Plants for Rock Gardens?

Small Plants for Rock Gardens. 
  • Are rocks good for gardens? 
  • Recommended plants for sunny rock gardens. 
  • Why do plants grow on rocks? 
  • How do you make a rock garden?

Rock Garden Plants 

Stones in the garden are pretty, but their colors and forms emerge dramatically when low growing, drought-tough plants are added amongst them. There are many plants that will grow between rocks, but these rockery classics are strong favorites of local gardeners.

Mountain gardens are mostly exposed to full-sun with fast-draining soil, so this list of rock garden plants is geared to sunny mountain locations.  If your rock garden is shaded, there are plenty of plants  suited for it, but you'll have to visit the garden center for that list.     

All choices are cold-hardy at our local zones, 6 & 7.

Small Plants: “Think Small" in plant selection if you have just a small space in which to garden.  Luckily, the choices here are plenty and varied. There are many small rock garden plants whose delicate beauty is quite exquisite.

Keep in mind that features such as retaining walls made of small stones also may house rock garden plants. Small specimens such as Hens & Chicks are indispensable for planting in the crevices of stone walls. Bright cascading beauties such as yellow alyssum are ideal for planting in the tops of walls, allowing them to spill down the sides. The effect of these plantings is to soften the otherwise rigid lines of a sterile barrier.

Small Rock Garden Plants

  • Ajuga
  • Alyssum
  • Angelina stonecrop
  • Blue fescue ornamental grass
  • Candytuft
  • Creeping phlox
  • Creeping thyme
  • Dragon's Blood stonecrop
  • Hens & Chicks
  • Ice plant
  • Iris
  • Pasque flower
  • Snow-in-summer
  • Spurge

Medium Plants: Think "Goldilocks" as in the fairy tale, and look for nothing too small, but not too big, either. So, here are the rock-loving plants that are just the right size, or “medium.”

One favorite is columbine; the shape of its flower is fascinating. Another is coneflower (Echinacea), which acts like a mountain wildflower. The silver leaves of rose campion easily soften a rocky landscape.

Medium Rock Garden Plants 

  • Autumn Joy Sedum
  • Black-eyed Susan
  • Blue Rug Juniper
  • Catmint
  • Columbine
  • Coneflower
  • Coreopsis
  • Lavender
  • Purple fountain grass
  • Rose campion
  • Salvias
  • Shasta daisy
  • Speedwell
  • Yarrow

Large Plants: Think "Proportion"

The next best thing to having the Hanging Gardens of Babylon in your yard is a steep slope with boulders and eye-catching rock garden plants. This is an example of turning what could be a landscaping nuisance into the bright spot in your yard. Big spaces scattered in boulders calls for the bigger plants. Just remember that the idea is to keep everything in proportion, which is why the word "boulders" is used here rather than "rocks.

Rugosa Rose was used by our grandparents, and is equally hardy today, but with blossoms of many more colors. Another healthy specimen for large rocky spaces is rock spray cotoneaster. For Japanese-themed gardens a good evergreen choice is the mugo pine.  

Blue Lace Russian sage and lamb's ear are more delicate-looking than the other plants in this section, but do offer some height

Large Rock Garden Plants 

  • Blue Lace Russian sage
  • Cotoneaster
  • Lamb's ear
  • Maiden grass
  • Mugo pine

A well-planned rock garden provides a flow between rocks and plants, allowing them to work together in elevating the impact of one upon the other. Showy plants draw attention to the stones, which, in turn, offer a delightful framework to show off the plants in their best light.

My favorite book on rock gardens is a classic from 2009 and worth its space in every gardener's library: The Rock Garden Plant Primer: Easy, Small Plants for Containers, Patios, and the Open Gardenhe Rock Garden Plant Primer: Easy, Small Plants for Containers, Patios, and the Open Garden by Christopher Grey-Wilson.


Until next week, I'll be here at Watters Garden Center helping friends plant amongst the rocks.

Ken Lain can be found throughout the week at Watters Garden Center, 1815 W. Iron Springs Rd in Prescott, or contacted through his web site at WattersGardenCenter.com or  FB.com/WattersGardenCenter 

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Garden Classes

August 17 @ 9:30 am - Attract Birds, Bees & Butterflies – Monarchs, Swallowtails, and bees are in trouble, but we can help!  This class goes into all the details of how to help the local natives.  Because they like so many of the same plants, hummingbirds are simply a bonus to this class. Learn the best local trees, shrubs, flowers, and grasses that naturally bring the best wildlife.  FREE


August 24 @ 9:30 am - Herb Garden Designs from Beginner to Pro – Summer is the ideal time to add herbs to the garden.  More than just culinary, herbs are a staple plant for the mountain landscape.  Learn which herbs are best in the kitchen, reseed by themselves, are ignored by javelina, evergreen and more.  You will be an herbal pro after this class.  Free to gardeners of all ages. FREE 


August 31 @ 9:30 am - Edible Landscape with Trees & Berries (Labor Day Weekend) Have your landscape and eat it, too!  We’ll share the tips, tricks, and recipes that make for a better, healthier and tastier landscape.  Plant experts will be on hand after the class that specializes in fruiting designs that can be eaten after planting. FREE



September 7 @ 9:30 am – Wildlife & Bug Prevention - Late summer is not only the peak of bug season, but there's also intense pressure from furry visitors in our yards.  Students start with best practices to keep javelina and pack rats away, then quickly move to solutions for grasshoppers and tomato worms.  You can have a nice yard with these easy-to-use tips and a few key plant choices.  Frustrated gardeners will have all the tools they need to keep the garden pest-free! FREE

Ken Lain

September 14 @ 9:30 am – Succulents Succulents are all the rage right now, and a great choice for container growing! Most are tough, drought-tolerant, and will grow like gangbusters in a tight space with very little after-care. Students will learn how to create a container that brings warm color and texture to their homes even at the coldest time of the year. The class is free to onlookers, but the first 12 students to sign up can create their own design with professional guidance for a $25 fee (pots provided).  Call 928-445-4159 to sign up.



September 21 @ 9:30 am - Top 10 Evergreens for Mountain Landscapes – Evergreens can be the anchor of any landscape, providing color and privacy year-round.  We'll dispel the myth that the only evergreens are pine trees, when in fact they can be a multitude of different shapes, colors, and sizes—there are even evergreens that aren't green! FREE

September 28 @ 9:30 am – Planting for Success in our Mountain Soil – We've planted thousands of plants throughout northern Arizona, and now we're going to share our secrets with YOU. Watters' Ella Amos, gets her hands dirty every day planting new landscapes for our wonderful customers. Years of planting success and the knowledge she's gained through her experience make Ella the perfect Guest Instructor for this class. She'll share the techniques and trade secrets she's learned to help you be a smarter, savvier, more successful gardener. FREE



October 5 @ 9:30 am - Gardening for Newcomers  Learn all the mountain secrets to local garden success.  This is an information-packed class guaranteed to increase garden blooms and fruit this year.  Learn about growing zones, frost dates, soils and more; you'll know exactly what to do in the gardens after this class. FREE

Michele and Doug


October 12 @ 9:30 am - Autumn Colors Best Enjoyed at Home - Landscapes in autumn can be stunning, but only with proper planning.  This easy-care advice will bring the silver and blues out of the evergreens, showcasing brilliant bright foliage and crazy colored flowers.  Make this the brightest fall of all!  FREE


October 19 @ 9:30 am - Top 10 Trees and How to Plant them -  Privacy, shade, color, evergreen, and blooms. We cover trees from every angle. With so many choices, picking the perfect tree can seem overwhelming, but not after this class.  Our horticultural team will be on-hand after the class to help with individual tree situations.  Free tree planting guide to all attendees.  FREE


October 25 @ 9:30 pm - Fall ‘To-do‘ list for a Healthy Yard - Get the most out of your landscape with this easy to use checklist of fall care.  Bring the color out of your fall gardens, reduce bugs next spring, or simply put your landscape to bed with these easy to use ideas.  FREE

Ken Lain


Ken Lain, the Mountain Gardener

Ken Lain is attracted to sunshine, beauty, happiness, success and health through gardening, and wishes to point the way to others. Throughout the week Ken can be found at Watters Garden Center located at 1815 W. Iron Springs Rd, Prescott, or contacted through his web site at www.wattersgardencenter.com

Website: www.wattersgardencenter.com