How to Make a Rock Garden without Plants

Rock gardens are low maintenance and take on a new look each season. You can add unique features to make your garden attractive. Adding plants in the rock garden is optional. The design of a rock garden is subjective, and it is up to the gardener to decide what components to add or remove. Many rock garden designs contain plants, but you can borrow ideas from a Japanese Zen garden on removing the plants from your arrangement altogether. 

These steps will guide you in decorating your rock garden and improving its aesthetic appeal without adding plants. 

Select the best location

First, you need to find a location that is a perfect fit for the garden. You have to establish how the layout of your rock garden will merge with the rest of your landscape.

japanese zen garden rock

For example, you might place your rock garden in front of your house. This allows you to experiment with designs and arrangements that give your yard a unique appearance.

You can also opt to place it where it draws attention to the edge of the property, where the green from your plants compliments the rock garden layout. Further, the rock garden can act as a divider on your lawn. The garden can act as a walkway or path that adds character to the landscape. 

Choose the best design for the rock garden

Identify the elements needed to replace the plants in the area. You can focus on the areas of the lawn that are too sloppy or have uneven vegetation growth. These spots can be perfect for a rock garden. 

grey rock garden

The choice of landscape should incorporate elements such as paving stones, granite, or slate. The design depends on your interests and preferred outlook. You can choose a structured rock garden where everything is well-shaped and organized. 

Prepare the area

Prepare the ground where your stones will sit. Sandy soils offer excellent support for a rock garden. Remove moss and other plants growing in the area. You can cover the ground with a plastic sheet to kill all the weeds and ensure they do not grow back later.

It is best to place the plastic covering after weeding and before you start arranging rocks on the ground. This is beneficial as it helps to prevent soil erosion and offers an alternative to herbicides. Further, it protects your soil if you intend to add plants to the rock garden. 

Arrange the rock garden’s elements

Try out different colors, textures, sizes, and shapes of rocks to beautify your home. The lack of plants in your garden should not mean that you let bare dirt cover your landscape. Many big parks will give you greater flexibility regarding the rock size. Mix large, medium-sized, and small stones to create unique designs.

white stones rocks

Using rough and irregular rocks gives your garden a rugged natural appeal. Smooth and clean pebbles give the garden a formal appearance. Larger stones should have a lighter hue to ensure that your landscape has a more lightweight feel. Further, your rocks should remain within the boundaries of the rock garden. 

Choose local stones that have adapted to the environment. Further, incorporate non-living ground covers to add color and texture to your rock garden. Do not leave any patches of bare soil, as they might allow weeds to grow again, especially if the soil is fertile. The most common low-maintenance options are tumbled glass, sand, decorative gravel, rubber mats, and beach pebbles. 

Add layers to the rock garden

You can make your rock garden stand out by layering the rocks according to size, color, and texture. Layers offer great flexibility to add ornaments and fixtures in different parts of your rock garden to boost its appearance. 

balanced colored rocks

Small pebbles can create a dry river at the base of your garden. Arrange the rocks to give the perception of a continuous flow of stones. Choose one color or mix different colors to decorate the rock garden. 

Add a water feature

Water provides a focal point and enhances the visual appeal of your rock garden. Many Japanese Zen gardens incorporate water patterns resembling water movement around mountains.

water feature waterfall fountain in rock garden

The sound of running water provides a tranquil and calming sensation. You can arrange rock layers to create a waterfall or add a fountain or pond in the rock garden.

Add a patio or seating area to make the water features more functional. 

Light up your rock garden

Add multi-functional lights around your rock garden. They set the mood and create an ambiance, especially during the nighttime. Lanterns can illuminate the garden, patio, and walkways.

Solar lights are a great option if you do not want electricity power lines running through your park. You can fix your lanterns or solar lights inside rocks or other materials in the garden. 

In traditional Zen gardens, stone lanterns are included in the garden to represent the virtue of enlightenment. 


A rock garden allows you to play with different designs and arrangements to make your landscape unique. You can take inspiration from Zen gardens which include many non-plant features to give character to the garden. However, it is best to avoid clutter in your rock garden as it may dilute the design and remove the overall appeal.