Using rock gardens in landscaping

Updated May 6, 2024

Shutterstock 5846500

Enhance your design with plants that thrive in harsh environments

Long a standard in the arid West and high-desert regions such as the Rockies, rock gardens have become increasingly popular throughout the country. A rock garden, also known as an alpine garden or rockery, incorporates stones and boulders with dwarf shrubs and low-growing or creeping plants. Traditional rock gardens are planted at high altitudes where they must withstand the rigors of heat, high winds and drought.

Nowadays, you’re just as likely to find a rock garden in southern Connecticut as in southern California. Both pretty and practical, rock gardens offer an opportunity to accent underutilized areas of a landscape, add native plantings and manage trouble spots such as hillsides.

The lack of maintenance involved in a rock garden is definitely a benefit for many clients seeking a low- or no-maintenance landscape. They can replace a plant bed or even turfgrass while still adding aesthetic appeal.

A rock garden may integrate the entire landscape or serve as an accent piece. The planting medium typically is sandy, rocky and almost soilless. While traditional rock-garden plants are alpine or sub-alpine species such as columbines or lupines, many other plants actually do well in rock gardens.

Plants that work in rock gardens also do well in other harsh environments such as on hillsides, in the crevices along a stonewall or path or along curbs.

Try out a few of these hardy plants for your rock gardens and other tough-to-fill spaces.


GoldDust Mecardonia, Proven WinnersGoldDust Mecardonia, Proven Winners

GoldDust Mecardonia (Mecardonia hybrid)
Tiny green leaves with bright yellow flowers that bloom from May to October on a trailing habit. No deadheading necessary. Tolerates heat. Grows 5 inches tall and 20 inches wide. Full sun.


Moss Rose, Ball Horticultural CompanyMoss Rose, Ball Horticultural Company

Moss Rose (Portulaca grandiflora)
Low-growing, tolerant of heat and cold. Comes in an array of vivid colors, including fuchsia, deep red, orange, white, yellow and variegated. The Happy Trails series has bigger flowers and good spread. Grows 6 to 9 inches tall and 14 to 18 inches wide. Full sun.


Silver Falls Dichondra, Ball Horticultural CompanySilver Falls Dichondra, Ball Horticultural Company

Silver Falls Dichondra (Dichondra argentea)
Dense almost metallic silvery-green foliage on silver stems. Vigorous grower that creeps well as a groundcover or cascades over rocks. Withstands heat and drought. Grows 2 to 3 inches tall and 48 inches wide. Part sun to sun.




Bangle Genista, Proven WinnersBangle Genista, Proven Winners

Bangle Genista (Genista lydia)
Heavily flowering, low-mounding deciduous bushes boast showy yellow flowers in spring. Attractive texture even when not blooming. Heat and drought tolerant. Grows 24 inches tall and wide.

  • Hardy to USDA zones 4 to 9
  • Sun


Bepo Austrian Pine, MonroviaBepo Austrian Pine, Monrovia

Bepo Austrian Pine (Pinus nigra ‘Pierrick Bregeon’)
Dense shrub with glossy green color and spherical form. Compact habitat. Doesn’t brown out like Mugo pine in winter. Grows 3 feet tall to 4 feet wide.

  • Hardy to USDA zones 4 to 8
  • Full sun


Good Vibrations Gold Juniper, Proven WinnersGood Vibrations Gold Juniper, Proven Winners

Good Vibrations Gold Juniper (Juniperus horizontalis)
Unlike other junipers, this one is soft to the touch. Three-season color: Chartreuse in spring, changes to bright yellow then orange in fall. Spreading, horizontal habit. Grows 18 inches tall and 9 feet wide.

  • Hardy to USDA zones 4 to 9
  • Full sun



All Gold Japanese Forest Grass, MonroviaAll Gold Japanese Forest Grass, Monrovia

All Gold Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa  macra ‘All Gold’)
Dramatic golden foliage looks like tiny bamboo plants. Clumping habit. Grows 18 inches tall and wide.

  • Hardy to USDA zones 4 to 9
  • Part sun


Curious Orange Monkey Flower, MonroviaCurious Orange Monkey Flower, Monrovia

Curious Orange Monkey Flower (Mimulus aurantiacus ‘Mimapri’)
A tropical hybrid with long-lasting orange flowers and glossy evergreen foliage. Grows naturally on slopes. Heavy bloomer. Grows 12 to 18 inches tall and 18 inches wide.

  • Hardy to USDA zones 9 to 11
  • Part sun to full sun


Pinks/ Dianthus, Ball Horticultural CompanyPinks/ Dianthus, Ball Horticultural Company

Pinks/ Dianthus (Dianthus various)
Tolerate high light and cool nights of traditional rock garden settings. Many different colors including dark pink, purple and rose. The EverLast series has double blooms and longer bloom period. The Fruit Punch series has double, fragrant blossoms with patterned petals.

  • Hardy to USDA zones 4 to 9
  • Part sun to sun



Blue Spruce Sedum, Ball Horticultural CompanyBlue Spruce Sedum, Ball Horticultural Company

Blue Spruce Sedum (Sedum reflexum ‘Blue Spruce’)
Bluish color looks like tiny blue spruce trees.  Low-growing and spreading habit. Grows 6 to 10 inches high and 10 to 12 inches wide.

  • Hardy to USDA zones 3 to 11
  • Sun


Garnet Brocade Sedum, Proven WinnersGarnet Brocade Sedum, Proven Winners

Garnet Brocade Sedum (Sedum (Hytolephium) hybrid ‘Garbro’)
Burgundy foliage and flowers. Long bloom season August through October. Upright habit. Attracts butterflies and hummingbirds. Grows to 16 inches tall and wide.

  • Hardy to USDA zones 3 to 11
  • Sun



Pure Joy Stonecrop, Proven WinnersPure Joy Stonecrop, Proven Winners

Pure Joy Stonecrop (Sedum hybrid ‘Pure Joy’)
A variety that has light green leaves and pinkish-purple flowers and seed heads. Forms low rounded mound. Grows to one foot tall and 20 inches wide.

  • Hardy to USDA zones 3 to 9
  • Sun




The Attachments Idea Book
Landscapers use a variety of attachments for doing everything from snow removal to jobsite cleanup, and regardless of how often they are used, every landscaper has a favorite attachment.
Attachments Idea Book Cover