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River Rock Landscaping Ideas We Love

River rock often plays a practical role in gardens and landscapes. Here are a dozen ways to use this natural material for aesthetic reasons.

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fence U.J. Alexander/Shutterstock

The Wall

Make a gabion wall by wrapping river rock in a cage of galvanized steel wire. A retaining wall can be used for erosion control, privacy or to make an aesthetic statement in the landscape. Learn how to build a retaining wall that’s strong and durable.

Here’s how to make beautiful steppingstones with river rock.

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stoneIstvan Balogh/Shutterstock

Raised Bed Planter

For a slightly different take on a gabion wall, consider a raised bed planter made with river rock. It’s not only attractive and unique, it also drains well. To keep soil from seeping, line the interior with landscape fabric before filling with a mix of lightweight potting mix and compost.

Learn how to build attractive raised bed garden containers.

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GardenSarawoot Liamthai/Shutterstock

Suitable Staging

Use a floating “moat” of river rock to hem in a collection of potted plants. The rocks act as a stage, calling attention to the multiple pots and presenting them as one cohesive unit. Side benefit: rocks keep the planters from tipping over. Interested in growing container gardens? See some helpful tips here.

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landscapeKathryn Roach/Shutterstock

Dapper Dryscaping

River rock landscaping ideas often revolve around water—or in this case, the lack thereof. River rocks are a perfect complement to the drought-tolerant plants found in xeriscaping, making a fine, quick-draining mulch that looks at home with dry denizens such as barberry, Russian sage, Karl Foerster grass, blue oatgrass and salvia. You can grow plants using less water. Learn all about xeriscaping!

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FairiesGingo Scott/Shutterstock

Fairy Fire Pit

Fairy gardens are hot. River rocks and smaller pea gravel are indispensable when creating the miniature landscapes. Here they’re combined to form a make-believe campfire. Ah, you can almost smell the smoke! See our collection of 15 breathtaking DIY fairy gardens.

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privacy fenceJoanne Dale/Shutterstock

Negative Attitude

In landscaping, just like in design, there’s something called negative space. It is visual “breathing room” where the eye can rest and not be overwhelmed by stuff—whether it’s color, form or, in this case, a circus of plants. Notice how the river rock provides valuable negative space in this small garden, giving the garden art in the foreground some distance from the planting. Learn pro garden design strategies here.

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Outdoorkaramysh/Shutterstock

Mulch Appeal

River rock makes a great, long-lasting mulch. It looks particularly natural with succulents and cacti and provides the rapid drainage those plants require. It does hold heat, however, so river rock may not be the best mulch for more tender plants. Check out these 14 tips for growing succulents outside.

See the pros and cons of flowerbed mulch.

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succulent Lijuan Guo/Shutterstock

Planter Presentation

That mulching ability carries over to planters as well. River rock gives a nice, clean presentation and even some contrast with the plants. It also keeps foliage free from soil splashing while watering. Avoid watering pitfalls. Build your own self-watering planter.

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walkwayBow Jongjaijit/Shutterstock

Paver Patchwork

If you have a spot in your yard where nothing but weeds will grow, you can create a great-looking area that doesn’t need maintenance. Alternate pavers and river rock in a patchwork (grid) pattern and never worry about that trouble spot again. Here are some other landscape uses for rocks.

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pathWill478/Shutterstock

Rocky Road

With their durability, rocks are a natural for pathways. The winding shape of the pathway teams with the intriguing texture of the river rocks to create an attractive landscape feature. Here are more affordable garden path ideas.

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Family Handyman

Natural Water Feature

You can build this beautiful artesian river rock and stone fountain in just two days. And once it’s built, you don’t have to worry about maintenance. The complete how-to-build-it instructions are available here.

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treeJamie Hooper/Shutterstock

Dry Creek Bed

Probably the No. 1 use of river rock in a landscape is equal parts practical and pretty. A dry creek bed is an ornamental feature much of the time. But when heavy rains come, the winding bed of river rocks directs the overflow wherever you want it to go (for instance, away from the house and toward a rain garden). Learn how to build your very own rain garden.

Luke Miller
Luke Miller is an award-winning garden editor with 25 years' experience in horticultural communications, including editing a national magazine and creating print and online gardening content for a national retailer. He grew up across the street from a park arboretum and has a lifelong passion for gardening in general and trees in particular. In addition to his journalism degree, he has studied horticulture and is a Master Gardener.