Rock gardens are an ideal option to choose for your outdoor space if you wish to display smaller plants – particularly the likes of alpines.
Providing the conditions are right, it’s an easy feat to create an attractive, ‘almost’ maintenance-free rock garden.
Here we reveal how to take care of your new creations, the type of rock garden plants to look for, and how most of the work is easier than you may think…
A rock garden is able to provide various different habitats, suited to both sun-loving plants and shade-tolerant plants – it also depends on where the rocks are placed.
Rock gardens aren’t suited to alpine plants alone, but also to a range of smaller shrubs and perennials. When looking for rock garden plants when you create your garden, it’s wise to use a selection of plants that complement one and other and boast similar requirements.
When incorporating a rock garden into your own outdoor space, consider a variety of factors. These include using an alpine sink or trough, or alternatively, having access to a dry stone wall.
Care and maintenance
Rock gardens are easy to maintain, which is great news for busy and amateur gardeners. Most rock garden care solely requires removing weeds on a regular basis. Even this task will lessen as the rock garden plants begin to establish themselves, sealing any gaps where weeds may try to grow.
Covering areas of exposed soil with a layer of crushed rock is another way to prevent weeds from growing. If you do notice any weeds, simply remove them by hand, if possible, as soon as they appear, and try to avoid using herbicides as these can be harmful to rock plants.
When to build a rock garden
Both the autumn and winter months are great times to create a rock garden, as there is less garden maintenance required at these times.
If you can opt for the month of spring instead, as this is the optimum season to plant an array of species, as you’ll find an extensive range of plants is available. Planting in spring will allow the shrubs to establish themselves prior to winter arriving.
How to build a rock garden
First things first, begin by choosing a site. You may wish to devote an entire corner of your garden to a rock garden, or alternatively, just a small area.
For best results, opt for an area away from tree roots and overhanging trees. Rock garden plants enjoy basking in the sunlight throughout the majority of the day. Even a few hours of sun per day is better than an entire day of shade.
You should also pick a position with good drainage. If this is out of the question, you may have to erect raised beds or improve the drainage in other ways.
Before you begin, draw up a plan of the proposed rock garden, keeping in mind factors such as the gradient, shade, and any underground pipework.
Rock gardens can be a little costly to build initially, as the likes of hard materials such as stone, rock, gravel, and slate will need to be acquired.
When selecting these materials, pick a local stone for the best results, as this will complement the surroundings. It will also be easier to source from your local area. Salvaged or second-hand stone is a great option, such as limestone, sandstone, or granite. It’s important to invest in materials that measure a range of sizes, in order to construct a natural-looking rock garden.
Erecting the rock garden
Many believe constructing a rockery to be a daunting procedure. However, smaller rockeries are generally quite easy to create. It’s only larger projects that may require the skills of a professional landscaper.
Begin by marking out the chosen area using marker spray. This can be acquired from a garden center or a builders’ merchant.
You will need to ensure space is weed-free before erecting a base measuring 15cm deep using coarse rubble in the shape of the broken stone, bricks, shingle, or ballast. To avoid the base layer from combining with the compost, use a polythene sheet, landscape fabric, or spread an even layer of inverted turves over the area.
Laying the stone
To create a natural-looking rock garden, lay down larger stones at first – these will act as ‘keystones’. Dig holes using a spade and set each stone into the crevice. You can use a crowbar to move the stones into their permanent positions, using a series of smaller stones to support them.
For a natural look, tilt the rocks backward slightly, with the strata running the same way. For best results, use weed-free topsoil. Add this to the top layer of the rock garden, underneath and in between the stones to set them in place, which should be buried up to a third of their depth.
Finish by creating a number of planting pockets using a suitable rock garden compost, leaving the areas between the stones unfirmed.
The basic planting mix should consist of one part loam (use sterilized loam for best results, or a pinch garden soil can be used), one part leaf mold or coir, and one part horticultural grit. This can be tweaked slightly to suit both the climate and the plants.
Planting the rock garden
While the plants are still in their pots, water them well and place them into position, keeping in mind the plants’ height and spread when fully established.
Once all plants are in place, remove them from their pots, teasing out the roots as you do so. Place firmly in the compost mix and dress with grit or gravel.
When it comes to the design and placement of rock garden plants, there are few limits to what can be achieved, bar any particular plant requirements. If you try your hand at creating a rock garden this year and have any other tips we’d love to hear from you.