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The courtyard of a southwestern home with a rock path Kate Russell/Courtesy Palo Santo Designs

Rock landscaping is becoming increasingly popular thanks to its undeniable eco-friendly benefits. Unlike grass or other water-guzzling plants, rocks require little to no maintenance, don’t need water, and are instantly satisfying—no need to wait for them to mature like a shrub or tree.

They’re also visually dynamic—adding unique shapes and textures to gardens large and small. Check out the other advantages of installing a rock garden, along with our favorite back and front yard rock landscaping ideas, below.

The Benefits of Rock Landscaping

Water is scarce in some parts of the United States, where drought-like conditions mean conserving water as much as possible. Enter rock landscaping. Rock gardens are so versatile that you can still achieve the yard of your dreams—whether you want a wilderness-inspired garden or a modern minimalist design—without wasting this precious resource. And conserving water, no matter where you are will also save you money.

Rocks are fire safe. According to the US Department of Agriculture Forest Service, stones, pebbles, and the like are considered ​​”fire-wise landscaping.” Placing rocks and fire-resistant plants near your home, rather than wood chips and flammable vegetation, may help protect your house from fire. If there isn’t flammable material, an encroaching fire can potentially burn out before reaching your house.

Rocks can substitute for mulch and will last longer. Like mulch, rocks, and pebbles can help maintain moisture in your flower beds—slowing the evaporation process and reducing the need to water your plants as often. They can also prevent soil erosion, reduce weed growth, and create a great natural edging between materials. And unlike mulch that disintegrates over time and needs frequent replenishment, rocks are fairly permanent.

Planning a Rock Garden

A Southwestern home with a rock front yard, a small slate wall and desert vegetation. iStock

When considering rock garden landscaping ideas, think about what you want to achieve in your outdoor space—what kind of aesthetic you’d like to add, where the rocks will go, and what function they may have. How will the stones be used in your garden design, and how will people interact with them?

Bagged marble chips are an elegant option, but because the edges are sharp, they’re not suitable to walk on—if you use these for a path, you’ll need to add stepping stones as well. If you love the look of black rocks but you live in a hot, sunny climate, consider how much heat they’ll absorb and release—potentially damaging plants (and injuring bare feet!) that come into contact with them.

Also, consider the scale and size of the rocks. If you want to make a dramatic impact with your rock garden, choose rocks of varying sizes to create a moment, or add a couple of boulders to break up a swath of gravel and prevent it from looking too uniform.

How to Use Rocks in Your Landscape Design

1. Create a rock path

A rock path is one of the most common rock landscaping ideas. Whether you choose stepping stones or a deconstructed gravel path, the sky’s the limit when it comes to design choices. To get started, take inspiration from your home—is it more modern or traditional in style? From there, you can narrow down the types and colors of rocks and stones to use.

Design your rock path where you want foot traffic to flow—this will discourage people from treading on your lawn and ruining grass or other plantings. Check out our directions on how to lay a stepping-stone path.

2. Build rock walls

Whether they’re purely decorative, functioning as a retaining wall, act as a fence or border, or are used as a transition on a hillside, rock walls add aesthetic value to your home—and may even increase your property value.

Regardless of its function, building a rock wall is not an easy task—even for experienced DIYers. It’s strenuous work that will take days, if not weeks, to complete. If you are determined to do it yourself, check out our handy guides to building a freestanding stone wall or building a retaining wall with concrete blocks.

3. Design with river rocks

A flagstone path surrounded by small river rocks with an area for a rain chain to drain. Joseph Huettl/Courtesy Huettl Landscape Architecture

River-rock landscaping is unique because the smooth, river-worn surfaces of the stones add a peaceful, zen-like quality to your outdoor design. While these versatile rocks can be used as borders or under stepping- stone paths, they also make great-looking dry creek beds that meander through a property.

Even better? Add river rocks under your downspouts to help drain water away from your property—a naturally attractive design with the added benefit of being functional.

4. Create contrast with white rock gardens

To dramatically emphasize your garden’s borders, add contrast, or achieve a modern look, consider white-rock landscaping. White stones make an excellent backdrop for highlighting plants and garden features that might otherwise get lost.

5. Install rocks in water features

A lit up water feature filled with rocks. iStock

Outdoor water features get a magnificent upgrade when rocks are added to the design. Whether it’s a water fountain, pond, waterfall, creek, or something more practical such as a drainage ditch, water and rocks are naturally complementary.