How to DIY a Rock Garden to Transform Your Yard

rock garden ideas
16 DIY Rock Garden Ideas to Transform Your Yard@rhart303

Not only do rock gardens add beauty and dimension to any outdoor space, they require little maintenance and can accommodate awkward or difficult landscapes (such as steep hillsides). No matter the size or layout of your yard, we've rounded up rock garden ideas that are worth recreating — plus tips and tricks from landscape designer Jan Johnsen, co-principal of Johnsen Landscapes and author of The Spirit of Stone.

Start off by choosing the type of rocks, whether you prefer jagged stones, large boulders, river rocks — or ideally, a mixture of different shapes and sizes. "A few stones should be upright for added drama and some should lie flat, but most rocks in your garden should be halfway buried and placed horizontally for visual harmony," suggests Johnsen. Then, layer in gorgeous greens, like ground cover plants, resilient succulents, perennial flowers and evergreen shrubs to add color and texture. The best rock garden plants tend to be those that root easily in rocky or shallow soil, but also keep in mind how much sun the area receives.

Whether you're designing the backyard, front yard or a small space on the side of your house, we've got a rock garden idea that'll work for you. Try your hand at a Japanese zen rock garden (pond and all!), keep it low maintenance by embracing a lush look or go big by building a stone walkway. "Any place can be made into a rock garden, but the best place is a site where rocks abound naturally," says Johnsen. "Added bonus if the site has a slight hill or mound, since it helps show off the rocks and plants."

Build a Stone Wall

Layer stones to build a retaining wall around your flower garden, then go for a few larger stones amongst the bright blooms for added texture.

flower garden
alejandrophotography - Getty Images

Let Weeds Grow

First, place rocks in rocky or shallow soil. Then, allow grass, ground cover plants and even weeds to spread — which is exactly what Jan Johnsen of Johnsen Landscapes and Pools does here.

rock and flowers
Jan Johnsen

Use River Rocks

Not all rock gardens require large boulders. Here, landscaper Ryan Hart (@rhart303 on Instagram) uses river rocks in various colors and sizes to add texture to a lush garden.

rock garden with purple bush

Plant Small Succulents

Add personality to a retaining wall by growing tiny succulents between stones, just as Ryan Harter does here. Hens and chicks plants are quite resilient, but keep in mind they will need soil to stay alive.

rock garden wall with succulents

Design a Waterfall

If you've got the space, arrange rocks alongside a hillside and add a water feature to recreate the allure of a natural waterfall. Hint: Use flat, sharply-edged rocks to create a better drop.

beautiful stonegarden with waterfalls
fotolinchen - Getty Images

Mix Stones and Pebbles

Allow larger rocks to act as the focal point of your space, then fill in the area with pebbles, gravel and greenery (like shrubs and small trees).

rock garden ideas
Tilly Design

Create a Stone Walkway

Line flat stones along a hillside to create a pathway. Take note from Ryan Harter and surround both sides with a mix of rocks, perennial flowers and tropical greens.

RELATED: 30 Best Perennial Flowers That Bloom Every Year

rock garden ideas

Arrange Rocks on a Hillside

If you've got a slight hill or mound, place rocks by nestling large boulders into the soil then layer in smaller stones. For added drama, incorporate a water source to create a realistic stream.

Joseph Richardson - Getty Images

Embrace a Lush Look

Allow ground cover plants to take over, growing in between stepping stones and over top boulders. Not sure which plants are best? Landscaper Jan Johnsen loves sedums, phlox and dianthus for sunny spots and hellebores and lungworts for shady sites.

RELATED: Best Ground Cover Plants That Require Little Maintenance

rock garden with greens
Jan Johnsen

Nestle Succulents Between Stones

For a pretty pop of color, tuck bright succulents between large stones, just as landscaper Ryan Hart does with these red hens and chicks.

red flowers on rocks

Grow Herbs

Grow delicious herbs among decorative stones, which can even be used to create division between species. Here, herbs — including chives, rosemary and basil — thrive in healthy soil.

RELATED: 10 Herbs You Can Grow Indoors Year-Round

fresh herbs in the garden
michael1959 - Getty Images

Use Rocks of Various Sizes and Shapes

For intrigue, layer in a mixture of large jagged rocks and small rounded stones. Here, garden landscaper E.W.R. Carter adds a small wooden bridge that makes it possible to cross the rock garden.

a small garden with a fence
Edward Carter

Weave in Bright Blooms

Ensure your rock garden pops by planting vibrant flowers, ranging from hot pink and true red to sunny yellow.

RELATED: The Best Easy-to-Grow Flowers for a Gorgeous Garden

villa carlotta italian rock garden
Andrew Holt - Getty Images

Make Room for Large Boulders

Burrow large rocks into the dirt, whether it's to create a wall at the edge of your property or to add personality to a small garden. We love how Tilly Design plants flowering shrubs and trees into gravel nearby.

RELATED: 40 Dreamy Small Garden Ideas to Try on a Budget

rock garden ideas
Tilly Design

Make It Zen

Draw inspiration from Japanese rock gardens with a small zen setup. This peaceful garden is defined by smooth stones, tropical foliage and a man-made pond complete with lily pads.

RELATED: Stunning Backyard Decor Ideas to Add Pizzazz to Your Space

patio and pond in the afternoon sun
Eirasophie - Getty Images

Build a Backyard Stream

Whether your backyard contains a natural stream or you're building an artificial water feature, line stones along the stream's edge to help water flow with ease.

streamside garden spot
wweagle - Getty Images

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