‘Rock On’ with the Stones

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Mar 2, 2014
Rocks in the garden have always been a staple feature in desert landscaping. But they are gaining popularity in the Midwest as well, due to their structural beauty and no-maintenance features. Many of us have “dead zones” in our yards; places where plants don’t grow well due to shade or water issues. The beauty of adding rocks to the garden is they are low maintenance, they’re literally in season all year long, and they add variety to the landscape.

If you ever took a geology course, you know there are many different types of rock. But the two used most frequently in landscaping are sandstone and limestone. We are fortunate to have both in abundance in our neck of the woods.

How you decide to incorporate rock into your garden will depend on your budget, muscle strength, and gardening style. Below are some suggestions for how to use rock, from basic to complex.

Rock as Mulch
I’ve noticed an upswing in the use of river rock as mulch. A few of my neighbors have replaced their traditional wood mulch with river rock. Why switch gears? Rock is more resilient to the elements, and is easy to maintain. An additional financial benefit is you won’t need to add a new layer every year.

However, without some kind of initial barrier, weeds will grow through the rock, defeating the purpose of the groundcover. Poly-spun weed fabric or plastic sheathing should be laid on top of the soil, with the bags of river rock then spread over the surface. This is not a hard, or heavy, project.

Rock as Function
Medium size rocks or stones make pretty, natural borders around landscaping beds and gardens. They are usually not too heavy to pick up; you may or may not need an extra set of hands, wheelbarrow, or dolly to maneuver them around the yard. For example, I used to have a sandstone sidewalk in front of my house. It was original to when the house was built (late 40s), and was in pretty good shape except for a few small cracks. I loved the old-fashioned stones, even though most of my neighbors had concrete.

About 15 years ago the city passed an ordinance mandating all homeowners replace any sections of their sidewalks that were cracked. Since I had to replace the sidewalk with concrete, I pried up my sandstone sections with a crowbar and broke them into paver stones with a sledge hammer. There was no way I was going to pitch them. They now look beautiful in my backyard doing duty as a courtyard, garden path, and as a border in front of a flower garden.

One of the benefits of living in Erie County is having access to sandstone (like my sidewalk) and the naturally-formed limestone and tufa rocks that (still) come out of the farm fields. The Castalia area in particular has beautiful limestone rock walls that were made in decades past from stones uncovered during tilling.

Rock (as in) Boulders
Large stones or rocks interspersed with plant material will add a dynamic punch to your landscape. However, adding very large rocks may demand that you use heavy-duty equipment and/or large muscles, depending on the size of the rock. Many of our landscaping businesses in the area sell large stones; they will deliver and set them in your yard for an extra fee.

Faux Rock
Some people use pre-formed pavers to add the look of stone to their landscaping. There are many different styles and colors to choose from. Because they are made in molds, they are uniform in size which makes designing and stacking easier.

So what are you waiting for? Make this the summer you “rock on!”