Use rocks as landscape interest

As winter closes in, and trees and shrubs become barren, landscape vistas change. Good landscape design includes winter interest, such as the red twigs of dogwood, the waving flower stalks of ornamental grasses and the red berries of mountain ash, pyracantha, viburnum and holly. There are many ways to create charming winter scenes. For added visual interest during the dormant season, I like to use rocks.

River rocks, boulders, pea gravel, stones that are 1 inch, 2 inches or larger, granitic, volcanic or sedimentary rocks - it really doesn't matter. I like looking at rocks. My landscape is based in a sandy alluvial fan, and until a few years ago, it was devoid of boulders. So, I purchased truckloads of them and had them strategically placed throughout the yard. Some people, including my husband, thought spending money on rocks was ridiculous. He would rather have spent the money on parts for his race car. From a gardener's perspective, wouldn't you rather have rocks, really gorgeous, well-placed boulders, than car parts? However, my husband fully understands my fascination for the mineral side of things, and even collects rocks and brings them home to me. Some women receive cut flowers as evidence of love and high esteem. My dear spouse knows that I prefer rocks.

Boulders not only provide visual interest, but also provide tactile and structural interest. I have a flat, bench-like boulder where I sit to watch the sunset, the clouds blowing through or the snow on the mountains. Other interesting boulders and rocks frame a winding path leading to this resting spot. The eye is drawn to it, especially when the leaves have fallen.

Throughout the yard, boulders also are settled into berms, adding both beauty and function. They direct water flow and stabilize the soil in times of flooding. With unusual shapes and coloring of various minerals or lichens, they are also attractive. Pea gravel makes an eye-catching ground cover and sets off plants nicely.

Not only am I a visual person, I am a practical person. Weeds don't grow where boulders are. And, rocks and stones don't need water. They are the ultimate tool for water efficiency and conservation. In addition, ground squirrels can't dig through boulders. Stone walkways and patios last a long time and need little maintenance.

Stones, rocks and boulders come in many colors, shapes and sizes. So, as you contemplate improving your winter landscape, think rocks.

For more information on gardening, contact me, 887-2252 or, or your local University of Nevada Cooperative Extension office. Check out many useful horticulture publications at "Ask a Master Gardener" at

-- JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension Educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.


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