Rock gardens are gaining in popularity. This garden style is a unique way to create a low-maintenance landscape. This garden style works in any size yard in sun or shade.

Rock gardens are designed to mimic alpine landscapes, desert canyons, steep river banks or any other rocky ecosystem. Rock gardens can be created on large hillsides or in small backyard crevices.

A slope is the perfect place for a hillside rock garden. Use a variety of rock sizes and bury one-half to two-thirds of the rock into the hillside. The buried rock will prevent hillside erosion, prevent rock from rolling down the hillside and create a more natural garden.

Vary the size of the landscape rock for a more natural look. Larger rock sizes will be used in larger spaces. Smaller rock sizes in smaller spaces. Leave planting pockets between the rocks. These planting pockets should vary in size for different size and numbers of plants.

Don’t have a slope. Create a slope or berm with large boulders. Or create an alpine meadow, which is a flat area with rock outcrops.

Sketch out rock placements before moving the rocks around, especially large rocks. Asian culture believes that every rock has a face. Need help visualizing the face or rock placement? use lightweight objects like balls, pots or bowls that can easily be moved around. Try to mimic nature. Random groupings look more natural than straight rows. Odd numbers look more natural than even numbers. Planning and sketching will save a great deal of extra work when placing rocks.

Most rock garden plants prefer a lean soil to a nutrient-rich soil. No compost needed in a rock garden.

Rock garden plants are tough, hardy perennials. Many are native to alpine or mountainous regions. Choose varieties hardy to USDA Zone 4.

Plants that naturally grow on rock outcrops or among loose rocks are known as saxatile plants or lithophytes. These alpine plants are drought tolerant and require good drainage. They are also small in stature.

Succulents are a classic rock garden plant. These plants can be tucked into rock crevices in unlikely spots. Available in a variety of colors and textures.

To soften the hard edges of the rock, use creeping plants. Sedums and mints work great for this.

Don’t forget to install a meandering path in a large space to enjoy the small lithophytes.

Although not necessary, a water feature is eye-catching and attracts wildlife. A simple fountain or water rolling over the boulders is a relaxing addition to any garden. Many rock gardens simulate running water with rock placement creating dry stream beds.

Designing a rock garden is fun. I recommend starting small. A giant hillside might be overwhelming for a first try. Think planter size for the first one, then get creative and expand.

Robin Fruth-Dugstad is a horticulture professor at Rochester Community and Technical College with 25 years of experience gardening and landscaping. Send plant and garden questions to

What's your reaction?