How to Create a Dry Creek

This dry river bed looks so natural, you'd think it had always been part of the landscape. Watch drainage woes disappear when you make this water-diverting, eye-catching dry creek bed feature in your yard.

dry creek landscaping rocks sculpture home
Project Overview
  • Working Time: 8 hours
  • Total Time: 8 hours
  • Skill Level: Beginner

A dry creek bed handles a common landscape challenge—drainage—with an easy-does-it approach that fits most budgets. In some situations, a dry river bed simply directs and disperses water that would normally puddle and stand a few days. In other cases, a dry bed transforms into a temporary stream. In the process, it adds beauty to the setting, whether wet or dry. If your yard is plagued with a soggy area after downpours or a slope that's slowly eroding, a dry creek corrals and redirects water. By creating a channel, a dry creek drains water when insufficient slope fails to do so.

Related: 5 Smart Solutions for Dealing with Poor Drainage in Your Yard

Construction is the easy part. Careful planning ensures the design's success. A dry river bed may be as large or small as your yard permits. Look for the natural lay of the land in your yard and watch how water flows during a heavy rainfall.

Before digging, make sure you understand elevations and which way you're directing water, especially if the dry creek will be near existing structures. Drain water away from the house and direct runoff into a landscape drainage system, such as a French drain, swale, or channel, on your property. Don't assume you can direct water into a public street without researching local ordinances.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • 1 Backhoe
  • 1 Shovel
  • 1 Tamper

Materials

  • 1 Landscape fabric
  • 1 Crushed pea gravel
  • 1 River rock, various sizes
  • 4 Large flat-top rocks
  • 1 Mixed cement

Instructions

dry creek illustration how-to digging trench with shovel backhoe
  1. Excavate Site

    Evaluate your yard to determine the location and size of your dry creek bed. After determining the size and shape of the dry stream bed, excavate 12-15 inches of soil. This can be done with a backhoe or a shovel.

    dry creek illustration how-to tamping down on bed
  2. Place Landscape Fabric

    Tamp the ground firm to create a flat surface with angled sides. Then place landscape fabric over the entire surface, including the angled sides of the dry river bed. This will prevent weeds from popping through.

    dry creek illustration how-to shovel rock onto soil
  3. Lay Gravel

    Cover the bottom and the sloping sides of the dry creek bed with 1/2 inch of crushed pea gravel. The sharp edges of the gravel will keep it from migrating when it rains or when someone walks on it.

    dry creek illustration how-to place rocks on bank
  4. Add River Rock Edges

    For a natural look, add river rock along the edges of the dry steam bed. Use various sizes, from 2 to 8 inches in length. You can create a single row of rocks or a larger border with a few rows. In addition to size, consider the rock's color. A monochromatic look will give your yard a different vibe than a blend of neutrals.

    dry creek illustration how-to place concrete for stones
  5. Add Bridge Supports

    Position four large flat-top rocks so they can support a flagstone bridge. Anchor the rocks in place with cement so they won't move with freezing and thawing. Then place the large flagstone piece on the supports.

    Related: 6 Steps to Make a Rain Garden

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