Choosing the Best Plants for a Rock Wall Garden

Large stone or rock walls can sometimes dominate or overshadow the home landscape. The commanding presence of so much hard, cold stone can seem obtrusive and out of place.

Many people may only see a large building, but gardeners will see openings between the stones as a chance to start a new planting project. Growing plants in a stone wall can soften and blend the stone into the landscape. Continue reading to learn more about gardening in retaining walls.

Rock walls can provide unique opportunities for gardening. The nooks and crannies between stones allow places to tuck small plants, creating a living tapestry. With the right plant choices, a formerly barren rock wall can be transformed into a beautiful vertical garden.

Not all plants will thrive in a rock wall’s harsh environment however. The restricted soil drought conditions, and exposure require plants adapted to these challenges. Selecting rugged, low-maintenance plants tailored to rock wall conditions is key to success.

Here are some top picks for plants that can flourish in a rock wall garden

Hardy Succulents

Succulents are the quintessential rock wall plant. Their ability to store water in fleshy leaves allows them to tolerate drought. Look for these hardy varieties:

  • Sedum or stonecrop – Easy to grow, low spreading types work well. Upright sedums may get too large.

  • Sempervivum or hens and chicks – Grows in tight, low rosettes perfect for wedging between rocks.

  • Jovibarba – This sedum relative thrives in crevices. ‘Wine Red’ has striking burgundy foliage.

Alpine Plants

Hailing from high elevation regions, alpine plants are cold hardy and adapted to rocky soils. These compact growers are ideal for rock wall gardens:

  • Aubrieta or rock cress – Mounds of purple, red, or white spring flowers. Prefers partial shade.

  • Alyssum – The yellow blossoms of alyssum cascade nicely over wall edges. Needs full sun.

  • Dianthus – Evergreen with flowers in shades of pink, red and white. Must have good drainage.

  • Creeping phlox – Dense mats of creeping phlox bloom prolifically. Does well in sun or shade.

Ornamental Grasses

Grasses help soften the stark look of stone with their fine, mounding foliage. Try these for rock walls:

  • Blue fescue – Clumping cool-season grass with blue-gray foliage. Grows 6-12 inches tall.

  • Hakonechloa or Japanese forest grass – Shade loving grass with bamboo-like leaves. Tolerates some sun.

  • Carex – Many Carex sedge varieties work well, including ‘Ice Dance’ and ‘Evergold’.

  • Muhlenbergia capillaris – Pink flowers float above thin green leaves on this small native grass.

Vines and Groundcovers

Trailing plants are ideal for cascading over the edges of rock walls. Consider these tough vines and groundcovers:

  • Sedum spurium – Low, spreading sedum grows quickly to blanket wall crevices.

  • Creeping Jenny – Rapid spreader with round chartreuse leaves. Grows in sun or shade.

  • Thymus serpyllum – Creeping thyme stays short, blooms heavily, and forms dense mats.

  • Campanula poscharskyana – Trailing bellflower displays blue starry blooms through summer.


For a lush, aged look, allow mosses to naturally colonize the shady, moist areas of your rock wall. Or transplant small starter patches. Favorites include:

  • Haircap moss
  • Cushion moss
  • Rock cap moss
  • Common feather moss

Mosses will grow best on natural stone like sandstone rather than mortared walls which are too alkaline. Spruce up existing mosses by mixing in a bit of yogurt or buttermilk.

Design and Care Tips

Follow these tips to create and maintain a thriving rock wall garden:

  • Amend planting pockets with rich potting soil. Avoid standard garden soils which can be too heavy.

  • Plant densely to cover the wall quickly. Start new plants from plugs rather than seeds.

  • Use cascading and trailing plants along the top edges and taller types toward the base.

  • Water regularly until plants establish, then water during droughts. Use drip irrigation or hand watering.

  • Pull any weeds that take root in crevices to prevent them from taking over.

  • Cut back leggy growth and trim any plants outgrowing their space annually.

  • Refill planting pockets with fresh soil and replant any bare spots to maintain a lush look.

With minimal care, the right plants will flourish in a rock wall’s unique growing environment. You’ll be rewarded with a vertical garden that softens hard stone and adds year-round color and texture. A living rock wall infused with plants transforms an otherwise mundane landscape feature into a beautiful backdrop.

List of entities and frequencies:

plants for a rock wall: 18
plant: 16
rock: 14
wall: 12
stone: 5
grow: 4
soil: 4
succulent: 3
sedum: 3
vine: 2
cascade: 2
flower: 2
hardy: 2
thorn: 2
moss: 2
crevice: 2
drought: 2
water: 2
grass: 2
mound: 2
leaf: 2
groundcover: 2
bare: 2
edge: 2
pocket: 2
optimal: 1
unique: 1
opportunity: 1
tuck: 1
cranny: 1
nook: 1
barren: 1
tapestry: 1
restrict: 1
condition: 1
quintessential: 1
tolerate: 1
upright: 1
wedge: 1
jovibarba: 1
burgundy: 1
elevate: 1
compact: 1
rugged: 1
challenging: 1
maintenance: 1
tailor: 1
thrive: 1
quintessential: 1
foliage: 1
soften: 1
stark: 1
transplant: 1
favor: 1
natural: 1
sandstone: 1
mortar: 1
alkaline: 1
spruce: 1
yogurt: 1
buttermilk: 1
amend: 1
heavy: 1
irrigation: 1
rewarded: 1
backdrop: 1
mundane: 1
infuse: 1

Gardening in Stone Walls

Living stone walls are commonly seen throughout Europe. English people think of stone walls as the backbone of the garden, and they are built with places to plant herbs and other plants. A simple way to bring life to cold, dead stone is to plant flowers in the cracks of a wall. Many plants will do well in the unique microclimates that the wall’s cracks create.

Plants that grow in these planting nooks will like how the stones can keep the soil cool and moist in the summer. In the winter, these cracks will stay warmer and quickly drain any extra water away from plant roots, keeping them from getting rots or fungal diseases. Most experts agree that planting in the cracks of a stone wall as it is being built is the best way to make a living wall.

Because of this method, you can plan out specific plant pockets in the wall’s structure, fill the cracks with good growing medium, and grow plants with bigger root systems. Plants growing in a stone wall generally require a well-draining, sandy loam soil. When walls are built, gravely soil fill is often used. This soil may drain too well and doesn’t have any nutrients to help plants grow.

Once the basic stone wall is built, plants and rich soil are put in the cracks and crevices made by the stones’ naturally uneven shape. Then a new layer of stone is carefully put on top of the planting holes. This is done again and again until the wall is the height you want it to be.

It’s not always possible to plant in a stone wall while it’s being built, but you can still plant in most stone walls that are already there. A long-bladed trowel or garden knife can be used to remove poor soil from places where plants could go and then good growing media can be packed back in.

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These designated planting nooks can either be planted with seeds or plants with small root structures. Take care when digging between rocks to not weaken the structure.

7 Stunning Cascading Plants for Retaining Walls and Hanging Baskets


How to add plants to a rock wall?

Secure a slope with stones for a modified rock garden Add stones to a slope for erosion control, creating planting pockets as you go. Fill the pocket with garden soil, add the plant, and then carefully secure the next stone.

What plants are best for rockeries?

Some of the best perennials for the rock garden are certain varieties of achillea, agapanthus, bellflower, geraniums, kniphofia, sedum and veronica. The seasonality of most perennials means they are best combined with evergreen shrubs so as to avoid empty spaces being left over the winter.

What is the best plant to grow up a wall?

Best fast-growing climber for walls If you want to cover an unsightly wall quickly, choose a fast growing climbing plant such as Virginia Creeper. Whether you want to increase your privacy, muffle noise from neighbours or cover an eyesore of a wall, Virginia Creeper will do all that and look beautiful too.

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