How To Make A Rock Garden Without Plants [Inc. Pictures To Inspire You!]

A rock garden is a common landscaping design consisting of rocks and plants usually found in the mountains. However, some people prefer a rock arrangement without plants, and you might wonder how to create such an arrangement for your home garden.

Luckily, we have these answers for you below!

To create your own rock garden without adding plants, you can borrow inspiration from traditional Japanese zen garden designs. Zen gardens may incorporate plants into their designs, but this arrangement can entirely forgo plants.

Furthermore, zen gardens also have non-plant elements, allowing you to create a rock garden design without including plants.

Rock gardens without plants can be easily created with essentially any element that you would want to add in place of plants. Designing is subjective, and it will be up to your preference what you will add to your design.

Continue reading below as we discuss how you can prepare your space for a rock garden and some layout samples to inspire your design. Let's begin!

Portland Japanese Garden in fall - How To Make A Rock Garden Without Plants  [Inc. Pictures To Inspire You!]

How Do I Create A Rock Garden Without Plants?

Rock gardens, also known as rockery or rockwork, are usually a part of a larger garden landscaping design. As the name suggests, a rock garden is a garden of rocks.

The main elements of a rock garden are rocks, gravel, and Alpine plants, or plants that often exist in a mountainous setting.

While the design of a rock garden includes plants, it is still possible to create a rock arrangement without adding any greeneries.

As we said before, designing is subjective, and it is up to your preference what you want to add or remove from your rock garden.

Since rock gardens originally included plants, you can borrow design ideas from the traditional Japanese zen garden.

Zen gardens are essentially what a rock garden is, except this type of design can stretch as far as completely removing the plants in the arrangement. Below is a simple guide to creating a rock garden without plants.

Plan Your Design

To begin creating a rock garden, you must first have the entire blueprint of the garden ready.

This also includes the actual landscaping of the area, in which you will decide if you want some elevation in the ground or leveled soil will do.

Figure out what is included in your garden and what will replace the plants in the area.

Prepare The Area

Before placing the rocks in your garden, prepare the ground where the stones will sit. Sandy soil or any well-draining soil will support a rock garden well.

Moss and other plants growing around the area should also be properly removed to prevent them from growing back in your plantless rock garden.

Arrange The Rock Garden's Elements

Once the area for the rock garden is prepared, you can begin arranging the rocks in whichever way you want.

If gravel or sand is involved in the design, including that before adding the rocks.

What Can I Put In A Rock Garden Without Plants?

Rock gardens typically have plants. To create a rock garden without plants, you can take some inspiration from the different non-plant features of a zen garden.

Below is a list of elements you can use if you want to create a rock garden without plants:


Generally, a rock garden's main focal point is plants and rocks. In standard rock garden designs, these rocks operate as more of an arrangement for introducing plants.

This means that the rocks often included in rock gardens are arranged as more of a surface for plants instead of being the focal point of the design.

rock with garden landscaping

Common rock garden designs use the different shapes and sizes of the plants to create a visually pleasing contrast against the rocks around them.

This results in an exciting design compared to a rock arranged without the plants.

To keep the visually pleasing contrast created by shapes and sizes, you can substitute the plants by adding rocks of varying shapes, textures, and sizes.

Portland Japanese Garden in fall.

The rocks included in a zen garden are called Ishi, which directly translates to "stone" in Japanese. In a zen garden, rocks are essential to the arrangement.

You can borrow Ishi's design in your plantless rock garden. Choose rocks of different shapes and sizes to avoid a monotonous look.

Mixing smooth rocks with ragged rocks will also showcase the rock's natural appearance. This can also give your rock garden a more natural, calming design.

Famous Stone garden- Ryoan-Ji in Kyoto - sunny day in spring (sakura beginning!)


Just like rocks, water is another essential element in a zen garden. You might have noticed that the above pictures had multiple circular patterns around the rocks.

These patterns on the gravel represent natural water. They're meant to symbolize the ripples of water around mountains, represented by the stones.

Fall scenery of a Japanese rock garden (zen garden, dry landscape or karesansui) in morning sunlight, at Honryutei in Enkouji, a Buddhist Temple famous for its fiery maple foliage in Kyoto, Japan

Due to the limited variety of elements that make up a zen garden, it might appear as a minimalistic arrangement for some.

However, you can include actual running water in your plantless rock garden to add movement to your design.

A small decorative waterfall in the garden. Landscape design

Unless you overdo the water element, actual running water will not affect the calming effect of a zen garden. Aside from the symbolism in the pattern on the gravel: actual running water is also a common element in a zen garden.

Water is considered a representation of purification and cleansing, and the constant flow of water in a zen garden symbolizes the flow of life.


Another natural element you can incorporate in your plantless rock garden is fire.

This does not necessarily mean physical fire, although fire is the traditional method of lighting a zen garden lantern.

Adding lanterns to your garden will illuminate your rock arrangement at night, and their lights will create a performance of shadows around your garden.

Evening illuminated hanging lantern lamp light on wooden pole post in Japanese garden with steps stairs and green forest foliage by railing background in Japan

Zen garden lanterns are included in or around the rock arrangement to represent the virtue of enlightenment. This could also provide light around your rock arrangement if that is your preference.

Traditional zen gardens usually include stone lanterns with other religious ornamentals to relay each element's representation to the admirer of the garden.

Because of this, it is essential to understand that some elements we can borrow from zen gardens have a deep meaning and are not advised to be used simply for the design.

Lanterns and lights can be incorporated into other elements of the zen garden. You can have lanterns fixed inside rocks or other natural materials for the garden.

Japanese style rock garden decorated in a luxury home for design and decoration in garden at Thailand.

As we mentioned before, the design is ultimately up to the preference of the garden's owner.

Although proper discretion is advised, we should not simply take elements from a zen garden without being aware of and respecting what it symbolizes.


For gardens created to contribute to the overall aesthetic value of a house, focal points are important to the arrangement.

In a garden without plants, you can add just about anything you want as a focal point of your rock garden.

Your plantless rock garden's focal point could be a large rock among significantly smaller rocks. It could also be a display of running water or an arrangement of illuminating lanterns along the patterned gravel.

You can also choose to include an ornament as the focal point of your garden. Below are some ornaments you can add to your rock garden without having plants.

  • Statues
  • Sculptures
  • Decorative pathways
  • Stone arrangements

Which Gravel Is Best For A Plantless Rock Garden?

The most commonly used gravel in a plantless rock garden is the Shirakawa-Suna gravel. Made of black mica, white feldspar, granite, and quartz, Shirakawa-Suna gravel is used in many zen gardens for its muted, calming color palette.

A closeup shot of pea gravel stones

Turkey grit and pea gravel are also good for rock gardens due to their small grain and muted colors.

Other gravel can also be used in a plantless rock garden, but the preferred size of the grain should be around 2mm.

To Wrap Up

You can create your plantless rock garden by taking inspiration from zen gardens. Zen gardens include many non-plant elements that can give character to your rock garden without using any plants.

This article discussed the simple process you can follow to build your plantless rock garden. We also discussed zen garden elements that can replace plants.

Make sure to choose the best arrangement for your rock garden so that you can enjoy its peaceful design for many years to come.

Made it to the end? Check out some of our other related posts!

30+ Zen Garden Ideas That Will Inspire You

22 Ideas For Landscaping With Moss Rocks [Inspirational Picture List]

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