A few years ago I travelled to England and my first comment when we arrived at our destination was where is all of the grass? Not one single house on the street had a lawn, rather they had a rock garden.
I was informed that being in walking distance from the Irish Sea the drifting salt water made it difficult to have vegetation growing on their properties.
Instead everyone had rock gardens. It looked great!
Rocks gardens can look nice in the beginning but that can change quickly especially if not prepared or maintained properly. It’s not too often that we see entire properties transformed into rock gardens in North America though many people do enjoy the style and natural touch they can add to their properties.
Unfortunately, there are too many rock gardens that have been neglected or not installed well that are now overgrown and full of weeds, in some cases you are barely able to see the rocks or stones.
Why would you consider building a rock garden?
If a rock garden is properly prepared and installed, it can be a relatively low-maintenance required addition to your landscape which is easy on the budget.
Rocks also pair well with water so if you are thinking of installing a pond or waterfall a surrounding rock garden may just be the finishing touch you are looking for.
A rock garden can also help to improve drainage in your yard. Depending on the slope of your property and if positioned correctly it may even create a natural riverbed.
Rock gardens are often used as a focal point because unlike plants, rocks don’t die and look great year round.
Rock garden preparation
The tools and materials you use to build your rock garden will contribute to the amount of regular maintenance your garden will require.
An edger can be used to dig a deep edge that separates the garden from your lawn. You won’t have to replace as many stones overtime as they will settle in the edge and can then be put back in. It also makes it easier to cut any surrounding grass while avoiding hitting any rocks or stones with your lawn mower blades.
While landscape fabric is marketed as a magical way to prevent weeds from growing in your garden it will not prevent all of them. Laying down the fabric before adding soil to your garden will certainly help but while weeds cannot grow up through the fabric they can still grow down into the fabric.
Seeds that make it into your garden whether they made it there by wind, rain, insects or birds can still push their roots right on through it. You will still see weeds but not nearly as many.
When preparing the ground choose a good quality, weed free soil. If you are going to try cut corners by buying cheap materials, buying cheap soil for a rock garden is not a corner you want to cut, especially if you are planning to cover the majority of the garden with stones or pebbles.
Pulling weeds out between rocks is not only painful for your fingers as you are not likely to get a shovel or trowel in without disturbing the natural look of your rock garden but also often it is hard to remove the roots of a weed that is buried in rocks.
The weed will continue to grow back with a bigger and stronger root that will be even harder to remove. Further in this post I will share some homemade weed killer ideas that can be applied to any weeds that may pop up or prevent the seeds from germinating in the first place.
A garden rake (hard rake) can be used to level and smooth out the underlying soil.
A large pry bar or wrecking bar and a fulcrum (wood blocks to use as pivot points) can be very helpful when trying to move and place a boulder. Moving large boulders is not a one person job they can be extremely heavy and while it may add a nice focal point to your garden it’s not worth throwing out your back.
Once the soil is prepared, you then will want to get any plants in the ground before laying any stone or mulch in the garden.
Rock garden plants
What plants can I use in a rock garden?
Really you could plant whatever you would like though some plants will look better and require less work to maintain than others.
Perennials, succulents and ornamental grasses are the best to use in a rock garden as you only have to plant them once and do not have to remove any stone that you would have to if planting annuals every year.
Among many plants that would work well in a rock garden, junipers, rock cress, sedums and hens & chicks are just a few. Hens and Chicks will also easily grow on rocks as you can see in the picture from my driveway.
Try to use a variety of plants with different textures that will compliment the stones and rocks you have used to achieve the natural look.
Keep in mind when choosing plants that some may need dividing to avoid growing too large and taking over your rock garden.
Dividing these plants will not be as easy as ones that are planted in a traditional garden as the rocks can make this a challenge.
If you don’t mind moving the stones or rocks away so you can dig then by all means go ahead, but keep in mind it’s going to be more work for you.
Homemade weed killers
While pulling weeds by hand is an effective, natural approach to weed management it is not very enjoyable and can be painful for your fingers when working around rocks and stones.
Just because the use of herbicides is banned in many places it doesn’t mean there isn’t something out there that you can use to get rid of the pesky weeds that may pop up in your rock garden.
Depending on the design of your garden and the materials that you choose to use, mechanically removing the weeds with a hoe or a trowel will not be an easy way to make maintain a weed free rock garden.
Sprinkling corn meal over your garden can used as a pre-emergent herbicide as it prevents the germination of all seeds. Not just the seeds from weeds too so make sure you are not spraying around any seeds that are planted in any of your gardens, including your vegetable garden. Corn meal is often referred to as the birth control of seeds.
This is pretty self-explanatory. Take a kettle of boiling water and pour it on the weeds, being careful not to burn your feet. The water will scald the leaves and the roots as the water is absorbed in the soil.
Vinegar and dish soap
I am sure most people on Pinterest and Facebook have seen the Homemade Weed Killer recipe that claims to work great to kill your pesky weeds.
- 1 gallon vinegar
- 1 cup of salt
- 1 tbsp Dawn dish soap
Well I know firsthand that vinegar works well to kill weeds by clogging the leaves’ pores and preventing the process of photosynthesis to occur, eventually killing it.
While the dish soap is used to help the vinegar stick to the plant instead of it running off into the soil, I wouldn’t recommend adding salt. Salt is toxic to our plants, trees and soil and this mixture can really work without it.
Also, this homemade weed killer requires the weed to be leafed out, meaning it will not kill any weeds after you have pulled them out and the root stayed in the ground or if you have just cut the grass.
The leaves need to be present so that it can be absorbed, the more surface area the better. Spraying them after you have just cut the grass or was unsuccessful pulling it out will only be a waste of your money.
With both the boiling water and vinegar/dish soap methods keep in mind that just because it didn’t kill the weed the first time you doused it doesn’t mean it isn’t working. I have seen many dandelions over the years, even very small ones which have had a 2 foot tap-root.
The roots are what you are aiming to kill with these methods and as some weeds will continue to grow back. A couple of applications may be required to get rid of these stubborn weeds.
Always make sure the leaves of the weeds are completely saturated. Both methods can be used on your lawn, driveway, walkways, paths and rock gardens.
A humid, sunny day with no wind is always the best time to spray any liquid herbicide, homemade or not. Pesticide drift may occur when it is windy and can damage surrounding plants.
Don’t defeat the purpose
While the general idea behind a rock garden is add a natural look to your property you can really design one however you please or have a professional do the landscape work for you. Weed prevention is a very important issue to address when planning your rock garden.
A rock garden overgrown with weeds isn’t the natural effect you were likely aiming to achieve. It is inevitable that there will always be weeds but by being one step ahead of them we can control how big of a problem we allow them to be.
Do you have any rock gardens on your property? What experiences can you share?
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