How to Design a Garden Rockery

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A garden rockery, more commonly known as a rock garden, does more than add beauty and texture to your landscaping. Rock gardens can be created in parts of your yard where few plants flourish.

These dead zones might be too wet, dark or rocky to sustain ordinary landscape features, like shrubs, trees and most flowers, but are perfect for a garden designed with a variety of rocks and hearty plants that thrive in challenging conditions.

Decide on a site where the finished rock garden will be a focal point in your yard as well as looking natural, like it has always been there. Find a spot with a natural slope or terrace, if possible.

Clear the site. Remove sod, weeds, brush, fallen leaves and other undergrowth from your chosen location. Dig sod out with a spade. Pull the weeds manually or spray with weed killer. Rake leaves and underbrush and remove from the site. Break up dirt clods with a hoe. Clip back plants and dig out the roots.

Draw a plan on paper. Take into consideration the site's shape and slope. Avoid making your rock garden too geometrical or flat. Curved lines and a variety of heights makes for a more pleasing design. Use graph paper to draw the plan to scale, or simply sketch out a rough design on plain paper. Lay out the plan on the site. Use stakes and twine to replicate the garden's shape at the location you have chosen.

Take a sample of the soil if you are planning to use plants in your rockery. Send the sample to the local cooperative extension office for testing to determine its alkalinity and acidity levels, also referred to as its pH. These results help you determine how much organic material, like mulch and compost, to add to the soil to help your plantings flourish.

Select your stone. Mix and match rock types, sizes, shapes and textures to give your rock garden interest. Use boulders as foundation rocks, flat stones on pathways and smaller rocks to define flower placement. Use rocks you collect from your own property, or buy them from a quarry.

Place the rocks. Begin by rolling the boulders into place using crowbars. Ask for assistance with these large, heavy rocks. Arrange the other stones around the boulders in a natural fashion. Place the rocks closer together if you aren't adding plants and far enough apart to accommodate plants if you choose to add them.

Choose your plants. Take into consideration the climate and how much sun and shade the site receives during the day. Opt for a combination of plants, with a mix of flowering and nonflowering varieties. Choose hardy, easy-to-grow plants that will adapt to the rugged conditions present in a garden rockery. Select some plants that are low-growing and tend to clump together, like alyssum and creeping phlox. Mix in taller varieties, like daisies and lavender.

Set out the plants where you want them to go before actually planting them. This allows you to move them from spot to spot to get just the right arrangement. Once you are satisfied, plant them.