clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Types of Landscaping Rocks and How to Use Them

Learning the best ways to use these popular landscaping rocks will lend both style and utility to your yard or garden. And with plenty of options for different types of spaces, most DIY gardeners and landscapers will be able to find something to turn their yard into an elegant escape. But knowing which stones to use for a project can be critical, and this guide aims to help.

Detail of a garden with landscaping rocks iStock

Landscaping rocks might not be your first thought when it comes redesigning your yard, but these versatile materials are worth considering. Between their durability, variation, and utility, landscaping rocks can turn a ho-hum backyard into a paradise while also reducing the homeowner’s maintenance commitment. The trick is figuring out which landscaping rocks will be the best choice for your space. Read on to explore the different types and the projects that they work well for.

Types of Landscaping Rocks

When deciding on a style of landscaping rock, there are different factors to consider. For example, smooth rocks are more suitable for walkways and patios, while crushed stone is an excellent choice for replacing mulch. This guide will highlight some of the most popular landscaping rocks and how to use them.

Crushed stone

One of the most popular styles, crushed stones are typically around 1 inch in length and can be made from a variety of stone types (granite is common). They’re removed from the ground as whole stones and put through a crusher to break them into small, angular chunks of stone.

Crushed stone has many applications, but it’s frequently used as a mulch replacement. These stones look great around most types of plants and, since no one would be walking on them, their jagged edges aren’t a factor. Also, crushed stone makes a great base material to place under patios and walkways. These stones promote drainage, allowing water to run through the walkway and into the soil underneath.

Bulk crushed granite ranges between $38 and $75 per yard or $24 to $50 per ton. For folks who don’t need this much, smaller quantities are sold at local home improvement stores. But expect to pay more, at least $5 for .5 cubic feet of crushed stones. However, the convenience may make it worthwhile for you.

River rock

Landscaping with river rocks iStock

River rock describes stones of a wide variety of materials removed from a riverbed. Due to water currents and erosion, these stones are smooth and rounded. They come in a wide range of sizes, from under an inch to more than a foot wide, with just as varied of a color palette.

Because river rocks are so smooth and rounded, they are more comfortable underfoot for a walkway. Keep in mind that it’s important to use small river rocks for a walkway, as larger ones are more likely to move or twist as a foot lands on them. These rocks also are an attractive way to border a walkway. And since there aren’t any jagged edges to snag a foot, people who venture off the path aren’t likely to get hurt.

One area where using river rocks can pose a problem is in garden beds. Because of their rounded contours, they will leave substantial, irregularly shaped gaps between the stones. Because of their rounded shape, the rocks will leave large irregular gaps between stones, which creates openings for weeds to sprout. This is mostly true of larger river rocks, as smaller rocks don’t form big gaps.

River rocks cost between $50 and $160 per ton in bulk. With .5-cubic feet bags costing $5 each (a total of around $270 per yard), buying in bulk is almost half as expensive.

Pea gravel

This type is composed of small, rounded rocks that are roughly the size of a pea or bean. There’s a mix of individual stones of different varieties and colors.

The rounded shape of pea gravel makes it beneficial for walkways, dog runs, patios, or even playgrounds. It can also help with drainage for landscaping projects or act as mulch in flower beds and gardens. Since these stones are on the small side, there is minimal opportunity for gaps between the stones to prevent weed growth.

The cost for a bulk ton of pea gravel ranges between $10 and $50. For a .5-cubic foot bag of pea gravel from the home improvement store, expect to pay around $4 each.

Lava rock

As one might guess from the name, lava rock is made of the molten discharge from volcanoes. It comes in both red and black colors, and it’s generally very lightweight compared to other landscaping rocks. Irregular and very rough in shape, these will add texture and depth to garden beds that many other stone types can’t replicate.

One thing to note is that lava rock isn’t suitable for walkways or patios due to its rough and uneven texture. However, it’s great in place of mulch and provides a unique look. It’s also suitable for drainage, especially since the individual rocks are porous, but large-scale drainage projects can be expensive

Lava rock costs between $80 and $240 per ton, or $50 to $180 per cubic yard. If purchased from a home improvement store, 6-pound bags can cost around $8 each.

Flagstone

Backyard with a flagstone walkway iStock

Flagstone is a category of stone, not a specific stone material. It can consist of sandstone, slate, bluestone, limestone, or quartzite.

What makes these materials flagstone is that they are shaped like flat slabs. This shape is particularly suitable for building walkways and patios. Since the stones are extremely flat and level, they can be laid down in such a way that there are very few variations in height between the stones.

Due to the sizes of the individual stones, flagstone is generally sold by the pallet, and each pallet weighs around 1 ton. One pallet can cost around $200 and $550 each.

Fieldstone

Fieldstones are generally large, round rocks found during excavating or farming, which means they can be made of different types of stones.

Fieldstones are suitable for many tasks. If used properly, they can work as retaining walls, lining walkways, or even stone wall fences. Depending on their size and shape, they can function as seats around a bonfire or stepping stones in a walkway. When stacking these stones, it may be necessary to use mortar, but dry stacking without mortar is also doable.

Fieldstones are sold by weight, and they can range from $80 to $180 per ton. It’s possible to order them from a home improvement store, but prices will vary.

Boulders

Boulders placed at the bottom of a deck Rob Larson

A general description of a boulder is any stone that’s too large for one person to pick up alone, for example, it could be a stone that is at least 2 feet wide.

Boulders make for excellent retaining walls and rustic seating arrangements. They’re also helpful for creating tiered yards with separate planting areas. Because these are so heavy, it’s a good idea to have a design plan in mind as you don’t want to move them around to find the right spot.

Boulders cost between $100 and $600 per ton, and they’re typically only available from stone suppliers or excavation companies. Delivery and installation may or may not be part of the price, so it’s important to clarify before purchasing.

How To Use Landscaping Rocks

There are quite a few different ways to use landscaping rocks throughout a property. Due to the wide variation of colors, types, and sizes, they can fit in almost any design or style.

Stone mulch

Landscaping stones have many advantages over wood or rubber mulch. For instance, some types of stone are more affordable than wood mulch—and almost all types are more affordable than rubber. And because stones don’t degrade over time, there is less maintenance to deal with to keep a garden bed looking great.

It is important to note that stones can absorb heat during the day, which will make the garden bed too warm for drought-sensitive plants or seedlings. So if you have these types of plants, it’s best to avoid using stones in this manner.

Lawn edging stones

When it’s necessary to separate a walkway from the grass, border garden beds, or simply divide the yard into different spaces, lawn edging stones can do the job beautifully. These stones can prevent the spread of grass into a walkway or stop smaller stones from escaping into the grass area. Depending on their size, they can also function as retaining walls in some yards.

While some folks may opt for brick or pavers, fieldstone makes an attractive lawn edging stone. They bring a natural, organic look to a yard while clearly breaking up or outlining a seating area, pathway, or play space.

Walkway stones

Walkway made of stones Nat Rea

When it comes to walkway stones, the sky’s the limit. Gravel, river rock, pea gravel, and other loose stones are all smart choices. In addition, flagstone materials like slate, bluestone, and sandstone laid in a flat pattern with color variation between the stones create a classic walkway design.

Stone retaining walls and tiers

When the job calls for holding back soil to prevent landslides, leveling the yard, or creating tiered walls around the yard, landscaping stones can handle it. Whether they’re large boulders or stacked fieldstones, these materials are heavy and stable, and they can support a lot of weight.

Keep in mind that it may be necessary to enlist the help of an engineer when building retaining walls with boulders or stones. It’s important that these structures don’t budge, so seek out an expert’s opinion.

Where To Buy Landscaping Stones

People shopping for landscaping stones have several options to explore. Big-box stores, landscaping suppliers, stone suppliers, and even excavation companies can be good resources.

Home improvement stores

DIY landscapers who don’t need a large quantity of stones may consider one of the bigger home improvement stores. These retailers typically stock small stones by the bag and may be able to help the shopper find larger stones. However you may run into differing levels of expertise depending on the sales associate, and delivery is typically an extra cost.

Landscaping companies

Landscaping supply companies are an excellent resource for purchasing landscape stones. They often have competitive prices, can offer delivery, and may even be able to handle the installation for the shopper. These companies may also be able to help with the yard’s design and have the knowledge to explain the materials to the shopper.

Stone suppliers

When it comes to variety, it’s hard to beat a stone supplier. These companies will often have everything from crushed stone and gravel to boulders and fieldstone, and they sell these stones by the yard. Shoppers can usually walk through a stone yard and compare the different colors, sizes, and textures to find the perfect type for their design. These companies can also take care of delivery, but installation will typically be on the homeowner to figure out.

Excavation companies

If you’re looking for large fieldstones and boulders, excavation companies are excellent resources. Even if they don’t have any in stock, they may be able to put your name on a waitlist. They can potentially check on current or previous projects to see if any homeowners have stones they would prefer not to keep around. These companies typically handle delivery as well, though the variety of stones will be limited to whatever they can dig up.