How to Use Rocks in Your Landscaping

Lanscaping with a pond and rocks

Landscaping with natural stones not only adds an appealing contrast to your lawn and texture to your overall landscape but also makes a durable groundcover. Rocks are very low-maintenance, relatively inexpensive, and allow plenty of room to mix, match, and create your desired look.

Here’s how to use rocks in your landscaping project to add character, depth, and year-round structure to your yard.

13 ways to use rocks in your landscaping

1. Replace mulch

Rock Mulch Garen Bed
leighklotz | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Mulch is a go-to filler around trees, flower beds, and gardens for most homeowners. Swapping organic mulch with rocks will spare you from replacing the missing or faded mulch every season. Rocks are long-lasting, retain their color, and are simple to clean when needed. 

If you have low-humidity plants like cacti or succulents, rocks are preferable to other mulch. Mulch can trap water and raise the humidity level, causing roots to rot and, eventually, killing your plants. Rocks allow better soil drainage and add more definition to your garden beds, flowers, or shrubs.

If you want to suppress weed growth with your mulch, install landscape fabric underneath the rocks. This additional layer will keep the area weed-free and prevent the rocks from sinking into the soil below so they’ll be easier to remove later. 

Gravel and stone mulch costs around $25 to $140 per cubic yard

2. Set large boulders as a focal point

Large Rock in garden bed
one2c900d | Flickr | CC BY-ND 2.0

Large stones have unique textures that give them dramatic visual appeal. You can use them to create a centerpiece or focal point to highlight a particular spot or accent a plant or flower in your landscaping. A few well-placed rocks are perfect for anchoring moss in outdoor spaces.

If you have a hilly front yard, you can play with large and small rocks and groundcover plants between them to add a textural element. Medium-sized boulders can define parts of the landscape, such as a child’s play area, a delicate flower section, or near a pool.

Large rocks also can be stacked to serve as benches, seats, or tables in a garden area.  

3. Add water features

Pond with rocks and plants
smltd | Pixabay

For large gardens and yards, rocks may seem dull on their own. You can introduce water into the picture by creating a small water garden, pond, or fountain. 

You can cover the perimeters of the pond you already have with rocks or pebbles to add natural definition. An exposed pond liner can easily spoil the aesthetics of your garden, not to mention the mess it creates after a downpour. 

From large pools to small freestanding bowls, ponds, and fountains, rocks can lend a distinctive edge to any water feature. Tropical garden designs work incredibly well with a water feature, especially a contemporary pond that showcases landscaping rocks.

If you’re really into it, take things up a notch by creating a waterfall from rocks. The cascade of water offers natural, soothing sounds that create a beneficial outdoor environment

When you hire a professional for installation, ponds cost $3,675 to $14,500, and rock or stone water fountains cost $270 to $25,000

4. Form a dry riverbed

remedypic | Canva Pro | License

Dry creek beds are one of the best river rock landscaping ideas. Why? They provide decoration, drainage, and erosion control all in one. When placed correctly, rainwater will collect in the dry riverbed and flow away from your property. You can even connect it to a rain garden so it doesn’t go to waste.

Your dry riverbed can be as decorative or as functional as you want. Some homeowners go for a neat, structured look, while others place the rocks in a more natural, organic way. Add a mini bridge over it for extra charm. 

5. Fashion gabion planters and walls

Gabion Planter

Another eye-catching use of rocks is to create a gabion planter. A gabion is a galvanized steel framework or a cage filled with rocks, specifically river rocks. DIY-ers often incorporate creatively designed gabions in yards. You can buy river rocks for around $60 to $170 per ton, and you can get a 60 by 150-foot steel mesh roll for about $350.

You also can get vertical wire baskets with small stones and create gabion walls. They are incredibly durable and excellent for drainage, too. The linear, neat, and industrial look of metal and rock adds an organic appeal to your garden setting. 

6. Make a rock walkway

Stepping stone pathway
Pixabay / Pexels

If you have a sloped garden, a stepping-stone walkway with decorative rock boundaries will carve an appealing path for visitors. You also can incorporate different types of rocks to spice up the walkways if you think your garden looks dull. 

Flat flagstones, cobblestones, bluestones, river rocks, and a combination of large and small landscape rocks are typically used to create paths around bushes, shrubs, and invasive greenery. Stone paths and marble chip pathways also can control weed growth.

Decomposed granite makes a non-slippery pathway and offers excellent drainage as well. And if you’re on a budget, you can always go for pea gravel or beach pebbles. They come in a variety of colors and are comfortable to walk on. Professionally installed pea gravel walkways cost $275 to $395

If you have an existing path you don’t want to redo, you can still spice things up by lining the path with stones. These rocks create a better distinction between the path and the surrounding landscape and prevent plants from spreading onto the path. 

7. Build a fire pit

Fire pit
Olga Pozney | Pexels

Another interesting rock element for your landscape is a rustic fire pit. A fire pit made with natural stones embedded in a rock patio looks breathtaking.

A popular choice for creating fire pit platforms is lava rocks. They come in multiple color options, from smoky gray to light or brown-reddish and tan. These rocks look great and work well around the fire. 

If you’d rather not build it yourself, professional fire pit installation costs $250 to $2,200

8. Put up rock walls

Rock Wall
Rock Wall | Redi-Rock International | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Another appealing and functional use of rocks is to create retaining walls encircling flower beds. These stone walls should be no higher than 1 to 2 feet to keep their charm, so it doesn’t look like your garden is part of an ancient building.

People with significant yard slopes usually make a steppe garden with large rocks. Doing this also helps shore up the stability of the slope overall and increases your planting space.

Stone retaining walls cost around $15 to $95 per square foot. 

9. Raise the flower beds

Stone Flower Bed
Thomas Rumley | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

A great idea to make the colorful areas of your yard pop is to create rings around your flower beds with rocks. You can use landscaping rocks, stack them a few rows high, and build a whimsical fairy ring or raised rock garden.

Not only does this add more charm to your landscape, but it also creates an effective barrier between your flowers and other garden areas. Some creative gardeners also use rocky fairy rings to keep their pets from munching on the flower petals. 

Rock edging for flower beds costs around $10 per linear foot for professional installation. 

10. Create a border

Rocks surround the garden beds
bgwashburn | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Some flowering vines and shrubs crawl out and merge into your lawn, making it look messy. Rocks can contain these wayward growings and provide some structure to your landscape design. Surround flower or garden beds to keep them separate from your turfgrass. 

Border rocks should be between the size of a baseball and a bowling ball. You also can go for a cottage-like look around your backyard by using a variety of sizes for borders. For less obtrusive plants, you can use rocks the size of a lemon or grapefruit to make a border between them and the grass. 

11. Accent the entrance

Large Boulder

A prominent and unique front entrance casts a great first impression. Larger rocks can highlight landscaping elements around the front door, such as flowers, plants, or statues. You also can add stepping stones to your front entryway with a mix of paving stones and rocks. 

12. Convert your yard to a xeriscape

xeriscape landscaping with small bushes
Tom Hilton | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

A “xeriscape” may sound like an alien landscape, but it’s not. It refers to a landscape design that minimizes water usage by utilizing rocks and drought-resistant plants. 

Xeriscaping is one of the water-saving landscape ideas the U.S. Department of Energy recommends. Some municipalities offer rebates or tax incentives for anyone who removes their lawn and replaces it with low-water use alternatives.
Though xeriscapes are most common in arid climates, homeowners everywhere can benefit from this low-maintenance landscape design. To build a xeriscape, select some show-stopping rocks and add native plants to complete your new oasis. Professional xeriscape installation costs around $10,000 to $19,000.

13. Mix things up

Rock garden with yellow flower
Sankarasastry AB | Pexels

When it comes to landscaping with rocks, there are no rules. Mix rocks with different colors, shapes, sizes, textures, and densities. This strategy creates a layered look with bits and shades of green in between.

You also can create striking patterns with two or more rock types instead of using rocks just as an accent to the landscape. Lawn Love has an excellent guide on how to build a rock garden that can help you set it up. 

FAQ about how to use rocks in your landscaping

What are the benefits of landscaping with rocks?

Landscaping with rocks provides many benefits, including:

  • Boosted curb appeal: Well-placed rocks can enhance landscaping and pull everything together. They add new color and texture to the landscape and suppress unappealing weeds.
  • Improved drainage: No one likes enormous puddles or flooding in their yard. Rocks have better drainage than dirt because they have space between them where water can flow. Because of this, homeowners use rocks in drainage systems like French drains.
  • Reduced maintenance: Unlike plants, rocks don’t need fertilizer, irrigation, weeding, or trimming. All you need to do to maintain them is to ensure they stay in place and hose them off if they get too dirty.
  • Eco-friendliness: Because of their minimal maintenance needs, landscaping rocks are great for eco- and drought-friendly landscaping. Some municipalities will offer rebates if you convert your lawn or garden into a xeriscape with low-maintenance plants and rocks. 

What are the types of landscaping rocks?

You can pick from several types of landscaping rocks to suit your needs, including:

  • Bluestones
  • Boulders
  • Cobblestones
  • Flagstones
  • Granite
  • Gravel
  • Lava rocks
  • Marble chips
  • Paving stones
  • Pebbles
  • River rocks

Where can I get landscaping rocks?

You can get landscaping rocks at most garden and hardware stores, but there also are some companies that specialize in landscape rocks. 

If you’re looking for a more affordable option, contact construction and landscaping companies to see if they have any extra rocks. You may even find rocks listed on online marketplaces, where people often give them out for free. Remember that you may need to pay someone to transport the rocks to your home, especially if they’re large. 

Jazz up your yard landscaping the right way

Whether you’re redoing things or starting from scratch, innovative use of rocks in your landscaping can add a unique and rustic yet natural appeal to your yard. Many projects are DIY-friendly, but don’t be afraid to contact a landscaping company to do the heavy lifting for you.

Just because you’re adding rocks doesn’t mean you should neglect your plants. Well-maintained greenery provides the perfect contrast to your new stony landscape. Contact a local gardener or lawncare company to care for your vegetation and round out your landscaping needs.

Main Image Credit: Pexels

Farah Nauman

Farah Nauman is a freelance writer and an accountant based in Pakistan. She spends most of her time combating the South Asian heat and being a mom to her three fluffy cats and a dozen little Aloe Veras in her house.