While gardening can be fun, it is still another task to add to the ever-increasing “to-do” list. So, when planting your own garden, you’ll probably want to consider the time investment it’ll take to maintain it. If you don’t have much time to set aside for plant care and upkeep, a rock garden would be the best fit.
A rock garden is low-maintenance as long as you set it up correctly. Using the proper soil, choosing the right plants, and landscaping to prevent weeds and keep the soil moist will ensure that your rock garden is low-maintenance. However, if you skip a step, you may have to do more work.
So, let’s talk more about maintaining rock gardens. I’ll tell you more about how much maintenance a rock garden needs and teach you how to plan your garden for the least amount of upkeep. Then, I’ll give examples of compatible rock garden plants that require little to no maintenance.
How Much Maintenance Is Required?
Rock gardens do not need much maintenance. As long as your plants are well-suited for your rock garden, the only task you’ll need to do is weeding. You may also need to fertilize your plants annually.
Rock gardens are simple to maintain if you choose plants that suit your area’s weather and temperature conditions. If you select plants that don’t like the outdoor conditions in your rock garden, it’ll be an uphill battle to keep them alive. So, choosing plants should be your top priority when planning a rock garden.
However, with the proper vegetation, weeding once every week or two is all you’ll need to do. In addition, adding in a bit of fertilizer during the beginning of the growing season will ensure that your plants thrive for the following year.
How to Set up a Rock Garden for the Lowest Maintenance
Rock gardens are almost always low-maintenance, but there are quite a few ways to ensure that you won’t have to do much to see your plants thrive.
Here are some methods to eliminate most of your gardening tasks and make your rock garden maintenance-free:
Select Your Plants Carefully
Selecting plants that grow well in a rock garden will make a massive difference in how easy it is to maintain the area. Not all plants are suited to growing in rock gardens, while others may need special care and maintenance to grow in a rocky bed. Still, some plants grow well in rock gardens with infrequent watering and sporadic fertilization.
So, if you want to put in the least amount of work possible, choose low-maintenance plants that readily grow in rock gardens.
When selecting plants, you will also need to consider some factors such as:
- The location of your rock garden
- Annual temperatures in your area
- Available space in the garden
- Plant compatibility
For example, let’s say that you live in southern Florida, which is in USDA zones 10 and 11, and your rock garden is on a sandy slope in an area that gets full sunlight. In that case, you may want to consider succulents and cacti for your rock garden. These plants rarely need tons of space, so your garden could be tiny.
However, if you live in the northern USA, succulents would die as the seasonal temperatures lowered. So, you may want to choose perennial herbs such as lavender, thyme, rosemary, oregano, and some perennial flowers if you live in a colder climate. These plants need more space to grow and less sunlight than cacti so that you would need a larger garden with full to partial sunlight.
Overall, you’ll need to evaluate your plant selection to ensure that your garden doesn’t die off frequently due to inadequate lighting, space allotment, and temperature. Your plants should all have similar soil, light, water, and temperature requirements to ensure that their requirements don’t conflict.
Choose the Proper Soil or Planting Medium
Although most rock gardens feature sandy, light soils covered in river stones or gravel, you might have to tailor your soil mixture depending on your plant selection. Every plant species needs specific nutrients, aeration, and moisture to grow, so a planting medium is not one-size-fits-all.
For example, if you want to grow roses in your rock garden, it should have a low pH of 6 to 6.5. To achieve this pH, you’ll need to amend your soil with peat moss or additional slightly acidic products. However, when doing so, you may change the pH too much for the other plants you plan to place in your rock garden.
Likewise, if you want to plant succulents in your rock garden, you may need an airy cactus soil with perlite, sand, and no clay. Growing media like these will not sustain plants that need more moisture, like many flowers and herbs.
Landscape the Area to Provide the Ideal Drainage
Landscaping will significantly affect how often you have to water your rock garden and keep your plants’ roots healthy.
Rock garden plants usually appreciate dry to low-moisture soils, so you must ensure that your rock garden never gets boggy. One easy, effective way to increase drainage is to line the bottom of the rock garden bed with gravel or stones.
You can also place your rock garden on a slope to ensure that rainwater does not settle inside your garden bed.
Ensuring that your soil drains appropriately will reduce the chances of fungal infections and bacterial imbalance, which can be challenging to treat and eliminate.
Use Weed Prevention Measures and Hand Weed
If you set up your rock garden correctly, weeding is the most maintenance it will ever need. Weeds tend to seed between rocks in your garden, cropping up in hard-to-reach places. However, there are ways to eliminate weeds from your garden permanently.
Landscaping methods can help you keep out weeds. I recommend using landscaping fabric on top of your rock garden’s soil to ensure that any weeds die from day one. Then, you can use edging around your rock garden to prevent creeping weeds like dollarweed from climbing into your garden bed.
These methods can prevent weeds very well, but you should use a pre-emergent herbicide like Preen annually to eliminate all future weeds. Preen is a gentle herbicide that stops the growth of seeds, but it won’t interfere with mature plants, making it ideal for wiping out the unwanted vegetation in your garden.
To learn more about using Preen in your rock garden, check out my article about this topic: Does Preen Work in Rock Gardens?
Over time, weeds will stop growing in your rock garden if you use these methods. So, eventually, you won’t ever have to maintain your rock garden again!
The Best Low Maintenance-Plants for Your Rock Garden
As I mentioned, the maintenance level your garden will require hinges on how easy it is to care for your plants. Rock garden plants should all appreciate well-draining soil and match the temperatures and sun exposure in your area. Otherwise, you’ll be watering or draining your garden bed daily or have to uproot your plants in the winter.
So, let’s look at the ideal rock garden plants for a couple of different hardiness zone ranges to see what plants you can incorporate into your rock garden.
USDA Hardiness Zones 9 to 12
Your rock garden can host these compatible plant species and cultivars if you live in a warm climate.
These plants all thrive in full sun with dry to low-moisture, sandy soil:
- Ice Plant
- Ponytail palm
- Prickly pear
- Succulents and cacti of almost all varieties
- Native plants in your area
USDA Hardiness Zones 4 to 8
These plants are all compatible. They require full sun and well-draining soil with medium moisture levels. They are all hardy plants that resist drought, making them ideal for rock gardens and easy to maintain.
Here are some perfect low-maintenance rock garden plants for USDA Hardiness zones 4 to 8:
- Sempervivum succulents (AKA: Hens and Chicks)
- Lamb’s ear
Rock gardens are among the most manageable gardens to maintain as long as you take the time to plan. Your plants should match your rock garden’s sun exposure, annual temperatures, space, and soil conditions for the lowest-maintenance possible.
Still, rock gardens need weeding. Using weed prevention methods such as landscaping fabric and edging combined with a pre-emergent herbicide can lighten your workload and eliminate all weeds in your garden.
So, if you are committed to eliminating your rock garden’s weeds for the first few years after setup, you’ll have a maintenance-free garden that thrives all year long.