Unlike traditional sloping or terraced rock gardens, Zen gardens rest on flat ground.

How to Plant in Rocks & Gravel

by Sarah Mason

There are many benefits to starting your own rock garden. Rock gardens are aesthetically pleasing, easy to maintain and horticulturally stimulating. In addition, rock gardening is a wonderful hobby that rewards attention and dedication but doesn't demand much time or energy. Traditionally, rock gardens featured cold weather-resistant mountain plants. More recently, interest in rock gardens has bloomed across the nation, leading to their development as an art form in all types of climates.

Pick your location -- ideally on a natural slope or terrace and near deep-rooted trees that can provide partial shade without invading your rock garden plants.

Purchase rocks of one geological type if there are not already rocks or gravel on your property. You can find rocks at your local nursery, landscape contractor or rock dealer.

Position each rock so that at least one-third of it is buried. Follow the grain of the rock so that it lays naturally. Place rocks close together in order to control soil erosion, but leave some pockets of soil for plants of various sizes to be planted.

Improve the soil by adding sand or crushed rock between the rocks to enhance the existing soil's texture. For alkaline plants, add crushed limestone or crushed clam shells. For woodland plants, add lots of peat moss or compost. Pack the soil firmly around the rocks so that no holes or voids are left, taking special care to add soil into the crevices where you will be planting.

Purchase plants for the rock garden. While many different types of plants can thrive in rock gardens, it is best to choose perennial plants that are low-growing and have a clumping habit.

Plant in early fall or early spring, but only after the new soil has had time to settle. It is best to wait for an entire growing season to pass between preparation and planting, during which time you should remove any unwanted weeds by pulling them up as soon as they appear. In addition, plant when the soil is damp.

Position plants in informal groups in the soil pockets, and try to mix species of different shapes and sizes. Plant spacing should be based on their expected amount of top growth, leaving more room for spreading or creeping species. For each plant, dig a hole with a hand shovel that is equal in depth and circumference of each plant's root ball, if not slightly deeper. Place the plant into the hole, firm the soil around them and soak with a fine spray of water.

Items you will need

  • Gloves
  • Hand shovel
  • Crushed rock or sand
  • Crushed limestone or clamshells
  • Peat moss or compost


  • It is best not to try and clearly define rows of plants; rock gardens are free-flowing and natural in appearance. In addition, groups of plants will often grow around or over rocks, and should be allowed to do so.


  • Wear gloves to protect yourself from infection caused by soil bacteria and from scrapes from the rocks.
  • Make sure not to break the balls of soil where the roots are located as you're planting, as this can harm the plant.

About the Author

Based in Fort Worth, Sarah Mason has been writing articles since 2009 on topics including nutrition, fitness, women's health and gardening. Her work has appeared in "Flourish" and "Her Campus." Mason holds a Bachelors of Arts in economics from the University of Florida.

Photo Credits

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