Easy-Care Rock Garden: When To Plant A Rock Garden

Rock Garden
april fools
(Image credit: yanikap)

Have a rock garden? You should. There are many reasons to grow rocks in the garden and just as many things to do with them. Keep reading to learn more about planting an easy-care rock garden.

Rock Garden Bed Design

A well-planned rock garden is not only pleasing to the eyes but relatively carefree. And there are a number of rock-garden designs to choose from – they can be sprawling, naturalistic creations or rustic mounds of growing rocks. The overall design is limited only by your personal taste and growing space.

Likewise, the rocks you choose to grow a rock garden bed are up to you. While many people prefer sticking to one type of stone throughout the garden, using a variety of rocks in various shapes, sizes and earth-tone colors can create added interest. An occasional plant here and there looks nice, too.

When to Plant a Rock Garden

Once you’ve got the planning out of the way, then you’re ready to grow a rock garden. Growing rocks in soil that is well draining and weed free is preferable and yields better results. But when is the best time to begin?

Planting is best done in early fall or early spring, whichever you choose. In some areas, you can grow and harvest rocks continuously, as frost heaving churns the soil and pushes rocks easily to the surface, making early spring the most ideal time.

Creating an Easy-Care Rock Garden

Start by clearing the area of unwanted vegetation. Lay out the perimeter of your rock garden design, making the diameter as desired. Spacing can be anywhere from a foot or so (30 cm.) up to about 5 feet (1.5 meters) apart. As to depth, shallow planting is more prone to heaving, so this is what you want to achieve in order for your rocks to come up through the soil.

While, technically, you can evenly distribute the rocks throughout the garden, this can lead to a bland and unappealing look. Instead, go for something more impressive. For example, plant your tiny stones in massive amounts in some areas and then sparingly in others. This helps give it a more natural feel. Also, consider planting your rocks along a slope or small valley.

Routine care of the rock garden is necessary but, if done right, is not too challenging. Growing rocks in soil, like all gardens, still requires regular watering. Instead of frequent watering, however, just water deeply every so often unless it’s particularly hot, dry weather. During the offseason, you’ll need to water much less, as winter wetness is the No. 1 killer of rock gardens. As Lao Tzu once said, “Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield…”

We all want vigorous rocks in the garden, but too much fertilizer will result in weak, spindly growth. Keep this in mind and be patient - growing rocks in soil takes some time, unless you’re lucky enough to live in an area where they grow like weeds. Also, it is better to use slow-release, organic fertilizers.

Be aware that issues can and do arise which can ultimately affect the rock garden bed. These may include temperature changes, like constant exposure to heat, or weather conditions such as continual rain or snow.

If all goes well, you should have plenty of rocks by summer’s end and a good harvest for replanting next season or use in other areas of the landscape. They make fine specimens for painting projects, labeling plants, edging garden beds, or creating stone cairns. Your most prized rock harvest can even take center stage in a pet rock collection.

Happy April Fool's!

Nikki Tilley
Senior Editor

Nikki Tilley has been gardening for nearly three decades. The former Senior Editor and Archivist of Gardening Know How, Nikki has also authored six gardening books.