Rock gardens require minimal maintenance, are drought resistant, and add visual interest to your landscaping. They give your garden space a natural appearance while controlling erosion and providing a habitat for wildlife.
There is more to rock gardens than just stones and rocks. Rock gardens can support a wide variety of plants, including succulents, cacti, and alpine plants.
Many beautiful plants, like the 12 on this list, are well-suited to rugged environments and thrive in rock garden settings.
1. Blue Star Creeper
A low-growing perennial, blue star creeper blooms all season long. The plants produce tiny, light purple, star-shaped flowers, hence the name. The plant typically stays only about two inches high and can spread, or creep, more than two feet.
Blue star creeper is impressively tolerant of extreme weather conditions. It even bounces back quickly from short-term drought conditions. Since it grows in a thick mat, it is ideal for rock gardens.
Blue star creeper is a hardy plant that can grow in most soil types, including clay, sandy, and loamy soils. It prefers full sun, yet it adapts well to partial shade.
Overall, the blue star creeper is a beautiful and versatile plant that adds a touch of color and texture to any rock garden.
Sedums are a type of succulent plant that is valued for its hardiness, low maintenance, and attractive flowers.
The plant, which is native to parts of North America, produces small pink, white, red, or yellow flowers. The flowers range between a quarter inch to one inch in diameter and grow in clusters.
The leaves of sedums are thick and fleshy, which allows the plants to store water for drought conditions. In most varieties of sedum, the leaves are a silvery green color, but there are some varieties that have reddish or purplish-tinted foliage.
The leaves are arranged in a rosette shape, with newer leaves sprouting from the center of the plant.
Some common types of sedums include stonecrop, a low-growing ground cover; spectabile, which is prized for its large clusters of pink or white blooms; and rupestre, which produces yellow flowers and has a yellow hue to its leaves.
Sedums bloom from summer through fall and attract butterflies. As a rock garden plant, they check all the boxes… easy to care for, attractive, and tolerant of a variety of growing conditions.
The beauty of lavender is that it looks like a wispy cloud of color in your rock garden. The other popular feature is its relaxing aroma. As an ornamental plant, its upright flower spikes and silvery foliage add height and interest to rock gardens.
The flowers of the lavender plant are tiny and tubular. They grow in spikes that can be up to eight inches long. Lavender, as the name implies, is often light purple in color, but can also be deep purple or white.
Lavender plants reach heights of between one and three feet tall. The spiky leaves are arranged in a whorled pattern around the stems. Even when it is not in bloom, lavender is a visually appealing plant.
Lavender is a popular choice for rock gardens. The plants prefer full sun and, once they are established, are drought tolerant. This versatile plant can enhance the wild and rugged aesthetic of a rock garden.
Known for its bright, colorful flowers, calliopsis, which is also called tickseed, is a member of the sunflower family and a native plant of North America. It is a hardy plant that is easy to grow, making it a popular choice for rock gardens.
It also performs well in full sunlight and drier conditions.
The flowers of the calliopsis plant are daisy-like in appearance, with a bright yellow center disk. Surrounding the center are several overlapping petals in either red, pink, or orange.
The flowers can be up to two inches in diameter and are produced either in clusters or singly on the stems.
The calliopsis plants reach one to three feet in height and have green, thread-like leaves. It is a hardy plant, especially after it is fully established in the ground. The sunny flowers are attractive to pollinators, such as bees and butterflies.
5. Rock Cress
Rock cress is an alpine plant that is used to rocky terrain. The plants often grow naturally in the nooks and crevices of mountain slopes. That’s why it is well-suited for rock gardens.
The plant stays low to the ground – only about six to eight inches tall – and spreads to about eighteen inches wide. The leaves are evergreen, adding a contract of green against the gray of the rocks, even in the winter.
Rock cress is a flowering perennial. Every spring, the plants produce dense clusters or spikes of flowers that can be up to six inches long. The flowers of the rock cress are small and four-petaled and can be white, pink, purple, or lavender in color.
If rock cress plants do not receive an adequate amount of sunlight, the number of blooms will diminish. The hardy and versatile rock cress has much to offer in rock gardens, including lasting color, texture, fragrance, and low upkeep.
Yucca plants are native to the arid regions of North America, but they can still be grown in rock gardens through Zone 5, which extends into the Midwest and New England region.
If you are going for a desert vibe in your rock garden, the yucca is the plant for you. It is synonymous with the dry, rocky American Southwest and Mexico.
The yucca plant’s sword-like leaves grow in a rosette pattern. Some varieties of yucca can grow to thirty feet in height, but for backyard rock gardens, you probably want to stick to one of the smaller varieties that max out at about three to four feet tall.
The thick, stiff leaves can have a silverish or bluish hue.
While the leaves of the yucca plants may get a lot of attention, let’s not overlook the flowers.
The flower is a showy, white or cream-colored bloom that opens in late spring or early summer. The flowers, which form on long spikes or stalks, have a bell shape and can be up to six inches long.
The sun-loving yucca plant may remind you of a succulent, but it is technically not a succulent. Its classic desert appearance and dramatic silhouette make this plant a popular choice for rock gardens.
7. Irish Moss
Not all rock gardens are dry and desert-like. Some of them have the feel of a rugged coastline. For this type of rock garden, consider growing Irish moss.
Irish moss is an evergreen perennial that is actually a member of the carnation family, even though it looks nothing like its tall, leggy cousin. It grows in dense, spreading clumps on rocky surfaces, which is ideal for rock gardens.
The plant has thin, branched fronds that can grow up to six inches long and one inch wide.
Many varieties of Irish moss produce tiny white flowers on tiny stems protruding from the dense mat of tiny green leaves. There is only one little flower per stem, but there are so many of them that the blooms cover nearly all of the plant.
Irish moss clings to rocks, but unlike many other rock garden plants, it doesn’t do well in dry, arid conditions. It needs lots of moisture, yet it doesn’t require much fuss. It is easy to grow.
Pasque is a hardy, attractive flowering plant that can add early-season color to rock gardens. Its unique appearance, coupled with the earliness of its flowers make it popular for rock gardens and other areas where it can be appreciated up close.
The flowers of the pasque plant are large and showy. They can be up to three inches in diameter. Although most of the blooms are purple, there are varieties of pasque that produce red, pink, or white flowers.
The pasque flower plant grows to be about eight to ten inches tall, with a spread of close to 18 inches. The plant has fuzzy, fern-like leaves. It prefers to grow in a sunny, well-drained spot and isn’t too picky about soil types, making it ideal for rock gardens.
9. Hummingbird Mint
Hummingbird mint is sometimes called hyssop. Because it is drought-tolerant, can be grown in a variety of soil types, and thrives in full sun, the hummingbird mint is an attractive choice for rock gardens.
The flowers of the hummingbird mint plant are tubular and arranged in dense spikes at the top of stems. The flowers, which bloom from mid-summer to early fall, can be purple, red, pink, or white, depending on the variety.
Bees, hummingbirds, and other pollinators love the hummingbird mint because it provides an important source of nectar during the time in the season when other sources of nectar may be scarce.
The hummingbird mint plant reaches between two and four feet tall and can spread about three feet wide. The plant has long, slender stems with lance-shaped leaves in a grayish-green color.
The leaves have a slightly fuzzy texture and a pleasant, anise-like scent when they are crushed.
Growing hummingbird mint is quite easy. The plant does best when it is left alone. It performs well in both dry and humid climates and is cold hardy.
10. Hens and Chicks
One of the gardeners’ go-to succulents and the quintessential rock garden plant, hens and chicks are a low-growing rosette-shaped perennial plant that is as attractive as it is easy to grow.
Hens and chicks are popular in rock gardens, container planters, and as ground cover. They form a dense mat that helps to control weeds.
Hens and chicks have fleshy, pointed leaves that can vary in color from green and gray to purple and red. Rosettes can range in size from one to six inches. The plant produces small offsets, called ‘chicks’, around the base of the mother plant, the ‘hen’, which is how the plant spreads and propagates.
The flowers of the hens and chicks plant are small and star-shaped. The blooms, which are produced on long, slender stems that can be up to a foot tall, are typically pink, red, or white. The plant flowers in mid-summer.
Hens and chicks are deer-resistant, drought tolerant, and thrive in all sorts of growing conditions. The interesting shape and texture of the succulents make them a sought-after choice. They are a cute and quirky addition to rock gardens.
11. Blue Fescue
An ornamental grass, blue fescue can add visual interest to a rock garden with its fine, hair-like texture that presents as a hazy cloud of blue-gray color.
Landscape designers often include blue fescue in rock gardens because its wispy texture contrasts nicely with other plants that have darker foliage or brighter flowers.
Although it is an ornamental grass, blue fescue produces small flowers that are rather understated. They are usually green and bloom in late spring. However, most gardeners grow blue fescue more for its attractive foliage than for its flowers.
The plant grows in clumps, with tufted narrow leaves, ranging between six and ten inches long. The plant itself doesn’t grow much bigger than twelve inches tall and about eighteen inches wide. It does not require frequent watering and is deer-resistant.
A versatile plant, yarrow has a wildflower appearance that gardeners seek when designing naturalistic rock gardens. The plant’s delicate appearance and attractive flowers make it a standout.
The flowers of the yarrow plant form in flat-topped clusters called umbels that can measure up to six inches across. Individual flowers, however, are only about a quarter of an inch in diameter.
Blooms can be white, yellow, pink, or red, and the plant blooms in mid-summer.
The yarrow plant is known for its fern-like leaves. The leaves are finely divided and feathery, giving them a soft, delicate look. Don’t let that fool you; the perennial is hardy, sturdy, and can withstand dry conditions.
Adding yarrow to your rock garden is a great way to insert a pop of color and textural interest.
Rock gardens are unique and visually appealing, but they can pose some challenges for gardeners. Consider some of these popular plants that have been proven to thrive in rock gardens and you’ll create an outdoor space that is rustic, natural-looking, and attractive.