• Using River Rock in Your Landscaping - 5 Ideas

    River rock is one of the most popular stone products used for landscaping purposes.

    There's a good reason for its popularity. It comes in an endless variety of shapes, sizes and colors. So it can be used with any landscape design you have in mind.

    In this article, I'll share some tips and ideas for using river rock in your next landscaping project.

    If you need professional help with your project, use the link provide above. If you're the do-it-yourself type, check out the river rock landscaping ideas below.

    What is River Rock Anyway?

    Just so we're on the same page, let's start with a definition of river rock as it applies to landscaping projects. These stones often look dramatically different from one another. Some are as big as a softball, while others are pebble sized. River rock can be blue, green, red, pink, orange, coral, slate gray, or any combination of these colors. It can have stripes, spots and striations, or it can be solid colored.

    River Rock Closeup

    But there is one thing that all landscaping river rocks have in common. They all have a softly rounded shape and a smooth finish. This is what makes them so popular in the landscape design world.

    Rocks that are dug from the earth are usually chunky and rough, with jagged points, edges and ridges. This is a good look for certain types of landscaping projects, like accent boulders. But sometimes you want to use stones with a more rounded and smooth finish, and that's where river rocks come in. Water currents wear down these rocks over a long period of time. This gives them a refined appearance, almost as if they were shaped and polished by hand. You can see this in the pictures above and below.

    Endless Variety

    The water-aging process also gives them interesting shapes, colors and striations. Some river rocks even look like gems or precious stones. This is why they are so popular in landscaping and landscape design projects. They add a unique and colorful element to your yard. They look even more beautiful when wet, which is why they are often used in designs that incorporate water in some way (fountains, waterfalls, etc.). 

    Trivia: Some of the landscaping river rocks you see in landscape yards and home supply stores actually come from the ocean. This is especially true in coastal cities, where these stones wash right up on the beach at high tide. We live in San Diego, and my daughter and I collect them to put into decorative vases. Any type of rock that has been shaped by water can be labeled and sold as river rock -- even if it's from the sea! So if you live near the ocean, you may have a free source of this material.

    Let's talk about the different ways you can incorporate this material into your next landscape project. Take a look at the pictures below, and you'll see why river rock is so popular as a landscaping material. It is incredibly versatile, and it puts a nice finishing touch on any design. It can be used as the focal point of a landscape design project, or it can play more of a 'supporting role' as a substrate or background material. There is no limit to how you can use this type of stone.

    Okay, so there is one limit. Availability. You can only use the river rock that's available in your area, at the local landscape supply yards. This material has to be trucked locally, and the cost can be prohibitive. So the selection will vary depending on where you live.

    If you are doing your own landscaping project, you should call and drive around to see what's available in your area. You may have to visit a few yards to find the product you want. If you're using a landscape design company, ask them about your options for incorporating this material. 

    Here are some ideas for using river rock in your next project:

    The Dry Creek Bed

    This is one of the most common uses for river rock, from a landscaping perspective. It adds an interesting visual element to any yard, regardless of what 'obstacles' are in the way. In fact, you can incorporate things like trees and boulders into the flow of the creek bed. So there's almost always a way to build this idea into your overall landscape design.

    Dry Creek Bed

    The great thing about using river rock for a creek bed is that it looks totally natural. After all, these stones were shaped by water from rivers, streams and ocean currents. So they look right at home within this kind of design concept. It gives the appearance of a creek running through your hard. It can even be used with flowing water, as it naturally channels the flow wherever you want it to go. 

    You can wind your creek bed around boulders, plants or other landscaping features, to give it even more 'personality.' This is where it helps to have a landscape designer lay it all out for you, if you're not the creative type.

    The River Rock Path

    This is a variation of the river rock landscaping idea above. Here you would use the same concept, but in a way that makes the creek bed function as a path, as well. This project would require some type of border material to keep the rock in place, especially if the path is going to butt up against a grassy area that gets mowed regularly. You don't want any stones getting under your mower blades.

    Rock Bed

    You also need to choose a type of river rock that's on the smaller end of the scale, so it's easy to walk on. Pea gravel will do the job. You might want to use some pavers or flagstone steps too, interspersing the river rock between each of the stepping stones. This would make it even easier to walk on. But it can be done without this added feature. We have a path in our backyard that consists of pea-sized gravel only (no stepping stones), and it is fairly easy to walk on. So it's really a matter of personal preference. What type of look are you going for?

    Other Landscaping Ideas

    These are certainly not the only ideas for using river rock in your landscaping plans. You are limited only by your imagination. There are many ways to use it in a landscape design. As mentioned earlier, it is one of the most versatile materials you can use.

    Here are some more ideas on integrating river rock:

    • Use it as mulch, instead of using a wood-based mulch.
    • Spread it around flowering shrubs of a contrasting color, to make the plants 'pop.'
    • §Spread it around an accent boulder, maybe with a few plants popping through.
    • Use it to fill a border area by a fence, a terraced wall, or some other structure.
    • Use bender board to shape it into concentric circles around a fountain.

    If you're planning to make a serious investment in your yard (i.e., a lot of time, money and effort), you should buy a landscape design book that is full of pictures and ideas. Most of these books have an entire chapter dedicated to using rocks and stone, including the many different ways you can utilize river rock. At the very least, visit some more landscaping websites that have pictures of this product in 'action.'

    Get Quotes from a Professional Landscaper

    River rock is incredibly versatile. But it's not the easiest thing to transport and install. Depending on the size of your project, and the landscaping idea you have in mind, you might be making quite a few wheelbarrow trips. It can be dirty, backbreaking work.

    I hope you have enjoyed this guide to landscaping with river rock. We add new articles, pictures and tutorials to this website on a regular basis. You can use the sidebar menu, or the search box at the top of the page, to learn more about this topic. Good luck with your project!