Rocky Mountain Low: A 4-Step Guide to Building an Alpine Rock Garden in Any Backyard

If you're looking for a unique and low-maintenance addition to any landscape, an alpine rock garden can be the perfect solution. Here is a simple how-to guide to creating your own beautiful alpine rock garden at home.

The Right Location. Place your rock garden in a very sunny part of the yard, preferably facing south and in a well-drained location (such as a slope). For many homeowners, this brings a nice solution to a problem area in the yard where the sun shines too brightly and the water is lacking.

A Good Foundation. Before placing your rocks and greenery, lay down a base of coarse rubble (like pebbles, broken stone or concrete, or unused rocks) to help with drainage. With these materials, form a small mound that can serve as a base for your garden. Cover the mound with a layer of smaller pebbles, a weed-resistant sheet, or even inverted sod. The mound can be any shape or size that you want, depending on the size of your rocks and boulders and how ambitious you want to be.

Placement of the Rocks. Alpine rocks tend to be limestone, sandstone, or shale. Set your chosen rocks on the mound, beginning with the largest ones. Most people prefer groupings of similar types of rocks placed in odd numbers (rather than even numbers) for a more natural look. Combine rocks of various sizes according to what looks best and what is most organic to your eye. Partially bury each rock, leaving about 1/4 to 1/3 of each rock above ground. This will help stabilize the whole garden. Leave room between and around the rocks to place greenery in the soil, and tilt some of the rocks so that water runs down them and into the greenery.

Soil That Fills Space In. Around the rocks, place a layer of soil that includes loam, compost, or leafmold along with some sand or grit. Allowing fast drainage is key to keeping your alpine plants happy, so work with your landscaping service if you're unsure about the soil content in your area. Depending on how large you want your garden, you could plant alpine varieties of small trees and shrubs or use smaller, lower plants like succulents and ground covers. Some good perennials and bulbs to complement your alpine garden include crocus, creeping baby's breath, primrose, and many varieties of iris.

Whether you live in the higher elevations or just want to emulate them, an alpine garden is a simple, attractive, and cost-effective addition to any residential landscape