How to Make a Rock Garden? Complete DIY Guide

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Why build an overstocked garden that will take a lot of time and effort to maintain when you can learn how to make a rock garden? 

Rock gardens seem dull, but they are actually some of the most attractive and practical. The effort they take to maintain is minimal compare to other types of gardens. And what’s more important, they can still make any house look more appealing. 

To enjoy everything a rock garden has to offer, however, you’ll have to know what to focus on. Here, we want to make it easier for you by showing what to focus on and what to ignore. Take a look below and learn!

What to Consider When Making a Rock Garden

 Rock Garden

Most people think that rock gardens come out of nowhere. Just place a few stones together, and that’s it, right? 

Not at all. 

Even the most modest rock garden will be a lot more attractive, practical, and easier to make if you plan it beforehand. But for that, you need to know what you want. And more importantly, how you want it.

Below, you’ll find a set of factors that will help you decide what to make of your roc garden: 

Plants and Vegetation 

It is a rock garden. But that doesn’t mean it will be a rock-only garden. If you want to add a plant or two, that could also work.

For that, however, we recommend focusing on small plants. The ones that require less effort and time to maintain are what you should focus on. 

Large plants are not bad options either. Just choose properly. Plants that require consistent irrigation and trimming could be slightly problematic in your rock garden. Choose the opposite if you can. 

Style and Theme

A stylish rock garden

There are so many different ways you can make a rock garden that it can feel overwhelming beforehand. A rule of thumb is to go for something that matches your house’s design and style.

For example, if your house boasts a minimalistic style, you can go for a Zen garden that perfectly fits that approach. 

In case your house has a more classic touch, you can go for standard slabs and moss

And if you want something simple, a gravel or pebble bed will do the job without taking much effort or planning. 

Size and Weight of Rocks

While it often takes little effort to maintain a rock garden, it will take a lot of work to build at first. Especially if you’re going for something with an elaborate style, this could take even more work than you expect.

That’s why considering the size, weight, and type of rocks you’re using is always worth it. This will help you plan exactly how you’re going to proceed (by hand, with a machine, alone or with help, etc.). 

More importantly, this will help you decide whether you want a uniform or a messy garden. Either way, considering what rocks or stones you’re using beforehand will be worth it.

Location and Access 

Making a rock garden

Considering that rocks and stones can be heavy, it’s essential to know precisely where you want to place them before starting.

Similarly, you want to choose a place that could use the appeal and practicality of rocks. But you don’t want that place to be challenging to access. As you’ll be working with rocks, it’s worth making sure you can get to that place without much issue.

Overall, it’s all about planning. Whether it is the choice of plants, style, size, or location – as long as you know what you’re doing beforehand, you should have an easier time going forward. 

How to Make a Rock Garden: 9 Steps to Follow 

With a better idea of what to consider before getting into work, it’s time to get your hands dirty. Making this rock garden won’t be easy, but you can make it easier with the following steps:

1. Clear Out the Garden Area

Clear Out the Garden Area

The first and most crucial step is to clean the area you want to use for the garden. What does this mean?

We’re referring to cleaning out organic material and other unwanted debris in the place. One of the reasons you may be looking to build a rock garden is the cleanliness it offers. And that starts way before placing a rock on it. 

You’ll want to get rid of grass and plants that interfere or you just don’t want. For this, we often recommend digging everything out. Even if it is grass, take it out from the roots to prevent unwanted growth later on.

One helpful method can be excavating the whole area to about 1 foot. Remove weeds, grass, and other plants in general. If there are insects or animals, get rid of them as well. 

Then you can proceed to flatten out the area. After that, we recommend covering the ground with plastic bags or newspapers. This will prevent any unwanted residue of the plants from sprouting back. 

And lastly, leave the area like a blank canvas. Get rid of everything so you can have a clearer idea of what you want to do and how to do it.

2. Design and Plan the Garden

With the blank canvas ready, you can start planning and designing your garden. Having it free of unwanted debris will give you the chance to know what you’re focusing on.

You can always use a pencil and paper for this. Draw out how you want the garden to look and develop something stylish, unique, and matching with how the house looks.

For an easier time figuring out what you’re looking for, our 19 Rock Garden Ideas may come useful. The focus is to have a clear idea of what you want before starting to move and place everything. Then, you can proceed to start preparing the area.

3. Prepare the Base of the Garden

Prepare the Base of the Garden

The foundation of a rock garden is the most essential part. While you already flattened out the soil, you will probably need to go the extra mile and create a more suitable area. For that, you’ll have to pile up what’s called a “berm,” depending on the shape you want the garden to have.

A berm is typically made with standard garden soil. But you can use sand and mulch for that. Some people like using pebbles or gravel for this. This ensures that the base drains well but also establishes in the shape you want.

But berm may feel like overdoing it. In that case, you can simply use broken pieces of concrete or slabs. Brick and clay pots also work. Even roof tiles, ceramic, and general clunky rocks can make a base. 

In case you want a soil-free area, you can go for a full-on concrete floor instead. While not recommended as it will make the place less of a garden and more of a patio, it’s still worth trying (depending on your desires). 

4. Add the Extra Layers (Optional)

Those who want to also have plants in their rock gardens need to prepare extra layers of soil. This soil should be perfect for the plants, preferably well-drained and fertilized as necessary. 

Different plants will require different soils, though. What does this mean? Well, let’s say you want to add some cactuses or bonsais. In that case, you can fare with a sandy soil layer. This would fit the rock garden well. 

But if you’re going using plants that need nutritious ground, you will need to prepare the ideal garden soil accordingly. Be sure it is what the plants you’re planting need (don’t prepare general garden soil just because).

Lastly, decide whether you want to use these layers on the entire rock garden or only a few sections. For example, small plants like an aloe vera won’t need much space, so you can prepare a small area for it alone. But if you’re growing a coconut tree, you will need a large space to fill with soil. Act accordingly. 

5. Choose the Rocks to Plant

Choose the Rocks to Plant

Once you’ve prepared the garden base and any extra layer as necessary, it’s time to proceed with the rocks.

But first, you need to choose what rocks you want to plant.

There are tons to consider. We recommend following your plant in the first place. Make sure the rocks fit perfectly with your desires, meeting the style and practicality you’re looking for.

It is often a good idea to pick rocks of different sizes and colors at once. This will give you enough to fill the garden and experiment in the building process. On top of that, small stones often work as a base while the largest ones will be on top for a neater appearance. 

Where can you find these rocks, though? Generally, you’ll have to go and buy these rocks in a quarry. Masonries and construction shops often have garden rocks as well. As a last alternative, you can go to construction sites and farms. 

If you already have the rocks at home, skipping this step would be the obvious thing to do.

6. Get the Rocks on the Garden

You know the rocks you want to use. Now it’s time to grab them and put them in place. 

Lifting rocks can often be challenging, especially if they’re large boulders. For that reason, having some help could be wise. Asking friends or family to help you would be ideal. If you can hire contractors or landscapers for the job, that should also work.

Here, we recommend taking the biggest rocks to the garden first. Place them exactly where you want them according to the plan. Be aware, though, sizeable boulders can quickly move around and roll, making them dangerous, especially if the garden has a slope.

That’s why you should dig the area where the boulder is going first. Then place the boulder once it is deep enough, stable, balanced, and unmovable. You can also use concrete to establish the boulder. It is vital to secure the boulder this way if you’re using sand, pebbles, or gravel as the base. 

You can then proceed with the smallest rocks. This could be anything from stones to slabs, small sculptured rocks, and so on. Anything resembling masonry could also go after the boulders or largest rocks. 

7. Let the Garden Establish 

Once you’ve placed the rocks in their place and you aren’t making any other changes, you must leave the garden alone for a few weeks. 

Why? Because the soil will establish, the rocks will compact, and the whole area will shape itself in the process. 

You can then decide whether the garden needs more rocks, more soil, or other changes before planting vegetation. This helps see any problem with the garden (draining, looks, discomfort, etc.)

8. Pick the Perfect Vegetation

Pick the Perfect Vegetation

By now, you’re almost done. In fact, if you don’t want to use any plant in the gardens, then you’re ready. You can stop here.

But if you want to add some plants, make sure to pick the right ones. As said before, small plants are preferably for rock gardens. 

A Hens and Chicks plant, for example, can be an excellent option for a rock garden. Other succulents can also get the job done. 

Stay away from weedy and bushy plants (if they don’t interest you). Having said that, a rock garden will always look great with a flower bed. This could be an excellent idea if you like colorful butterfly gardens, for example. 

Overall, focus on choosing plants that thrive in rocky environments while still giving your garden a neat look. 

9. Get the Plants in Place

Finish by planting everything in its place. By now, you should have the planting areas ready (specific spots or the entire garden). In that case, just get the plants into the soil.

But you may also consider taking the plants in pots. This could be an even more practical option. Instead of using unnecessary layers of soil, you can use containers. Masonry pots like stone and clay often match well with rock gardens.

Don’t hesitate to be creative and come up with unique ideas regarding the area. Experiment as necessary but try to give the plants enough space and the ideal soil to thrive on.

If that’s the case, there’s nothing else to do. The plants should be in place now, so you’ve successfully made a rock garden a home – ready to impress anyone who steps on it. 

Conclusion

One of the primary mistakes people make when building a new garden is that they take no advice. They go and design their garden without taking into account the experience and ideas of other people. This eventually makes it harder to finish their garden exactly how they want it.

You don’t be one of those people. That’s why you should follow our advice on how to make a rock garden.

As long as you consider every single piece of advice in this article, you’ll have an easier time making that rock garden look amazing. Afterward, you’ll be utterly satisfied and glad you’ve followed our advice.

So, what are you waiting for? That rock garden won’t build itself – start now!

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