11 Plants for Rock Gardens (That Aren’t Just Succulents!)

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Tough-To-Grow Sites Just Got Easier To Fill

Rocky areas are known as tough-to-grow sites, typically plagued with heat, drought, and poor soils. Rock gardens incorporate rocks, stones, and gravel (natural or manmade) as a structural element – and then use plants to fill in the nooks and crannies. While these growing conditions may not be ideal, that doesn’t mean these areas can’t be filled with life! Not all plants thrive in these spaces, but there are plenty to choose from that will. So, if you’re looking for ideas for rock garden plants, check out our colorful, fragrant, or textured favorites below!

Lush Rock garden with a water feature and vibrant green plants

1.) 'Boulder Blue' Blue Fescue

(Festuca glauca)

Rock gardens are known for being hot, dry, tough-to-grow sites, but it never seems to phase ‘Boulder Blue’ blue fescue! The steel-blue, almost metallic foliage keeps its color all season, even in the heat of summer. It grows in a compact habit that is perfect for planting between stones.

2.) Yarrow

(Achillea sp.)

Yarrow is simple to grow, even in sunny and dry spots, which is why it’s perfect for rock gardens. Soft silver-green fern-like foliage adds texture. Straight, sturdy flower stalks hold clusters of colorful and fragrant flowers all summer long. Enjoy the flowers fresh or dried in arrangements!

3.) Tickseed


Want to cover your rocks in a swathe of flowers? Then tickseed is a must-have perennial. Masses of vibrant flowers bloom all summer long (even over 4 months). It’s not just good-looking! It’s easy to care for, versatile, fairly drought tolerant, and resistant to deer and rabbits.

Mounds of blue foliage created by the thin arching blades of the Blue Zinger Sedge

4.) 'Blue Zinger' Sedge

(Carex Flacca)

On hot summer days, the thin, arching foliage of ‘Blue Zinger’ sedge keeps your garden cool. What sets it apart from ‘Boulder Blue’ blue fescue? ‘Blue Zinger sedge grows well in part sun and shade! It’s evergreen in warm climates, providing year-round color for southern gardeners.

5.) Cushion Spurge

(Euphorbia polychroma)

Cushion spurge thrives in tough sites, including gravelly and sandy soils. It won’t disappoint in your rock garden with long-lasting bright yellow flower bracts! It earns the name cushion spurge from its charming cushion-like habit, which stands out in the rock garden.

Close up of lady bug on the chartreuse blooms of the Cushion Spurge

6.) Spike Speedwell


Speedwell is an easy-to-grow perennial that puts on quite the performance! Plants produce densely packed spikes resulting in an incredible, almost magical show of flowers, lasting from summer through fall. It’s deer and disease resistant and grows well in tough soils.

7.) Russian Sage

(Perovskia atriplicifolia)

Russian sage is the perfect answer for those hot, dry sites that are hard to fill. Once established, Russian sage truly loves dry and well-draining conditions. It’s low maintenance, easy to care for, and deer resistant. This plant looks great anywhere, but we especially love how it looks in rock gardens!

8.) Bugleweed


You may have noticed we include bugleweed (Ajuga) in so many of our blogs. It’s because this perennial ground cover really can do it all! Sun, shade, clay, sand, slopes, rocks… bugleweed can grow anywhere. The best part? It looks good doing it! Add bugleweed to your rock garden for contrasting dark colors – especially if you have light-colored rocks.

9.) Coneflower


Coneflowers are native perennials that are adaptable to nearly any sunny environment, even heat, humidity, cold, and drought. Strong stems make for a durable plant, which means you don’t need to worry about flopping flowers. Plus, it’s low maintenance, requiring no deadheading or pruning. Keep your rock garden colorful AND low maintenance!

10.) Stonecrop


Stonecrop may be the obvious choice for rock gardens – for a good reason too. They’re shallow-rooting, drought-tolerant, heat-tolerant, and sun-loving. Plus, they don’t mind growing over, in between, or around rocks. Fill in all the cracks and crevices of your rock garden with their succulent foliage!

11.) Irish Moss

(Sagina subulata)

Replicate the look of mossy rocks by incorporating Irish moss into your rock garden! Is it a real moss? No, but it sure does look like it. Shamrock green foliage grows in dense clumps, forming a cushioned mat as it spreads through the garden. It looks (and feels) soft, but this plant is surprisingly durable.

yellow-green moss growing from between rocks

Honorable Mentions For Your Rock Garden:

Even though we listed some of our favorite plants for rock gardens, the options continue! Perennials like mangave are excellent choices for succulent and rock gardens with hot temperatures in growing zones 9-11. Red creeping thyme is another ground cover option for rock gardens that thrives in tough-to-grow soil sites and can be easily tucked in empty spaces.

While these are some of our favorites, there are more to choose from! Make sure you browse our collections of heat-tolerant plants and drought-tolerant plants for more ideas for your rock garden.

Written by: Miranda Niemiec, click here to read bio.

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