Best Plants for a Rock Garden

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If you have rock or boulder structures on your property, you’re lucky! Rock gardens give you an excellent opportunity to create stunning curb appeal for your home. Excellent plants for rock gardens include succulents, alpine plants, dwarf shrubs, and low-growing evergreens. By choosing the best plants for a rock garden, you can create a beautiful and unique rock garden made of perennials that will thrive for years to come. Your rock garden will be the envy of your neighbors.

japanese blood grass for rockery garden
One of my neighbor’s gorgeous Japanese Blood Grasses that make their rock garden stand out. Image by author

Best Traits for Choosing Plants for a Rock Garden

When selecting plants, look for ones that are hardy, low-maintenance, and drought-tolerant. You should also look for plants that will provide textural contrast, create a sense of depth, and have an interesting form.

The advantages of selecting appropriate plants for your rockery garden are that many of these plants share these desirable qualities:

  • Good for pollinators
  • Long blooming
  • Colorful Varieties
  • Drought-, heat- and cold-tolerant
  • Spreading habitat
  • Require little maintenance
best plants for a rock garden
Image by author

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Benefits of Growing a Rock Garden

Drought tolerance, extreme weather tolerance, creeping (expanding) groundcovers, and long-blooming plants are hallmarks of a rock garden. A rock garden is a great way to add a unique and natural touch to any outdoor space.

Furthermore, rock gardens

  • require minimal maintenance
  • can help to reduce water loss due to evaporation
  • thereby conserving water.
rock garden with rock cress and creeping thyme
An example of a well-thought out rock garden.
Image MidJourney by author

A rock garden by definition is well draining. There’s very little soil to retain moisture which leads to soggy soil. Growing plants in a rockery is relatively easy compared to other types of gardens, and it offers many benefits. The rocks and pebbles used in a rock garden help to retain moisture and create a cool environment, making it an ideal choice for plants that thrive in dry climates.

Additionally, rock gardens are aesthetically pleasing and can provide an interesting focal point for any outdoor space. With the right design and plants, a rock garden can be both attractive and very easy to maintain.

Consider the Sun Exposure for Your Rock Garden

rock garden with sea thrift and creeping thyme
An example of a very naturalized rock garden.
Image MidJourney by author

When planning your rock garden, it’s important to consider your sun exposure and climate. Make a note of how many hours and at what angle the sun shines on your existing rockery.

rock river in rock garden Japanese blood grass
Thoughtfully designed ‘rock river’ winding through a neighbor’s front yard. Note the lovely, striking “Japanese Blood Grass” pieces. Image by author

You should select plants that are native to your area, as they will be better adapted to the amount of sunlight in your yard and the temperature ranges. Researching what plants thrive in your region, and what kind of sunlight they need, is the best way to ensure success when creating your rock garden. Additionally, you should choose low-maintenance plants, as they require less water and care and can thrive in the limited space of a rock garden.

Best Plants For A Rock Garden

Ice Plant

ice plant is a great rock garden flowering perennial
Ice Plant, image by Colin Matheson, flickr

Ice Plant (Delosperma Cooperi) is a low-maintenance, drought-tolerant succulent. It produces beautiful daisy-like flowers in shades of pink, purple, or yellow. Additionally, their flowers will bloom from spring to fall. Ice Plant is a hardy perennial that grows well in poor, dry soils and can tolerate both heat and cold. The plant has a low-growing, spreading habit and its foliage is covered with tiny, ice-like crystals that sparkle in the sun. If you’re making a list for plants in your rock garden, the Ice Plant should be on it! It requires little maintenance and is relatively pest and disease-free. They are hardy for USDA Zones 6 through 10.

ice plant rockery garden
A beautiful pair of Ice Plants in a neighbor’s garden. Image by author

Pollinator Bonus: The flowers are an attractive source of food for bees and other pollinators, helping to attract beneficial insects to your garden.

Angelina Stonecrop

stonecrop a great succulent for a rock garden
The succulent “Stonecrop”, image by author

Adding texture and vibrant color to your rock garden is easy with Angelina Stonecrop (Sedum Rupestre ‘Angelina’). This low-maintenance succulent has attractive, bright yellow-green foliage that turns an orange hue in the winter. It’s a fast-growing plant that spreads quickly, making it a best plants for a rock garden ground cover.

Angelina Stonecrop is also ideal for growing in rock gardens as it likes sunny spots and well-draining soil. It is very tolerant of drought and heat, so it’s an excellent choice for hotter climates. It is also deer resistant, meaning it won’t be eaten by deer that may be in your area, and requires no pruning or fertilizing, making it a great low-maintenance option.

Hens and Chicks

hens and chicks best plants for a rock garden
Hens and Chicks, image by author

One of the best plants to add to a rock garden is Hens and Chicks, or Sempervivum tectorum. These hardy succulents are a great choice for any rock garden as they are drought resistant and can tolerate extreme temperatures. They are also low maintenance and require minimal water and fertilizer.

The rosette-shaped foliage of Hens and Chicks come in an array of beautiful colors such as purple, green, and red, and they spread quickly, filling rock crevices or gaps in walls and paths. I like to say that when you buy one, you’ll have 50 within a year of planting it!

Not only are they low maintenance and visually appealing, they are also deer and rabbit resistant, making them a great option for wildlife-prone gardens. Planting them in groups can create a great backdrop for other rock garden plants, making them an ideal choice for any rock garden. Hens and Chicks spread relatively fast, and provide an excellent textural variety that coordinates with not only the rocks themselves but softer, green, colorful plants and flowers you’d want to plant in your rock garden.

Creeping Thyme

creeping thyme for your rock garden
Creeping Thyme, image by York Region, flickr

One of the best plants for a rock garden is Creeping Thyme (Thymus Serpyllum). This low-maintenance perennial herb is an ideal ground cover, spreading quickly and easily with masses of tiny leaves and small, fragrant flowers. It can thrive in dry, sunny conditions and prefers well-drained soil. Creeping Thyme will tolerate some drought, but it needs full sun to flower heavily. Creeping Thyme is one of the hardiest plants you can find, it lives in USDA Zones 2 through 9.

Planting Creeping Thyme in between stones, boulders, and rocks will help to create an attractive and fragrant rock garden. Not only is it visually appealing, but it is also edible. The leaves and flowers of Creeping Thyme are edible, making it a great addition to salads or as an herbal seasoning in cooking.

Adding Creeping Thyme to your rock garden is a great way to add a touch of color and beauty to your outdoor space. This low-maintenance plant is ideal for dry, sunny conditions, and it will thrive in your rock garden.

Creeping Phlox

One of the best plants for a rock garden is Creeping Phlox, or Phlox Subulata. This evergreen perennial features colorful foliage and masses of blooms in the springtime, making it a stunning addition to any garden. Not only is it beautiful, but it is also low-maintenance and requires little care. Phlox flowers attract pollinators like bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.

creeping phlox in your rock wall garden
Creeping Phlox, image by fritzmb, flickr

Creeping Phlox is one of the best plants for a rock garden because it can spread quickly, adding color and texture to the garden. It can be planted in rock crevices or grown in mats to cover a large area. Plus, it’s deer resistant, so it’s a great choice for gardens in areas where deer are a problem. This plant is hardy and can be grown in USDA zones 3-9, so it can be grown in a variety of climates.

Lavender

lavender iberis and hens and chicks and arabis snow cap rock garden
Author’s front yard rock garden. Heather and Lavender at the base, white Iberis “Candy Tuft” and Hens & Chicks are in various void pockets in between boulders. Far left side you can see Arabis “Snow Cap” at top of rock wall.

Lavender (Lavandula Spp.) is an ideal choice for a rock garden because of its hardy, drought-tolerant qualities. Lavender thrives on little watering. With its silver-green foliage and purple, pink, or white flowers, it provides a lovely contrast to other plants in the rock garden. Plus, it is low-maintenance and only requires occasional pruning and deadheading to keep it looking its best. English Lavender thrives in USDA Zones 5 through 8.

Everyone is familiar with the enchanting fragrance of Lavender. Not only is lavender a beautiful and fragrant plant, it’s also beneficial to the garden. It attracts beneficial pollinators like bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds to the garden, which helps to promote a healthy environment. Planting Lavender in a rock garden will add texture and color to the landscape and help to create a beautiful and inviting atmosphere.

Lavender will benefit from mid-season pruning. In the middle of the summer, cut the top third of the lavender’s profuse branches. This will encourage another round of blooming. And, you can harvest the lavender blooms for use inside the house as a source of wonderful fragrance!

Iberis “Candy Tuft”

iberis candy tuft is the best rock wall garden perennial flower
One of my personal favorite plants ever, Iberis “Candy Tuft,” image by author.
Do not confuse Candy Tuft with the annual Alyssum plants.

One of my personal favorite perennials to grow in (or out of) a rock garden is Iberis “Candy Tuft“, an evergreen perennial flower. This easy-to-grow and the very long-lived plant requires very little maintenance and is drought-tolerant, making it a great choice for busy gardeners. It has a profusion of white flowers in the spring, adding a beautiful contrast to the dark green and glossy foliage. Plus, it won’t get eaten by deer or rabbits, so you can be sure your flowers will be safe.

Iberis ‘Candy Tuft’ can also tolerate partial shade, making it a great choice for a shady rock garden. With minimal care and attention, this flower can thrive in your rock garden, adding a splash of color and beauty to your outdoor space. You should get numerous Candy Tuft for your gardens if you’re in USDA Zones 3 through 9.

Arabis “Snow Cap”

This hardy perennial is a great option for beginner gardeners, as it’s low-maintenance and drought-tolerant. It produces small, white flowers in the spring and summer, adding a bright touch to the landscape. Arabis “Snow Cap” rock cress is one of the first to bloom in the early Spring. If you live in USDA Zones 4 through 8, you should consider adding Rock Cress to your gardens.

arabis snow cap best plants for a rock garden
Yours truly grew a number of these stunning “Snow Cap” Arabis from seeds. Four years later, still going strong!

This plant has a mounding habit, making it perfect for filling in the gaps between rocks. Its evergreen foliage provides interest even in the winter months.

Update: my Snow Cap clumps seem to spread and grow in the fall. The two clumps pictured above are now, later in the year, at least twice this size, as the photo below shows! This link takes you to the very same Snow Cap seeds that are thriving in my rock garden.

arabis snow cap grows and spreads in the fall
My Arabis Snow Cap spreads out in the fall. Picture taken October 2023. Image by author

Rock Cress

rock cress beautiful flowering perennial for rockery
Stunning, bright purple Rock Cress, image by author.

With its low-maintenance care and beautiful evergreen foliage, Rock Cress provides a beautiful appearance to any rock garden. It’s a great option for beginner gardeners and experienced gardeners alike. Its bright white flowers in the spring and summer add a pop of color to the landscape. If you’re looking for a low-maintenance plant to fill in the gaps between rocks, Arabis rock cress is an excellent option.

Watch these short videos showing my rock gardens


Another part of our front yard sloped rockery where I’ve experimented with wildflowers, Arabis, and Iberis, great perennials to have for a rock garden.
5 plants you must have in your rock garden
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Author

After years of denying it, Donald finally admits one passion in life is gardening. More specifically: growing seeds, plants, flowers and edibles and helping them to be the best possible. Neighbors call him a Green Thumb. He lives in Western Washington with his wife of 24+ years and three cats.

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