Why You Really Need Rocks

Here are ten reasons why your landscape---especially if it includes succulents---really needs rocks, large and small.

Remember when crushed-rock front yards were a '60s retirement-community cliche? Not any longer! Nowadays smart designers cover bare soil with rocks to create gardens that are as sophisticated and good-looking as they are practical.

"Before" photo of driveway planting


Driveway garden, "after" (newly installed)

In my video, Van Liew Garden Redo, San Diego landscape designer Steve McDearmon explains how he installs succulents amid swaths of warm-toned Mojave Gold gravel, Hickory Creek rubble rock, and Honey Quartz boulders (all from Southwest Boulder and Stone). Though subtle, the rocks are as important as the plants.

Ten Reasons for Rocks: They...

-- need no maintenance and look the same forever.

-- contrast texturally with walls, pavement, and plants.

-- add color and cohesion to a landscape.

-- moderate soil temperature, keeping it warmer in winter and cooler in summer.

-- hold moisture in the soil and inhibit evaporation.

-- prevent erosion by diffusing the impact of rain.

-- give a garden a finished look. (Doubtless you already know that topdressing is important for containers. The same is true of gardens.)

-- are visually intriguing, especially when several sizes combine.

-- lend design interest and emphasize focal points when used to create flowing lines in the landscape.

-- prevent weeds from germinating by shading the soil. And any that do pop up are easier to pull.

Aloe glauca

Also see my books:
Designing with Succulents (2nd ed), boulder and rock gardens, pp. 96-99

Succulents Simplified, rocks in gardens, pp. 99-101

Watch the video: Why You Really Need Rocks (Van Liew Garden Redo)


More info on this site

Colorful Succulent Garden (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

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  1. Taylor Bishop on December 13, 2017 at 9:38 am

    Thanks for going over some benefits of using rocks in your landscape. I actually didn’t know that they can moderate soil temperature, like in the winter and whatnot. I’m kind of interested to learn if there are specific types of rocks that can do this or if some are better at it than others.

    • Debra on December 18, 2017 at 2:30 pm

      The larger the rock (boulder) the better at moderating soil temperature. Rocks absorb heat from the sun during the day and release it gradually at night. The denser the rock, i.e. granite vs lava, the better, I would think, but I’m no expert.

      • Jan Donohoe on February 16, 2018 at 10:02 pm

        I suspect that this may be helpful in colder climates?

  2. Jan Donohoe on February 16, 2018 at 10:01 pm

    I have started collecting rocks from our property to use in my very new succulent garden, and I like the idea mentioned here to also use rocks to create a flow and focal interest. I could buy some contrasting ones for that, so thanks for pointing that out.

  3. Derek Dewitt on April 30, 2018 at 5:41 am

    My wife and I are wanting to landscape our yard later this year, so thanks for sharing this. I like your point about how landscape rocks can add color and cohesion to a landscape. We feel like the yard is boring as it is, so getting some colorful rocks might help break it up a bit.

  4. Bob Kalsey on August 11, 2020 at 2:01 pm

    We’re planning to use 3/16″ to 3/8″ pebbles as top dressing over amended soil in our succulent garden. How deep should the stone layer be?

    • Debra Lee Baldwin on August 11, 2020 at 5:52 pm

      Two inches is generally the way to go.

  5. Mehak Khan on March 9, 2021 at 1:26 pm

    Get free landscaping ideas with a great variety of decomposed granite, landscape rock and boulders supply on

  6. arborist alexandria va on May 28, 2021 at 10:30 am

    Thank you for your amazing landscaping tips. I learned a lot from you today. I admire your expertise. I hope to be as skillful as you, someday. Best regards from our arborist Alexandria VA

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