Angelina')

    Angelina stonecrop

     

    Satakorn / Getty Images

    Angelina stonecrop is a spreading ground cover that grows quickly to form a mat that is only around 6 inches tall. The more sun the plant gets, the more golden its foliage turns. It produces small, star-shaped yellow blooms in early to mid-summer.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Yellow
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Average, dry to medium moisture, well-draining
  • 04 of 33

    Dragon's Blood Stonecrop (Sedum spurium)

    Sedum spurium

     

    Nahhan / Getty Images 

    Some small rock garden plants are creepers, including dragon's blood stonecrop. This plant can tolerate some drought, as well as shallow, rocky soil. Butterflies tend to like its tiny pinkish-red flowers.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Pink
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Average, acidic, dry to medium moisture, well-draining
    Continue to 5 of 33 below.
  • 05 of 33

    Hens and Chicks (Sempervivum tectorum)

    Sempervivum tectorum

     

    Jelena990 / Getty Images

    Hens and Chicks is a mat-forming succulent that produces rosette clusters. The parent rosettes are called the "hens," and the smaller rosettes that offshoot from them are the "chicks." The plant grows well in rock gardens, as well as in stone walls or between garden stepping stones.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Red-purple
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Average, dry to medium moisture, well-draining
  • 06 of 33

    Creeping Thyme (Thymus serpyllum)

    Creeping thyme

     

    Photo By Barrie Watts / Getty Images

    Creeping thyme is aromatic like the edible herb, but it's mainly grown as a ground cover or to fill in space between stepping stones. The plant will cascade over rocks and low stone walls in a rock garden to soften the setting. It readily grows in nutrient-poor soil as long as it has good drainage.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Pink
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Average, dry to medium moisture, well-draining
  • 07 of 33

    Blue Fescue Grass (Festuca glauca)

    Blue Fescue Grass

     

    seven75 / Getty Images

    Blue fescue is an ornamental grass grown for its blue-tinted foliage and yellowish-green flowers. It produces its best foliage in full sun but can tolerate a little shade, too. The plant grows to a height and spread of about a foot.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Light green to yellow
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Average, dry to medium moisture, well-draining
  • 08 of 33

    Snow-in-Summer (Cerastium tomentosum)

    Cerastium tomentosum

     

    Nadezhda Tonkova / Getty Images

    Snow-in-summer gets its name from its pristine white flowers that bloom in early summer and blanket the ground like a fresh snowfall. The plant is low-growing and can thrive in poor rocky or sandy soil, though it must have good drainage.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 7
    • Color Varieties: White
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Sandy, dry, well-draining
    Continue to 9 of 33 below.
  • 09 of 33

    Candytuft (Iberis sempervirens)

    Candytuft

     

    sveart / Getty Images

    Candytuft, with its showy flowers that bloom in mid-spring, is commonly used in rock gardens or as edging. Although its petals form a pretty pattern, the flowers tend to have a rather unpleasant aroma. Still, this plant is tolerant of drought and can even handle being grown in a little shade.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 8
    • Color Varieties: White, pink
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Medium moisture, well-draining
  • 10 of 33

    Ajuga (Ajuga reptans)

    Ajuga

     

    tang90246 / Getty Images 

    Ajuga is a rapidly spreading, mat-forming ground cover, and it can become invasive under optimal growing conditions. On the plus side, it can fill in somewhat shady areas where other plants won't grow. Avoid planting ajuga next to lawns where it can spread. Instead, keep the plant contained in a rock garden or even a pot.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 10
    • Color Varieties: Blue, violet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Average, medium moisture, well-draining
  • 11 of 33

    Creeping Phlox (Phlox subulata)

    Creeping Phlox

     

    MaYcaL / Getty Images

    Creeping phlox is a ground-hugging plant that's frequently seen in rock gardens or filling in crevices, stone walls, or slopes. It grows well in sandy or gravelly soil and can tolerate heat and drought better than some of the other phlox species.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Red, purple, pink, blue, white
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Humusy, medium moisture, well-draining
  • 12 of 33

    Pasque Flower (Pulsatilla vulgaris)

    Pasque flower

     

    Nataliza / Getty Images

    Pasque flower is a low-growing, clump-forming plant. It is an early bloomer in the spring, bringing color to the landscape. It prefers a well-draining sandy or humusy soil and can handle light shade.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Purple, white
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Humusy, gritty, medium moisture, well-draining
    Continue to 13 of 33 below.
  • 13 of 33

    Reticulated Iris (Iris reticulata)

    reticulated iris

     

    Renee2 / Getty Images

    The reticulated iris is another early bloomer in the spring. As it's a small flower, growing only about 6 inches tall, it's best planted in masses to maximize visual impact. Moreover, it's important that the bulbs rest in fairly dry soil during their summer dormancy, making the plant ideal for a well-draining rock garden.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Blue, purple
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Average, medium moisture, well-draining
  • 14 of 33

    Wood Spurge (Euphorbia amygdaloides)

    Wood spurge

     

    teine / Getty Images

    With its purple-tinged foliage, wood spurge can make a colorful impact in a rock garden. The plant is tolerant of poor soil but needs sharp drainage. It can handle some shade, especially in the afternoon, but too much shade can cause the plant to lose its shape.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 6 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Yellow
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Average, dry to medium moisture, well-draining
  • 15 of 33

    Moonbeam Coreopsis (Coreopsis verticillata 'Moonbeam')

    Moonbeam Coreopsis

     

    gubernat / Getty Images 

    Moonbeam coreopsis is a perennial flower from the aster family. It thrives in poor sandy or rocky soil, and it can tolerate some drought, heat, and humidity. It's popular as a border planting, but its growing requirements also make it a prime candidate for a rock garden.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Yellow
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Average, dry to medium moisture, well-draining
  • 16 of 33

    Lavender (Lavandula spp.)

    Lavender

     

    Natalia Spiridonova / Getty Images

    With its aromatic foliage and pretty blooms, lavender is popular and versatile in the garden. Use the plant in a rock garden, herb garden, or even as edging or a low hedge. It prefers light, somewhat infertile soil with good drainage.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Purple
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Average, dry to medium moisture, alkaline, well-draining
    Continue to 17 of 33 below.
  • 17 of 33

    Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

    Yarrow

     

    vsanderson / Getty Images

    A flowering perennial, yarrow is popular as an edging plant or in a rock garden. It grows well in average garden soil but can tolerate poor soil and drought. The plant can be an aggressive spreader, so it's best in a contained area.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9
    • Color Varieties: White, yellow, pink, red
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Lean, dry to medium moisture, well-draining
  • 18 of 33

    Autumn Joy Sedum (Hylotelephium herbstfreude)

    Autumn Joy Sedum

     

    ozdigital / Getty Images

    Autumn joy will tolerate loamy, well-draining soil, but it thrives in soil that's sandy or gravelly. The plant doesn't need much water and has excellent drought tolerance. It grows to about 2 feet tall and produces tiny flowers that go from pinkish to reddish in the fall.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Pink, red, purple
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Average, dry to medium moisture, well-draining
  • 19 of 33

    Spiked Speedwell (Veronica spicata 'Royal Candles')

    Spiked Speedwell

     

    schnuddel / Getty Images 

    Spiked speedwell is a compact perennial flower that's good for rock gardens, foundation plantings, flower beds, borders, and more. The plant grows best with regular moisture and good drainage. But it does not like soggy soil.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Blue-purple
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Average, medium moisture, well-draining
  • 20 of 33

    Columbine (Aquilegia spp.)

    Columbine flowers

     

    Dobrydnev / Getty Images

    Columbine is a perennial wildflower with many cultivars. Its flowers, which attract hummingbirds, are a fascinating shape said to resemble a jester's cap. Once established, columbine is drought-tolerant, making it a suitable rock garden plant.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Red, pink, yellow, white, blue, purple
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Average, medium moisture, well-draining
    Continue to 21 of 33 below.
  • 21 of 33

    Coneflower (Echinacea spp.)

    Coneflower

     

    Dragoncello / Getty Images

    The coneflower is a daisy-like perennial that is hardy and long-blooming. It's adaptable to many growing conditions, including sandy, rocky, and clay soils. The plant is drought-tolerant, though it prefers some moisture in the soil.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Pink, purple
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Average, dry to medium moisture, well-draining
  • 22 of 33

    Purple Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum')

    Purple fountain grass

     

    David Burton / Getty Images

    Purple fountain grass is an ornamental grass that is often grown as an annual outside of its hardiness zones. It grows best in full sun but can tolerate a little shade. Gardeners use purple fountain grass both as a standalone specimen plant, as well as in groupings for greater impact.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 9 to 10
    • Color Varieties: Purple
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Average, medium moisture, well-draining
  • 23 of 33

    Blue Rug Juniper (Juniperus horizontalis 'Wiltonii')

    Juniperus horizontalis 'Wiltonii'

    KENPEI / Wikimedia Commons / CC By 3.0

    Blue rug juniper is a ground-hugging needled evergreen known for its green to blue-green foliage. It thrives on sunny slopes and prefers fast drainage. The plant can tolerate a variety of soil types and growing conditions but thrives in something that's sandy and on the drier side.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Nonflowering
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Average, dry to medium moisture, well-draining
  • 24 of 33

    Shasta Daisy (Leucanthemum x superbum)

    Shasta daisy

     

    TracieMichelle / Getty Images

    The Shasta daisy is a low-maintenance perennial flower. It blooms for most of the summer, adding appeal to borders, gardens, and containers. The plant tolerates a little shade in hot conditions, but wet soil can kill it.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 9
    • Color Varieties: White and yellow
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Average, dry to medium moisture, well-draining
    Continue to 25 of 33 below.
  • 25 of 33

    Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)

    Black-eyed susan

     

    LauraTabor / Getty Images

    Black-eyed Susan is a daisy-like perennial flower. It grows best in moist, organically rich soil but tolerates most conditions as long as it has good drainage. Because it blooms in its first season when planted from seed, the plant is often grown as an annual outside of its hardiness zones.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 7
    • Color Varieties: Yellow, yellow-orange
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Average, medium moisture, well-draining
  • 26 of 33

    Perennial Salvia (Salvia spp.)

    Perennial Salvia

     

    bgwalker / Getty Images

    Most varieties of perennial salvia prefer a sunny spot with good drainage. They can tolerate many soil types, including the conditions of a rock garden. As a bonus, salvia's colorful flowers tend to attract many pollinators.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 10 (depends on variety)
    • Color Varieties: Pink, purple, green, blue, yellow, white
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Average, dry to medium moisture, well-draining
  • 27 of 33

    Six Hills Giant Catmint (Nepeta 'Six Hills Giant')

    Six Hills Giant Catmint

     

    fotolinchen / Getty Images

    Six hills giant is a perfect rock garden plant, as it craves well-draining soil and tolerates dry areas. It grows to about 3 feet tall with a spread of roughly 4 feet. But the plant doesn't care for high heat and humidity, so it might need some afternoon shade in warmer climates.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 7
    • Color Varieties: Blue, purple, white
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Average, dry to medium moisture, well-draining
  • 28 of 33

    Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia)

    Russian sage

     

    Barry Winiker / Getty Images

    Russian sage has a delicate appearance, but it still offers some height at around 3 to 5 feet. The plant has excellent drought tolerance, and it flowers best in full sun. As a member of the mint family, Russian sage spreads by runners. Pull up suckers early in the spring from areas where you don't want it.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Blue, purple
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Average, dry to medium moisture, well-draining
    Continue to 29 of 33 below.
  • 29 of 33

    Mugo Pine (Pinus mugo)

    Mugo pine

     

    Marina Denisenko / Getty Images

    Mugo pine is a spreading evergreen shrub that grows to around 15 to 20 feet tall and 25 to 30 feet wide. It likes well-draining, sandy soil, and it can even somewhat tolerate clay. A young plant needs regular watering, but once mature it is moderately drought-tolerant.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 2 to 7
    • Color Varieties: Nonflowering
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Loamy, medium moisture, well-draining
  • 30 of 33

    Rockspray Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster horizontalis)

    Rockspray Cotoneaster

     

    Radu Bighian / Getty Images

    Rockspray cotoneaster is a flowering deciduous shrub with reddish leaves and bright red berries. It's a hardy plant that can tolerate poor soil conditions. Once established, it even can handle some drought.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 7
    • Color Varieties: Pink
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Loamy, moist, well-draining
  • 31 of 33

    Lamb's Ear (Stachys byzantina)

    Lamb's ear

     

    Jonelle Weaver / Getty Images

    Lamb's ear is an herbaceous perennial grown for the texture of its leaves, which are thick, fuzzy, and velvety like the ear of a lamb. The plant is often used as a flower border. Plus, its tolerance for drought and poor soil makes it a good rock garden plant.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Pink-purple
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Average, dry to medium moisture, well-draining
  • 32 of 33

    Maiden Grass (Miscanthus sinensis 'Gracillimus')

    Maiden grass

     

     

    ANGHI / Getty Images

    Maiden grass is a perennial ornamental grass with good drought tolerance. The clump-forming grass can reach around 4 to 7 feet tall and 3 to 6 feet wide, providing height and texture to a garden.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Copper to silver
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Average, medium moisture, well-draining
    Continue to 33 of 33 below.
  • 33 of 33

    Rugosa Rose (Rosa rugosa)

    Rugosa rose

     

    jcarroll-images / Getty Images 

    Rugosa rose is a sprawling, thorny, flowering shrub. It prefers a loamy soil but can adapt to clay, sandy, or gravelly varieties. Good air circulation and avoiding wet soil are key for the plant to remain healthy.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 2 to 7
    • Color Varieties: Pink, white
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Loamy, moist, slightly acidic, well-draining