Skip to main content

Easy DIY Landscaping: Build a Rock Garden

Enelle Lamb's ancestors were English gardeners and professional landscapers. Her artistic nature is a great accent for home DIY projects.

My DIY Rock Garden

My DIY Rock Garden

Our DIY Rock Garden

Many homeowners are taking on the challenge of renovating their 'home sweet home' themselves, and I'm one of them! Not only do DIYers have the satisfaction of saying "I did that!", but they are also adding value to their property and in most cases, saving money!

One way to add value and save, without having to invest a lot of time and money 'tooling up' (buying or renting the right tools for the job) is by landscaping. Most homeowners already have shovels, rakes, and edgers, so all that is needed is an idea, time, labor and, of course, the right products—topsoil, bark mulch, and plants.

This type of project can give you professional results without the professional price tag. Once you have your idea set the way you want it, the actual project will take approximately two days from beginning to end.

This particular project took us a weekend to complete. The first day was spent on the basic construction and placement of boulders and rocks, and the second day we readied the soil for planting, added the plants, lights and bark mulch. It was a lot of hard work, but we enjoyed every minute of it and were thrilled with the results of our labor!


The Idea: A Rock Garden

For our first big DIY project, we decided to spruce up the front yard with a rock garden. Having watched a year's worth of DIY shows, we were fairly confident that we could produce a professional looking garden at a fraction of the cost. For those of you who are delving into this type of project for the first time, the steps below will help you to achieve the same results we are enjoying!

Step 1: Decide on a Location and Mark It!

Once you have decided what you want and where you want it, you need to mark it out on the ground before you dig. This way you can adjust the size, shape and position of your soon-to-be-finished garden. You can do this by simply laying a cable or string in the shape and position you want, or using spray paint to mark out the perimeter.

Removing the Sod for Our Rock Garden

Removing the Sod for Our Rock Garden

Removing the Sod for Our Rock Garden

Removing the Sod for Our Rock Garden

Step 2: Remove Sod

When you are happy with the positioning and shape, etc., the second step is to remove the sod. Using an edger or flat shovel, 'skim' the top layer of grass off the section you have marked out, being sure not to go too deep. You only want to remove approximately 2–3 inches.

Use the edger to first cut around the perimeter. The edger will give a clean, smooth edge, as well as only bite 3 inches deep—the perfect depth for removing the sod.

Placing Rocks in My Garden

Placing Rocks in My Garden

Step 3: Install Your Rocks

Because we were building a 'rock' garden, rather than a flower bed, we had to plan where we wanted the rocks placed before we did anything else. When you are moving a ton of rock, you don't want to be relocating them. This is not the same as moving a couch because it "looks better here!" Once these rocks are placed, they are permanent fixtures, (unless you happen to be Bruce Banner!), so make sure you know exactly where you want them.

You will have more leeway with some of the smaller pieces so you can fill in spots or adjust them to your artistic tastes, however, the larger rocks won't be moving any time soon, so again, make sure you know where you want them before you put them in.

Scroll to Continue

Read More From Dengarden

You can start with the smaller rocks first so that you can have an idea where the larger ones will fit. We started at the front of the bed, with the flatter, smaller pieces. Once we had those placed, we decided how and where the larger ones would be put. Because we had some very large, and very heavy boulders, we decided they should go at the back so all the rocks would be seen from the street.

We were able to make minor adjustments to the larger boulders (mere inches only), but we had to decide which side would face the street, and what angle, etc. they would look best before we muscled them into place.

Installing Edging in Our Rock Garden

Installing Edging in Our Rock Garden

Step 4: Install Edging

The next step we took was to install an edging material. This keeps the shape of the garden and prevents the grass from growing back over the edge, and keeps the edge looking sharp and clean for years. Nothing says "unprofessional" quicker than blurred or un-kept edges.

Another reason for using an edging material is to keep the top soil and bark mulch in the garden. Once the neighbourhood animals (not to mention your own,) discover this new territory, keeping the bark mulch intact can be a chore

Installing Edging in Our Rock Garden

Installing Edging in Our Rock Garden

Finished Edging in Our Rock Garden

Finished Edging in Our Rock Garden

Step 5: Prepare for Planting

Once you have the edging material in place, it's time to loosen the soil in preparation of planting. This can be a labor-intensive part of the project, as the dirt has been compacted for several years. We used one of those garden claws that are advertised on TV; it worked, but it wasn't easy!

After you have loosened the soil and removed the larger rocks that you have unearthed, you will need to add top soil for the new plants. This also helps to anchor the rocks and make the garden look like it 'grew' that way naturally.

You can see the difference between the top photo on the right, to the bottom photo. The top soil fills in the bed and levels out any hills and valleys as well as raises the level of the bed to the rest of the grass. You don't want a sunken garden! The water needs to drain away, and if the garden is below the level of the rest of your lawn, the water will pool and you will lose all the plants you have just lovingly planted.

Our Rock Garden Before Mulching

Our Rock Garden Before Mulching

Step 6: Choose Your Fauna (Plants)

Now you're ready to plant, but don't just throw any old thing in there. The plants, like the rocks, need some kind of planning if the finished product is to look as good as you want it to.

Not saying that you have to go with the plants that we did, you might like roses, or peonies, or azalea bushes...whatever floats your boat! Just remember to place them where they will grow and look their best.

In our case, we wanted to showcase the rocks—after all, this was a rock garden! ...And it wasn't just any old rock that was used. We found some beautiful green boulders (not sure what kind they are,) with great shapes and our rock garden idea was born.

So, to continue, we chose tall, stand-alone plants for the back row to highlight the boulders, grasses for the sides and small annuals for the front. We placed the plants, still in their pots, around the edges of the rocks to see what looked good where before we dug any holes.

Our Rock Garden Before Mulching

Our Rock Garden Before Mulching

Our Rock Garden Before Mulching

Our Rock Garden Before Mulching

Step 7: Install Lighting

As I have mentioned previously, we watched approximately a year's worth of DIY shows before we started our project. So, naturally, we also saw some of the 'bling' that was installed by the hosts of these shows, and decided we were going to do this garden up right! (Nothing says "keeping up with the Jones' better than professional looking landscaping!)

Anyway...back to the 'bling'. We decided to wire the garden for lights—something seen in professional landscaping in higher-end neighbourhoods. We also installed the battery operated solar lights to add a bit of sparkle. As you can see from the pictures, we chose three lights, one regular spotlight for the tree, and two 'rock' look-a-likes to light the rocks and plants.

There are kits and individual sets available in most home improvement outlets, and the instructions are very easy to follow. When you have connected your lights to the power cord, simply bury the cord along the edging of the garden. If necessary, use your edger tool to cut through the sod outside the garden to bury the cord all the way to the outlet. This way all you will notice will be a beautifully lit garden, not the bright orange extension cords crisscrossing the yard!

P.S. Note the happy homeowner in the top right corner of the last picture!

Our Completed Rock Garden!

Our Completed Rock Garden!

Our Completed Rock Garden!

Our Completed Rock Garden!

Step 8: Add Mulch

...Almost done! All that's left to do once the planting is finished and the lighting has been wired, is to add the bark mulch.

Some people might question the use or necessity of bark mulch, asking "Isn't it a magnet for bugs and rodents?" Well, as for the bugs, it doesn't matter what product is used, as soon as you break the ground, you will notice an influx of beetles, worms, ants, spiders, well, you get my drift. To be honest, if you were to sit quietly in the grass and actually observe the nature beneath your feet, you would see that all of these insects are already there. The only reason you notice them now is because you are admiring your handiwork!

Unless you have an excess of garbage or leftovers lying around your yard, you won't have a rodent infestation either. You might, however, notice the neighbourhood cats and dogs are taking an interest in your new garden. There are products available to discourage their interest, unless you are like me and plant Catmint in your garden! (For the uninitiated, Catmint is actually the plant name for catnip! Live and learn...)

...But back to the bark mulch. Instead of laying sheets of landscaping fabric, newspapers or black plastic to slow the growth of weeds, you can use bark mulch. It works the same way, is pleasing to the eye, and is an ever-green product. It also helps with soil erosion and keeps the moisture from evaporating. The colors range from brown and black to various shades of red and green which adds a burst of color to your landscaping, and comes in a lot cheaper at the cash register!

I would like to say that now that you have added the bark mulch you are done, however, if you are anything like us, you will see another plant or statue or rock that you simply have to add! Or barring any additions, you notice something will look better here instead of there. Whatever the reason, it's always an adventure when the plants begin to bloom and grow. You might just find yourself in the check out line at your local nursery...again!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Enelle Lamb


Christina Johnson from Raymond, NH on April 12, 2013:

You are so right about D.Y.I. projects. I love them. Thanks for the indepth landscaping steps. I am in the process of mapping out the yard. We just bought our place in Feb. 2013 and everything was burried beneath the snow.

Enelle Lamb (author) from Canada's 'California' on October 29, 2012:

Thank you Deb, it was a blast to do. Unfortunately, once you have been bitten by the DIY bug you don't want to stop! LOL

Deborah Neyens from Iowa on October 29, 2012:

Your garden is beautiful! Thanks for sharing the how-to and wonderful pictures.

Enelle Lamb (author) from Canada's 'California' on October 02, 2012:

Most welcome pstraubie48 - I really had a blast building the garden - it was a lot of hard work, but I enjoyed it none the less! Just remember that when you plant, make sure to allow enough room between them - the first year, everything looks neat and tidy, but when they start growing again next season, they are twice the size from when you first planted!

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on October 02, 2012:

The directions and photographs you have given are so very helpful. I will be constructing a rock garden soon ---I have just bought the property and have several locations I am considering. Having this information will definitely help when construction begins. Thank you for sharing this


Enelle Lamb (author) from Canada's 'California' on August 14, 2012:

Thanks so much missolive! It was a lot of hard work, but so much fun to do, if you can believe that LOL! The garden grew in twice as full this year and it's wonderful to see.

Marisa Hammond Olivares from Texas on August 14, 2012:

Beautiful job! The garden looks very nice and is a great focal point. The picture is what caught my eye. I'll be pinning this one for you on my garden board.

Thanks for the details on getting this done.

Enelle Lamb (author) from Canada's 'California' on May 29, 2012:

Thanks Suzie HQ :) it was fun - a lot of hard work, but very enjoyable and rewarding :D

Suzanne Ridgeway from Dublin, Ireland on May 29, 2012:

Great hub Enelle, so interesting and looked like it was fun to create! It has provided me with great ideas for trees we have at our place that I would like to do similar with.Look forward to reading more of your interesting titled hubs! Voted up, useful and interesting!

Enelle Lamb (author) from Canada's 'California' on February 03, 2012:

Thanks Toolonline, I appreciate the compliment :D

Toolsonline from Up to my Neck in it! on February 02, 2012:

It looks great and very well detailed explanation..

Enelle Lamb (author) from Canada's 'California' on January 14, 2012:

Thanks RedElf, we really enjoyed "building" it! I took a picture of the lights at night, but it didn't turn out very well. Will try for another ;)

Thanks Susie, glad you enjoyed it.

SUSIE DUZY from Delray Beach, Florida on January 14, 2012:

You have some really good tips here. Thanks for sharing.

RedElf from Canada on January 14, 2012:

You did a very professional job, and I love the "process" photos - it's always so great to see in pictures how a project develops. Thanks for the step-by-step, as well. I't so easy to forget something in the 'heat of battle' :D Love the lights - look forward to seeing a snap of them at night.

jeyaramd from Mississauga, Ontario on January 13, 2012:

Thank you sharing this wonderful hub on landscaping. This would definitely have costed a lot to have done professionally. However, for a retaining wall; I would probably go with a professional. I appreciate your clear and concise step by step instructions. Also, planning your project by outlining the shape you desire is really smart. Preparation takes the most of our time. Your photos are beautiful as well. The finished rock garden is gorgeous. I would definitely try this out in the summer. Great hub. Voted up and useful.

Related Articles