The best landscaping rocks for your yard project will vary depending on your outdoor space needs, curb appeal goals, and your landscaping ideas. But why are millions of homeowners choosing to use rocks in their landscaping?
Not all beauty is found in greenery. Landscaping rocks are formed and polished and using them for your yard project could cut down on maintenance and conserve water. The question is, what are the best rocks for your landscaping project?
Let’s break up the rocks into which ones are best for your landscape
Best Landscaping Rocks for Your Yard Project
Using landscaping rocks for your yard project can improve the value of your property by making it unique. Think of a brick sidewalk to your front door, or shiny pebbles for your Zen garden. Landscaping rocks can also be functional, such as flagstone stairs leading to your hot tub or garden.
Bricks, river rocks, and flagstone are excellent for accenting flower beds. They’ll also work to create a path to a gazebo or serve as a wall around your garden. All these materials are only a stone’s-throw away.
Let’s break up the rocks into which ones are best for your landscape:
Pea gravel refers to small, rounded stones about the size of the green vegetable they’re named after and they’re already polished, thanks to mother nature.
Best Ways to Use: Pea stone is versatile. It’s used for patios, playgrounds, and firepits. It’s also ideal for framing and filling in spaces between larger landscaping stones.
- Cost-effective and versatile.
- Doubles as weed-control and increases drainage.
- You can’t comfortably take a barefoot stroll on your pea gravel landscaping.
- With heavy rain, it can wash away.
Cost: Pea gravel usually costs about $35 a cubic yard. If you want colored pea gravel, prepare to budget for an extra $20-50 per cubic yard.
Lava rock is a popular choice among homeowners. The rough, misshapen, red rocks are a bit more expensive than pea gravel but an excellent long-term investment. They
Best Ways to Use: A good replacement for mulch in flower beds or to add color to the border of a walkway. They come in a few different colors, including red, black, and gray.
- Doesn’t wash away.
- Retains moisture, keeps weeds and pests away, and has a long lifespan.
- Absorbs heat and reflects light, which will increase the temperature around your plants.
- Difficult to clean. Hard to move if you change your mind. Sinks into the soil.
Cost: Lava rocks cost around $20 for a 10-lb bag.
Polished, rounded, and smoothed by running water, river rocks can be found near freshwater sources. Typically1 to 2 inches in diameter, they come in a variety of colors and shapes.
Best Ways to Use: Like pea stones, river rocks are versatile and best used for low-activity patios, accents, and flowerbeds. It’s especially popular with succulents and xeriscaping.
- Excellent drainage and erosion control.
- Versatile and unique. Being small, they fit almost anywhere. Due to the wide variation in size, color, and shape, no two river rock pieces are alike.
- Adding plants to existing beds is challenging.
- Like lava rocks, they can retain heat and be difficult to clean and move.
Cost: River rocks can be a bit pricey, ranging from $45 to $280 a ton depending on the size. But they’re a versatile landscaping rock for your yard projects.
Flagstone is broken up sedimentary rock. This natural stone has several types, including sandstone, quartzite, bluestone, and limestone. They come in two shapes: cut and irregular.
Best Ways to Use: Most popular with patios, walkways, stepping stones, and retaining walls.
- Durable and doesn’t shift in different climates, including Arizona’s very hot and Alaska’s very cold weather
- Easy to maintain. Just give it a sweep or a spray to clean, low maintenance.
- Can be pricey and is labor-intensive to install.
- The surface will get very hot with high temperatures and slippery with rain.
Cost: Flagstone has several subtypes, so the price may vary depending on if you’re getting slate, limestone, or sandstone. Visit a local stone yard to find the most affordable options in your area.
Cobblestones are essentially large river rocks. They can be found in river beds and have been smoothed down by moving water and they come in different sizes, shapes, and colors. They’ve been used as paving and landscaping material since the 3rd century.
Best Ways to Use: Most commonly used in driveways and walkways, they’re also used in patios, garden borders, and water features.
- Extremely durable. They’ve been used in paving walkways and streets since the 3rd century. You’ll likely never need to replace them.
- Unique, easy to clean, stain and weather resistant.
- They are costly. Weigh the benefits with the cost to see if it’s right for you.
- An uneven surface can be challenging for snow removal and unsteady legs (toddlers, the elderly, and people with two left feet–like me).
Cost: Cobblestone is quite pricey, ranging from $690-$915 per 100 square feet.
Traditionally fired clay, contemporary brick now comes in all sorts of materials.
Best Ways to Use: Patios, walkways, borders, and retaining walls.
- Easy to maintain, easy to wash
- Due to their shape, making unique designs can be challenging.
- Inflexible: changing, replacing, or removing bricks is not easy
Cost: The price of brick varies with the materials, but ranges from $6 to $10.50 per square foot.
How to Use Rocks in your Landscape
Rocks as Ground Covers
A rock garden can save you a brick load of money on landscaping. Why? It’s a bed of rocks often featuring shrubs or cactus. There’s no lawn to mow, fertilize, or water, and the porous rock allows rain to soak into the ground.
Landscaping rocks also can help prevent erosion and runoff. Several varieties will work for a rock garden, but these rocks work best for ground cover:
- Pea Gravel
- Lava Rocks
- River Rocks
Rocks as Pavers
If you’re using landscaping rocks for your paving project, you may want a smoother texture. Depending on the aesthetic you’re going for, you may want to use larger rocks for your driveway, walkway, or patio:
Build the Bed
Thinking about raised garden beds or a retaining wall? Landscaping rocks can help. The rocks can give your yard a lift and create layers of beauty around the property.
You can use just about any sort of landscaping rock to build retaining walls or raised beds. It’s more about how you organize them and drainage.
- Organization: Group your landscaping rocks into large, medium, and small. You’ll build the walls of your garden bed with the large landscaping rocks at the bottom and use the smaller ones as filler and support. Depending on your design, there are different techniques for building sturdy garden bed walls.
- Drainage: For good garden bed drainage, you want to use crushed rock or pea gravel at the bottom of the bed. This will prevent the water from being trapped and drowning the leafy plants.
FAQ About Landscaping with Rocks
When it comes to landscape design, you can let your imagination run wild. Build natural ponds or streams through the yard, or a retaining wall with plants, or accent a koi bond.
Whether building a waterfall, decorating a pond, or constructing a themed garden, it’s best to mix-up rock types. Include some boulders, use flagstone to create the base and limestone for a porous effect, and create an interesting flow of water. Look for examples at home and garden shows (and, of course, here on LawnStarter’s landscaping pages).
Do you need to put anything under landscaping rocks? Technically speaking, no, but there will be consequences–just like if you don’t brush your teeth.
Although you have a few options, the most common and the most versatile is landscaping fabric. Landscaping fabric greatly reduces weed growth and plants poking in between rocks. It also prevents rocks from sinking into the soil–a common occurrence, especially with smaller rocks like pea gravel and lava rocks.
There are several types to choose from:
The type you choose will depend on the type of rock you choose and your landscaping goals.
Yes. Landscaping with rocks can get expensive, so if you’re not picky or you’re super creative, you can get free rocks from a few places.
• Construction sites: Talk to a construction crew. Chances are they have quite a few rocks that they’d be happy to hand over.
• Farms: Ask a farmer if you can help de-rock their land. Chances are they’ll readily agree to the tradeoff.
• Go rockhounding: Rockhounding is just rock collecting. Although it’s not allowed in national parks, most national forests will let you gather rocks to your heart’s content. Dry creek beds are a great place to start.
The landscaping and hardscaping options are nearly limitless. Here are a few that were left off the list and why.
• Beach pebbles: A beautiful option, but also one of the most expensive.
• Mexican beach pebbles: A popular choice for water features, but very expensive.
• Marble chips: The light reflects making them luminous, but they get very hot and damage your greenery. They also have a high pH balance and leach into the soil.
When to Call a Landscaping Pro
If your DIY landscaping vision is far outside your skillset (a large rock wall with water flowing down the sides into a bog garden, for example), you want expert advice, or you just don’t have the time, a professional landscaper near you can show you how to make your yard the talk of the town — and then make it so.
Sometimes people start landscaping projects and need a pro to finish the job. In this case, whether you are landscaping with flagstone, pea gravel, or boulders, a landscaping expert can come to the rescue so you’re not stuck between a rock and a hard place for long.
Main image credit: jacki-dee / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0