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Past Articles Library | Gardening Design | 8 Plants for a Rock Garden



8 Plants for a Rock Garden


If you have a problem area in your landscape, a rock garden can be the solution.   These areas can be too steep, drain poorly or be too rocky for traditional landscape plants to grow.  No longer do these areas have to barren spots or eye soars in one’s landscape. 

Below are 8 common ground covers that call rock gardens home.  They are easy to grow and in most situations provide not only vegetation but also colorful flowers.   But prior to planting any of these plants, make sure that they are not invasive in your area. 

Creeping Buttercup

While creeping buttercup is considered an invasive weed in many states, it still is a wonderful plant that fits nicely into a rock garden environment.  What makes this plant invasive is the fact that it has deep roots and runners.  But these same characteristics are what make this plant wonderful in a rock garden.

Creeping buttercups can be started by seeds but more often than not, this plant is started by runners. 

This plant will grow in sunny locations.  It is not particular about its planting medium but does require a moist soil. 

Irish Moss

Nothing beats the fine texture and trailing habit of the Irish moss.  This dark green lovely looks wonderful trailing down and around rocks.  Best of all, it can give you a little touch of Ireland to your garden space. 

Ground Cover Sedum

This trailing succulent thrives in dry, well-drained soil that is located in sunny to partially shady locations.  While sedums are hardy in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones  3 through 10, the trailing variety survives in zones 3 through 8. 

The creeping/trailing varieties produce yellow, white or pink flowers.  In some types, the foliage will turn from green to bronze in the fall.

Ground cover sedum can be acquired through division and/or cutting.  When planting this plant in your rock garden, plan on propagating it in the spring and/or summer. 

Hens and Chickens

If you are a brown thumb gardener or an inexperienced in horticulture, the hens and chickens is a great plant to use when learning how to garden.  It grows well in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 4 through 8.  If you do not live in these zones, do not fret.   This plant can easily grow in other zones as long as the plant is moved into an unheated garage or covered when snow is in the forecast.

 As far as the growth requirements, the hens and chickens are very flexible.  They can be grown in full sun to partial shade.  If you want this plant to really showoff, plant the hens and chickens in full sun.  This will allow the colors to really shine through verses the solid green that appears when this plant is receiving too much shade.

While this plant is very forgiving, the one thing that it cannot tolerate is soggy soil.  To prevent this, mix compost, potting soil, gravel and vermiculite into a container and use this mixture as your planting medium. 

If planting in a rock wall, do not even bother mixing up this planting medium.  Hens and chickens will grow in cracks and crevices that contain very little soil.  In doing so, just squeeze this plant in any crevice you would like and watch it grow.

Hens and chickens are very drought resistant but have said that they cannot just do without water.  Depending on where you live and the climate, you may need to supplement their water needs.  If in doubt, do not water.

Propagating this plant is easy but the style by which you propagate depends on the type of hens and chickens you  have planted.  There are three types of hens and chickens but regardless of the type you have propagation should only occur during the spring and summer. 

The Sempervivum is the first type of hens and chickens.  It produces babies along runners.  To propagate this type of hens and chickens, pluck the babies away when the runner begins to die. 

The second type  is the Jovibarba heuffelii variety produces babies on the mother plant.  To remove the babies, one must cut them from the mother plant.

The last type is the Jovibarba Rollers.  This variety is called rollers because the babies are loosely attached to the mother and have a tendency to just roll off the mother plant.  To propagate this variety, simple pinch off the babies and plant.

While this plant is a prolific producer of offspring, the mother plant will only live 2 to 3 years.  At the end of the plant’s life, a flower stalk is produced and shortly after that the plant dies.   

Aubretia

This evergreen ground cover is a favorite in rock gardens.  Its gray-green foliage is topped with red, pink, and violet blooms that appear in mid-spring through early summer.  While this plant is not invasive, a good pruning will need to occur after the plant blooms to encourage a second rush of blooms along with keeping the plant from going to seed and spreading beyond the garden space.

When considering planting this perennial, one will need to take a look at the soil of the proposed garden space.  Aubretia requires a well-drained soil and as a matter of fact planting this plant in an area that is not well-drained will eventually cause the death of the plant.  For best results, make sure the soil is well-drained, has rock or sand in it, and high in lime.  If your soil is less than desirable for this plant, plan on amending it.

As far as the sunlight requirement goes,  aubretia is somewhat flexible.  It does wonderful in full sun but can tolerate some shade.    

Moss Rose

Moss rose is a blooming succulent that fits well into a rock garden design.  Its fine leaves create a unique texture contrast to the backdrop of a rock garden.  The best part though is the splash of color that one can see throughout the growing season. 

Creeping Broom

This ground cover is considered a shrub that never grows taller than one foot but can easily spread seven feet.   While the gray-green branches of this shrub are topped with ½ inch round leaves, the real showstopper is the yellow flowers. 

These long-lasting flowers appear on the shrub from mid-spring to early summer.  What makes this plant a winner is the fact that it will grow in areas that other plants will not.  This includes hot, dry areas that contain a lot of sand.  It also tolerates salty areas and does well in these areas as long as it is placed in full sun.

Creeping Phlox

If you have a troubled area in your landscape, creeping phlox is the answer.  This perennial plant does well in both full sun and partial shade.  While it does prefer a loamy soil, it will do fine in any soil type as long as it is well draining. 

Another advantage to this plant is the fact that not only do the pink, red, white, and blue blooms look wonderful, they also smell good.  In doing so, when considering where to plant your creeping phlox do not limit it to a simple ground cover or border.  To enhance the garden experience, consider planting it along a walkway, under windows, and even around the front door.

 








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