Last Updated on June 15, 2023 by Grow with Bovees
Why not have a stunning rock garden, filled with beautiful rock garden plants as the main showpiece of your yard…without spending your valuable leisure time maintaining it?
By carefully selecting low-maintenance plants to suit; the type of rockery you would like, your local climate and the size & position of the site you have in mind, this is entirely possible.
With that in mind, The Bovees Research Team decided to pool their extensive knowledge and put together a comprehensive selection of many low-maintenance plants for all different types of rock garden, so that you can see what takes your fancy and start building your rock garden accordingly.
Rock garden ideas can be many and varied once you start investigating the options.
Japanese rock gardens are very beautiful, or maybe you’d like an alpine garden. You may only have room for a small container garden or maybe your climate requires a drought resistant garden.
Then again perhaps you have more specific requirements like; a rabbit resistant garden, or you’d like to concentrate on native plants, or you live on the coast and need to restrict yourself to coastal plants.
Some of the easiest plants to grow are the various kinds with succulent leaves, which need very little care.
Cacti also make decorative and easy-to-grow, drought tolerant plants for a low-maintenance rockery.
Succulents are ideal plants for the rockery, because they thrive in conditions where drainage is good and usually grow in full sun amongst stones in nature.
Crassulas are particularly attractive as they generally have showy flowers.
Beware the rampant growers like C. multicava, with their star-shaped flowers. They spread in the shade, so do need to be weeded out periodically.
Beautiful species like C. falcata with their clusters of flowers in shades of red and orange and C. portulacea, with their evergreen leaves, however, do not spread very much and are ideal where conditions are suitable.
The American Sedums (Stonecrops), such as sedum autumn joy, with their pink blooms and bronze-flushed leaves are ideal for planting amongst rocks and the dwarf species will grow in poor soil conditions, but do need to be kept in check a bit.
Aloes are perfect succulents for a rockery, for they grow amongst rocks in nature and there are scores from which to make a choice; whether your preference is slender stems of yellow flowers or striking orange pokers.
Cacti make striking plants in a rock garden, but do not blend well with ordinary garden flowers and should be planted almost as an architectural feature to complement the house.
They are mainly of interest for their intriguingly grotesque forms, not for their flowering habits, and are of special interest to collectors. Having said that, they are quite drought tolerant, tolerate full sun, and do bloom in a wide range of colors with; pink flowers, white flowers, purple flowers and lavender blue flowers, to mention a few.
Succulents and Cacti For Rock Gardens
|1m – 39″||Yellow|
|Aloe sp.||10cm to 2m – 4″ to 6ft||Red, orange, yellow|
|Bulbine sp.||25cm – 10″||Yellow|
|Cotyledon sp.||20cm to 2m – 8″ to 6ft||Various|
|Crassula sp.||30cm to 1m – 12″ to 3ft||Pink, red|
|Drosanthemum sp.||10cm to 60cm – 4″ to 24″||Pink, purple, red|
|Echeveria sp.||15cm to 30cm – 6″ to 12″||Red, yellow, orange|
|Euphorbia sp.||5cm to 2m – 2″ to 6ft||Various|
|Kalanchoe sp.||30cm to 1m – 12″ to 3ft||Various|
|Lampranthus sp.||15cm to 30cm – 6″ to 18″||Various|
|Mesembryanthemum crystallinum||8cm – 3″||White|
|Rochea coccinea (red crassula)||60cm – 24″||Red|
|Sedum sp. (stone crop)||15cm to 40cm – 6″ to 16″||Yellow, white|
|Sempervivum sp.||15cm to 30cm – 6″ to 12″||Purple, carmine, yellow|
If you live in an area which has heavy rain (constantly wet soil) and is not so suited to the growing of cacti and succulents, you could make a conifer rock garden.
There is a wide range of small conifers in very attractive shapes and colors; some with gray foliage, others with lime green through to deepest emerald, plus, once established, they need very little care at all.
Small shrubs are also a good choice — there are many varieties of old favorites that are compact-growing and these are ideal for a rockery.
Compact bedding plants, such as dwarf marigolds and dwarf ageratum, will add color to your rock garden.
Small Shrubs For The Rockery
Shrubs are very suitable and it is amazing how many small shrubs can be found to dress the rock garden.
Use as many evergreens as possible, for they prevent a bare look in winter.
Alpine plants, in particular, work well as they also tend to have a compact habit.
Particularly beautiful alpines include; Alpine Campanula with its purple bell-shaped flowers, Pink Chintz (Thymus Serpyllum) with its small trumpet-shaped flowers in purple, pink & white, Spanish Chamomile (Mount Atlas daisy) with its silvery green foliage and sprigs of white daisies.
Varieties of Ice Plant (Delosperma) are also lovely additions.
They are an evergreen succulent heralding from the highlands of Southern Africa; so they can handle both very hot temperatures and also pretty cold ones.
They come in a huge variety of colors and flower in well-drained soils from late spring, through to late summer.
Their creeping habit makes them excellent evergreen groundcover for large flat patches in between rocks, especially if you mix a couple of different species together to get a wide variety of colorful blooms.
Look out for; Delosperma Garnet, Delosperma Peridot, Delosperma Red Mountain, Delosperma Golden Nugget…..and my (Lizzy) particular favorite — Delosperma Fire Spinner.
Shrubs which drape themselves over rocks, like Purple Lantana or Flame Pea (Chorizema) are also delightful.
Cotton Lavender (Santolina chamaecyparissus) provides a variation in color with its evergreen, silvery foliage and neat, rounded habit. It also produces delightful little yellow pompom flowers and the aromatic foliage has an oregano-like fragrance.
Another relatively new shrub that has stunning silvery leaves with red veins is a Japanese painted fern called Silver Falls (Athyrium Niponicum var. Pictum) that will bring to life a shady corner but will also tolerate a degree of partial shade.
Sea Thrift (Armeria maritima) is ideal for coastal locations and forms compact clumps of textured foliage with little pink pom-pom flowers.
It’s always nice to have flowers as early as possible in the year, so spring bulbs such as hyacinths with their beautiful lilac blooms, waxy white blooms and rich green leaves, are nice to dot around in and amongst other plants that provide flowers in summer.
Tall Shrubs & Small Trees For The Rockery
It is advisable to plant several tall shrubs or small trees in a larger rockery as differing heights create an interesting form.
Strelitzias / Bird of Paradise are striking and exotic, so they work well as a medium height shrub that doubles as a statement centerpiece. They thrive in a rock garden environment with well-drained rocky soil types.
Plus, strelitzias have attractive spear-shaped evergreen leaves, so even when the orange and purple flowers are not on show, you still have a great architectural feature.
Ornamental grass such as purple fountain grass or Idaho blue-eyed grass which isn’t actually a grass but hails from the Iris family and has grass like clumps of leaves and beautiful blue blooms.
Choose trees that do not spread too much and risk obscuring your attractive stones (or your blue tooth garden rock!), unless you have an extremely large rockery or too many rocks!
Small trees with slim trunks and a fairly narrow habit, such as Dais cotinifolia, Weeping Bottlebrush, Cussonia paniculata (Cabbage Tree) and Tamarisk are best.
Shrubs with a suckering habit like Kerria japonica (Globe Flower) and Rhus lyphina should not be planted, for they behave like rampant perennials.
|Barleria reptans||60cm – 24″||Red|
|Cotoneaster dammeri ‘Lowfast’||30cm – 12″||White, red berries|
|Cuphea hyssopifolia||30cm – 12″||Purple, white|
|Erica sp.||30cm to 2m – 12″ to 6ft||Various|
|Hebe sp. (veronica)||45cm to 1.25m – 18″ to 4ft||Various|
|Juniperus horizontalis ‘Wiltonii’||30cm – 12″||Blue-gray foliage|
|Lantana montevidensis||60cm – 24″||Mauve|
|Leucospermum sp.’ (pincushion)||75cm to 2m – 30″ to 6ft||Red, yellow, orange|
|Protea sp.||1m to 5m – 3ft to 16ft||Various|
|Reinwardtia indica (yellow flax)||1m – 3ft||Yellow|
|Thuja occidentalis ‘Rheingold’||60cm – 24″||Orange foliage|
Suitable For A Well Drained Rockery
Other popular plants for a rockery are the many kinds of ericas, which also need well-drained, slightly acid soil. For growing most other plants, the soil should be a mixture of garden loam and compost, much the same as the soil you would use when growing these plants in your garden beds.
If you are planning a small rock garden, then you could use store bought compost in bags, which is sometimes easier to spread than garden soil. You can also replace poor soil with this option.
The most important thing to remember when choosing plants for a rock garden is to get plants that all need the same growing conditions, as this will make caring for them so much easier.
The depth of soil in most rockeries is fairly limited, so it is best to choose plants with shallow root systems.
Avoid plants that grow very vigorously — these usually have large, invasive root systems and will quickly overgrow the rockery and choke out smaller plants.
Rock Garden Plants For Shade
If your rock garden is in a shady area of your yard, you can still plant it with many plants suited to shade.
While the majority of the more popular plants for rock gardens (such as ericas and succulents) need a sunny position, there are many other shade-loving plants that can easily be grown in rock gardens.
The varieties you choose will depend on local conditions, the size of your rockery, and the depth of the planting pockets.
If yours is a sizable rockery, you could grow large ferns such as;
- Blechnum sp.
- Tree ferns
- Elephants ear
- Shade loving species of Cycads
- Velvet Leaf Philodendron sp.
- Acanthus mollis.
Plants Suitable For Deep Soil Pockets
Plants For A Small Rockery
- Various Ferns
- Hens and chicks (Chlorophytum comosum)
- Small-growing fuchsias
- Dwarf azaleas
- Shade loving groundcovers
Suited To Full Sun
Geraniums are a good choice for a rockery situated in full sun.
Perennial Plants For Rock Gardens
Perennials such as Barberton daisies, Agapanthus and Red Hot Pokers are very suitable for rock gardens, not only because their spread can be checked, but because their appearance suits the rocky setting.
Creeping perennials like Wild Strawberry (Duchesnea), Cerastium (Snow-in-Summer), Fleabane Daisy (Erigeron Annuus), Pelargoniums and Mesembryanthemum are also suitable, but must be kept in check carefully.
Try to confine each of them to one spot and do not allow them to spread beyond their allotted area. Weed them out ruthlessly if they begin to smother nearby plants.
|Arctotis sp.||25cm to 35cm – 10″ to 14″||Orange, yellow|
|Convolvulus mauritanicus (ground morning glory)||20cm – 8″||Violet|
|Diascia integerrima (twin spur)||30cm – 12″||Red-pink|
|Erigeron macranthus||25cm – 10″||White|
|Felicia amelloides (blue daisy)||45cm – 18″||Blue|
|Gazania sp.||10cm to 15cm – 4″ to 6″||Various|
|Geranium incanum (carpet geranium)||15cm – 6″||Mauve|
|Gerbera jamesonii (Barberton daisy)||60cm – 24″||Various|
|Limonium sp. (statice)||60cm – 24″||Lavender, white|
|Nepeta mussinii (catmint)||20cm – 8″||Lavender|
|Osteospermum sp. (trailing daisy)||20cm to 50cm – 8″ to 18″||White, blue|
|Pelargonium sp. (geranium)||15cm to 70cm – 6″ to 28″||Various|
|Scabiosa caucasica (scabious)||75cm – 30″||Mauve|
Bulbs For The Rock Garden
Bulbs such as Yellow Arums, Pineapple Flowers (Eucomis), Tulbaghia fragrans, Fleur de Lys, Daffodils, Ranunculus, Anemones and many others are suitable as they do not spread too freely and can be lifted easily when dormant.
|Anemone coronaria||30cm – 12″||Various|
|Babiana stricta (wine cup)||20cm – 8″||Purple|
|Clivia miniata||45cm to 75cm – 18″ to 30″||Orange|
|Freesia hybrids||40 cm – 16″||Various|
|Nerine sp.||45cm – 18″||Pink, red|
|Ranunculus asiaticus||30cm – 12″||Various|
|Tritonia crocata||45cm – 18″||Orange|
Annual Plants For Rockeries
Almost any annual can be planted in the rockery, but the best ones are of the type that create a massed display of color, like Namaqualand daisies, rather than the type that sends up a slender stem, even though the flower itself is beautiful, like Clarkia or Godetia.
The massed bushy flowers fill the rock pockets gracefully and overflow the edges of the rocks in a natural manner.
Stiff, spiky annuals may look rather prim and out of place. On the other hand, some common annuals, like the taller Petunias, are too spreading in growth and should be avoided, particularly in a small rockery.
The ideal annual for the rockery should be fairly compact and not sprawl untidily like Echium Blue Bedder.
Low-growing annuals, like Ageralum and Dorotkeanthus, are particularly valuable for the front of the rockery.
Be careful of annuals like Marigolds that seed themselves so freely that they overrun everything. They must be scrupulously weeded out in the following season.
One should plant the type of annual which is used more for display than as a cut flower, so that one is not tempted to cut the blooms for the vase.
Members of the daisy family are particularly suitable.
|Ageratum houstonianum hybrids (floss flower)||20cm – 8″||Blue, pink, white|
|Arctotis hybrids||30cm – 12″||Red, orange, yellow|
|Dimorphotheca sinuata (Namaqualand daisy)||30cm – 12″||Various|
|Dorotheanthus bellidiformis||10cm – 4″||Various|
|Eschscholzia California (Californian poppy)||45cm – 18″||Various|
|Felicia bergerana (kingfisher daisy)||15cm – 6″||Blue|
|Linaria maroccana||45cm – 18″||Various|
|Lobelia erinus||15cm – 6″||Blue, pink, white|
|Lobularia maritima (alyssum)||15cm – 6″”||White, mauve, pink|
|Nemesia strumosa hybrids||30cm – 12″||Rose pink|
|Petunia hybrids||30cm – 12″||Various|
|Tagetes patula hybrids (dwarf marigold)||15cm to 25cm – 6″ to 10″||Yellow, orange, brown|
|Tropaeolum majus (nasturtium)||30cm – 12″||Various|
|Ursinia sp.||30cm – 12″||Yellow, orange|
|Verbena hybrids||20cm – 8″||Various|
Climbers are valuable in a large rockery.
Bougainvillea or Canary Creeper (Senecio tamoides) can be very attractive spreading over stones and slopes.
How To Plant The Rock Garden
Having decided on the plants to use, one must try to avoid a spotty effect by planting one of everything irrespective of its size.
Group several plants of one kind in each pocket as a start.
One pocket can be filled with dozens of one type of annual such as Nemesia, and another filled with two or three small shrubs of a kind, like Strelitzia or Cape Heath.
Larger plants like Pride-of-Madeira (Echium fastuosum) can be represented by single specimens.
Even though the pocket is filled mainly with one type of plant, other plants can be placed at the corners of the pockets to avoid a too formal look and appear as if they overflow from one bed to the next.
Barberton daisies (Gerbera) or Bergenia are particularly suitable as they love the cool root run under the rocks, while their pretty foliage softens the stone without hiding it completely.
Most of the decorative rock surfaces should continue to show when the plants are fully grown, for if they are completely overgrown, the character of the rock garden will be lost.
You should put in as many permanent plants as possible and arrange a few beds of annuals here and there for a brilliant show.
Quick-growing annuals, like Phlox, can also be used to dress the rockery until the slower, more permanent shrubs have grown.
It is better to rely on the display of annuals at first than to over plant with specimens of a permanent character.
In general, the larger plants should be planted at the back of the rockery, that is, in the top pockets, while dwarf plants should be planted in the lower pockets, so that they can be seen easily.
In some portions, however, bring taller plants to the fore or the planting will appear monotonous.
Maintenance of the Rockery
The well-built rockery requires very little maintenance, but weeds and grass should not be allowed to gain a foothold in the rocks.
Do not allow the lawn to grow right up to the rocks in the front as it will be very difficult to mow and require a great deal of hand labor to keep it from growing up into the crevices of the rocks.
The lawn should be trimmed with an edging tool to make a neat edge following the curve of the rockery at least one foot away from the rocks.
This narrow bed can be filled with many small plants which look good against the rocks and help to link the rockery to the rest of the garden.
Water the rock garden regularly and allow the spray to soak well down into the soil. You may find it necessary to water the rockery only about twice a week if this is done thoroughly.
Rock gardens devoted to succulents need be watered less frequently, particularly when they are accustomed to having a dry period in nature. This will depend on whether they come from a summer or winter-rainfall area.
Snails are fond of making their home in the damp areas under the rocks and must be kept in check before they can damage small plants. Use snail bait early in spring to prevent these pests from multiplying.
Do not allow trailing shrubs like Lantana montevidensis or shrubby perennials like certain Bush Salvias to become straggly.
They may be cut back after flowering or during winter and will make neat growth in the spring.
In all cases keep the rockery neat and check the spread of the same type of plant everywhere.
A small pocket of wild strawberry is delightful, but it soon becomes a pest if it is allowed to creep into every part of the rockery.
Q. The geraniums in our rockery are all making a great deal of leaf growth but hardly any flowers. What could be the reason?
A. Geraniums and pelargoniums usually grow extremely well in a rockery, but they can fail to flower for a number of reasons. To bloom successfully, they must be in full sun, and they do best in light, fertile, free draining soil.
If the soil in your rockery is very rich – perhaps with too much compost in it – the plants will make lush leaf growth at the expense of flowers.
Over-watering geraniums, especially if the soil is poorly drained, can encourage the production of too many leaves. Over-feeding the plants with a high-nitrogen fertilizer could also result in too much leaf growth.
On the other hand, if the geraniums make flower buds that fail to open, they may have been stung by a type of fly whose developing maggots destroy the buds. If this is the case, spray the plants with carbaryl as soon as the buds appear.