33 Best Plants for a Rock Garden

Yellow alyssum plants with yellow flower clusters on tall stems surrounding rocks

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

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. The beauty of a well-planned rock garden is the rocks and plants work together to enhance the total 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 plant with small yellow flower clusters surrounded by rocks and grass

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

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

    • 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 with purple reflective flowers surrounded by tall thin leaves and rocks in sunlight

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    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 poor, dry, well-draining
  • 03 of 33

    Angelina Stonecrop (Sedum rupestre 'Angelina')

    Angelina stonecrop with small, star-shaped yellow blooms on born spiked stems

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    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)

    Hens and chicks succulents with rosette clusters surrounded by rocks in sunlight

    The Spruce / David Beaulieu

    Hens and Chicks is a mat-forming succulent that produces rosette clusters. The parent rosettes are called the "hens," and the smaller offshoot rosettes 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 plant with small pink flowers and leaves closeup

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    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 with blue-green leaf blades surrounded with brown leaves closeup

    The Spruce / K. Dave

    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)

    Snow-in-summer plant with small white flowers on low-growing branches near rock

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    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 plant with small white flower blooms clustered together closeup

    The Spruce / Kara Riley

    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 plant with small purple flower spikes closeup

    The Spruce / K. Dave

    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 plant with small pink flowers on thin stems and branches on top of rock closeup

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    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 flowers with small purple petals grown in clumps near moss-covered rock

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    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 humus 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: Humus, gritty, medium moisture, well-draining
    Continue to 13 of 33 below.
  • 13 of 33

    Reticulated Iris (Iris reticulata)

    Reticulated iris bulb plants with deep blue, yellow and white flowers near rocks

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    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 plant with small green blooms on purple-tinged foliage closeup

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    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 good 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')

    coreopsis flowers

    The Spruce / Letícia Almeida

    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 with small purple flower blooms on edge of stems closeup

    The Spruce / Phoebe Cheong

    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 plant with small pink flattened flower clusters above feathery foliage closeup

    The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

    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. A taller plant in the garden it works well against structures such as fencing or planted in the rear of the garden bed.

    • 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 stonecrop plant with light pink flattened flower clusters on tall stems

    The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

    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 plant with purple-blue flower spikes surrounded by tall grasses

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    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 flower with red and yellow jasper cap-like petals on thin stem closeup

    The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

    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 estabished, columbine is drought-tolerant, making it a suitable rock garden plant. Columbines spread easily from seed so cutting and removing the seed heads following bloom will keep this plant in place in the garden.

    • 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 plant with pink daisy-like flowers with orange cone-shaped centers closeup

    The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

    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. Many cultivars are available on the market today in a wide variety of bloom colors. Growing to 2' to 3' this taller plant also works well as background for smaller, low growing plants in the rock garden.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Pink, purple, red, white.
    • 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 with arcing, slender, burgundy-colored leaves with tan fuzzy seed plumes

    The Spruce / Autumn Wood

    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')

    Blue rug juniper plant with flat blue-green foliage above rock

    The Spruce / Autumn Wood

    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 soil 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 flower with white daisy-like petals with yellow pollen centers closeup

    The Spruce / Autumn Wood

    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 plant with yellow daisy-like flowers on stems with bright green leaves near tree base

    The Spruce / Autumn Wood

    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 plant with small purple flower blooms on spikes

    The Spruce / Krystal Slagle

    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 with small purple and pink flowers on spikes

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    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 plant with thin wispy branches with small purple blooms

      The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

    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 shrub with small needle-like leaves clustered together in sunlight closeup

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    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 plant with small red berries on branches with waxy green leaves

    The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

    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 plant with thick, silvery-green and fuzzy leaves surrounded by mulch closeup

    The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

    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. The spiky blooms attract pollinators.

    • 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 plant with tan clump-forming leaf blades closeup

    The Spruce / K. Dave

    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 shrub with large pink rose with ruffled petals on edge of branch

    The Spruce / Autumn Wood

    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. Heavy annual pruning is needed to keep this shrub in a pleasing shape. Blooming throughout the warm weather months, Rugosa roses are highly fragrant with the scent of old world roses.

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