Best Plants for Rock Gardens

Transforming an unsightly slope or mound in your backyard into a colorful rock garden is easy when you chose the right plants. These amazing, low-maintenance ground huggers don't mind poor soil but do need good drainage to survive. Here's a list of our top plants for rock gardens.

Pin
Oops, we're sorry. Something went wrong. Please try again later.

Everything In This Slideshow

  • 1 of 19

    Euphorbia

    If you live in a frost-free region, be sure to include Euphorbia in your rock garden. This amazing family of succulents comes in a seemingly endless selection of shapes, sizes, and colors. They are extremely heat- and drought-resistant and they have shallow root systems that allow you to easily tuck them into the tight spots between rocks and boulders. Most Euphorbia grow 4-8 inches tall, but there are a few that can grow 6 feet tall, so read the label before you purchase one for your rock garden. In the north, you can still enjoy Euphorbia by planting them in a large, flat dish and setting it in the center of the garden. When frost threatens, just bring it indoors.
    Botanic Name:
    Euphorbia sp.
    Zones:
    9-11 (depends on variety)
    Light:
    Full sun

  • 2 of 19

    Rock Cress

    Rock cress, also called arabis, gets its name from the fact that it will thrive in the thin ribbon of soil wedged between boulders. This pretty creeper grows 4-6 inches tall and produces masses of cheerful pink or white flowers in the spring. It can tolerate heat and drought and is deer-resistant. Rock cress makes a great container plant, too. Shear back plants after flowering to encourage denser growth.
    Botanic Name:
    Arabis sp.
    Zones:
    4-8
    Light:
    Full sun/ Partial sun

  • 3 of 19

    Sedum

    If you want a “plant it and forget it” perennial for your rock garden, you can’t go wrong with sedums. These tough-as-nails plants come in a wide variety of colors and shapes and will quickly take root in any sunny, rocky location. Plus, most varieties produce nectar-rich, white, pink, or mauve flower heads in the summer and fall that lure colorful butterflies to your garden. Ground-hugging sedums are often sold in mixed “tiles” that, like sod, you can cut up and tuck into any space you have. Look for sedum tiles at your local garden center.
    Botanic Name:
    Sedum sp.
    Zones:
    4-8
    Light:
    Full sun

  • 4 of 19

    Candytuft

    A reliable spring bloomer, candytuft produces a stunning carpet of snow-white flowers atop bright evergreen foliage. As a bonus, when the flowers mature, they fade to light pink which gives the plant a second show of color. Candytuft is an easy-care perennial that grows 6 inches tall and can spread 16 inches wide. It’s also deer- and drought-resistant. After blooming, remove the spent flowers and enjoy the plants’ rich green leaves right through the winter.
    Botanic Name:
    Iberis sempervirens
    Zones:
    5-9
    Light:
    Full sun

  • 5 of 19

    Alyssum

    Commonly called Basket of Gold, perennial alyssum makes a wonderful wall or rock garden plant. Every spring it develops masses of cheerful yellow flowers that look terrific tucked between rocks and boulders. Alyssum grows 6-12 inches tall and thrives in full sun and well-drained soil. In warmer regions this plant can be short lived, so replant every year or two. You can grow perennial alyssum from seeds or nursery transplants.
    Botanic Name:
    Aurinia saxatilis
    Zones:
    4-7
    Light:
    Full sun

  • 6 of 19

    Thrift

    Here’s a little charmer that’s a lot tougher than it looks. Thrift, often called sea pink, originally grew wild on ocean-side cliffs so you know it will tolerate salt spray, heat, and punishing winds. It’s a compact plant with fine grasslike foliage and showy pink or white ball-like blooms in the spring. Thrift prefers poor soil and the plants may rot if grown in really rich or moist soil. Clip away the flowers as they fade to keep plants looking tidy.
    Botanic Name:
    Armeria maritima
    Zones:
    4-8
    Light:
    Full sun

  • 7 of 19

    Hens-and-Chicks

    Hens-and-chicks are a lot like potato chips -- you can’t stop with just one. These adorable, ground-hugging plants come in a wide assortment of shapes, sizes, and colors so they are super collectible. Each plant (the hen) sends out babies (the chicks) on short runners eventually forming a tight mat of pretty foliage. Hens-and-chicks are drought tolerant and are small enough to be tucked into even the tiniest sunny nook or cranny. The chicks can be separated from the hen and be replanted in other locations.
    Botanic Name:
    Sempervivum sp.
    Zones:
    4-9 (depends on variety)
    Light:
    Full sun

  • 8 of 19

    Snow-in-Summer

    The snow-white flowers of snow-in-summer appear in cloudlike drifts from late May to mid June. Growing 6-12 inches tall, snow-in-summer also has soft gray foliage that looks terrific even when the plants are not in bloom. Snow-in-summer will spread slowly through your rock or wall garden if planted in a sunny, well-drained location. It does not like heat and humidity, so it may need to be replanted every year or so in the southern portion of its range. Shear off flowers after they fade to keep the plants looking their best.
    Botanic Name:
    Cerastium tomentosum
    Zones:
    3-7
    Light:
    Full sun

  • 9 of 19

    Lesser Periwinkle

    Commonly used as a groundcover, lesser periwinkle also works well in a rock or wall garden. This handsome, evergreen trailer produces quantities of lavender-blue flowers in late spring and early summer. Lesser periwinkle prefers partial shade and slightly moist soil so it’s one of the best options for rock or wall gardens located under tall trees. The plants grow 4-6 inches tall and can spread quickly. Lesser periwinkle is considered invasive parts of the southeast.
    Botanic Name:
    Vinca minor
    Zones:
    4-8
    Light:
    Partial sun, Shade

  • 10 of 19

    Red Creeping Thyme

    Unlike its culinary cousins, red creeping thyme won’t play a starring role in your kitchen, but it will add tons of color and interest to your rock garden. This gorgeous ground hugger will quickly fill in between paving stones or rock walls. Tough enough to take light foot traffic, this rugged perennial will release its rich fragrance every time its leaves are crushed. Red creeping thyme grows 3-6 inches tall and is smothered with tiny lavender-red blooms in the summer. It works great in containers, too.
    Botanic Name:
    Thymus praecox ‘Coccineus’
    Zones:
    4-9
    Light:
    Full sun

  • 11 of 19

    Soapwort

    Make your rock garden sparkle with a generous helping of soapwort. During Colonial times the sap of this pretty plant was once boiled to form a lathery soap that was used to launder clothes. Today, however, soapwort is prized for it’s fragrant pink flowers that will lure butterflies to your garden. Soapwort grows 1-2 feet tall and thrives in shallow-rocky soil so its perfect for rock and wall gardens. The flowers appear from July to September. Remove the flowers as they fade to encourage new blooms.
    Botanic Name:
    Saponaria officinalis
    Zones:
    3-8
    Light:
    Full sun

  • 12 of 19

    Lamium

    Prized for both its colorful foliage and flowers, lamium makes a superb rock garden plant especially in shady locations. This handsome creeper comes in a variety of foliage colors including silver, chartreuse, green, and bicolor. The pink or white flowers appear from May to July. Lamium, also called dead nettle, grows 6-12 inches tall and prefers cool, dry, shady locations and is deer-resistant. When happy, lamium can spread quickly, but don't worry because the plants are easy to control with an occasional haircut.
    Botanic Name:
    Lamium maculatum
    Zones:
    3-8
    Light:
    Shade, Partial shade

  • 13 of 19

    Creeping Phlox

    Just when you thought winter was never going to end, the jewel-like flowers of creeping phlox burst into bloom in early spring. An ideal rock garden plant, creeping phlox thrives in poor, dry soil that drains quickly after a rain. Creeping phlox grows 4-6 inches tall and produces carpets of blue, purple, rose, pink, or bicolor blooms. The plants also have dark, needlelike, evergreen foliage that remains attractive all year long.
    Botanic Name:
    Phlox subulata
    Zones:
    3-9
    Light:
    Full sun

  • 14 of 19

    Woolly Thyme

    The fuzzy, gray-green leaves of woolly thyme have a soft, carpetlike appearance that contrasts perfectly with hard-edged rocks and boulders. But don’t let its cushionlike appearance fool you; this little plant is tough enough to walk on and will do just fine grown between stepping-stones or pavers. Woolly thyme grows 3 inches tall and in midsummer develops masses of tiny pink, nectar-rich flowers that butterflies will flock to.
    Botanic Name:
    Thymus pseudolanuginosus
    Zones:
    5-8
    Light:
    Full sun

  • 15 of 19

    Ice Plant

    Resistant to heat, drought, poor soil, and salt, ice plant is about as indestructible as you can get. This mat-forming perennial grows 3-6 inches tall and can spread two feet or more wide. Ice plant has fleshy gray-green foliage that’s almost hidden by a barrage of jewel-tone, daisylike blooms in purplish-pink, yellow, white, orange, or red. Tuck ice plant between boulders and watch it slowly frame the stones with brilliant color. Ice plant is more cold hardy in drier, western landscapes.
    Botanic Name:
    Delosperma sp.
    Zones:
    5-11
    Light:
    Full sun

  • 16 of 19

    Blue Fescue

    Just as you would in a traditional perennial garden, it’s important to include ornamental grasses in your rock or wall garden. Grasses add texture and interest throughout the year and keep the color show going while other plants come in and out of bloom. One of our favorites for a rock garden is blue fescue. This dense, clumping grass grows just 12 inches tall and has rich blue foliage highlighted with buff-color flower stalks in the late summer. Blue fescue thrives in dry conditions and mixes well with other rock garden plants.
    Botanic Name:
    Festuca glauca
    Zones:
    4-11
    Light:
    Full sun

  • 17 of 19

    Irish Moss

    Because most rock garden plants thrive in dry soil, it can be challenging to grow them in wetter climates such as the Pacific Northwest. However, some perennials such as Irish moss love moisture and are a great option for those regions. Irish moss gets it name from its soft, bright green, mosslike foliage that forms a mat so thick you can actually walk on it. In the spring, the plants, which grow 1 inch tall, are accented with tiny starlike white flowers. Tuck Irish moss between stones and water once a week if rainfall is scarce.
    Botanic Name:
    Sagina subulata
    Zones:
    4-8
    Light:
    Partial sun, Full sun

  • 18 of 19

    Blue Star Creeper

    Growing just 2-4 inches tall, blue star creeper should be on your must-have list for rock or wall gardens. This handsome perennial develops tiny green leaves that form a solid mat that can even take light foot traffic. In the spring, blue star creeper is covered with pretty, pale blue star-shape flowers. Blue star creeper prefers slightly moist soil, so it makes a great partner for Irish moss in moister climates.
    Botanic Name:
    Isotoma fluviatilis
    Zones:
    5-9
    Light:
    Partial sun, Full sun

close
close
close
close
close

Loading... Please wait...

Add My Photo close