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Hardscaping 101: River Rocks

River rocks can serve many purposes from drainage to decoration in a landscape. A common feature in Japanese gardens, they are culled from actual rivers or sometimes from beach deposits. Different from other, sharper-edged gravels and pebbles, they have been worn and smoothed by moving water, colliding rocks, or the abrasive effect of sand.

But first, a disclosure: I am not a geologist, so I did some Googling as a starting point to learn about the many different sizes, colors, and ways to use river rocks in a hardscape. Are river rocks right for your garden? Read on for everything you need to know.

What garden designs look best with river rocks?

Photography by and courtesy of Don Freeman.
Above: A Japanese-inspired garden features a smooth river rocks at the edge of a stone slab stoop in a Westchester County, NY landscape by designer Marc Peter Keane. Photograph by and courtesy of Don Freeman. For more, see Designer Visit: A Garden Inspired by Japan.

River rocks are popular in landscapes because they bring a naturalistic look to areas surrounding swimming pools, garden beds, trees, and water features.

What sizes of river rocks can I buy?

river rocks for sale on ebay
Above: A 2-pound bag of Small Decorative River Rocks can be used an attractive surface layer on a potted plant; $12.62 via eBay.

River rocks are available in a wide range of sizes, from very small (approximately 3/8 inches in diameter) to 5 inches.

Tip: Explore your local stone yard to get ideas and pick up samples to bring home. The colors are also variable, mainly earth tones, so they complement most existing color pallets. Also, because river rocks don’t break down (as mulch does) or need to be pruned (like ground covers), they are cost effective and a long-term solution.

Photograph by and courtesy of Don Freeman.
Above: In a Japanese-inspired “ocean garden” by designer Marc Keane, smoothly raked sand contrasts with a rippling, rocky border. Photograph by and courtesy of Don Freeman. For more, see Designer Visit: A Garden Inspired by Japan.

What are the best ways to use river rocks in a landscape?

Let’s start at the top. The main reason people...

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