4 Tips on Landscaping with Rocks

Here are a few guidelines you’ll want to consider to make your garden look natural

When it comes to landscaping with rocks here are four design suggestions to make your project work.

Bigger is Better

The first is that bigger is better. Yeah, I know it ‘s a cliche but the rule of thumb in my old landscaping when I built a rock garden was that if I could pick it up easily — it was too small. If I had to use my tractor, it was getting to the right size.

What you ‘ll find is that a lot of small rocks here and there simply look “busy”. Take a look at any pro-landscapes and you’ll see they seldom (if ever) use small rocks.

More is Less

This falls into the rule above because when we ‘re landscaping with rocks we use fewer and larger stones than smaller and more.

Again, if you can pick them up easily — they won ‘t make a statement in the garden but rather just add a sense of too-much

landscaping with rocks - this is all man made
Yes, it’s man-made. Image by author

Naturalized Landscaping With Rocks

One of the reasons folks use rocks in the landscape is to make the garden look “more natural”. Take a look at any natural area and the first thing you‘ll see is the small rocks are almost always covered over with either soil or vegetation.

They seldom just “sit there” on the surface. And they seldom just sit there in an area that‘s not an alpine garden.

What you see are the larger rocks — the ones you can ‘t carry.


There are “rocks” and there are “rocks”. If you ‘re going to have rocks in your garden — do you want them to look natural or do you want them to look interesting and sculptural?

This is a serious question because a lot of rocks scattered here and there looks busy and un-natural. (Hint: if you really have to use a lot of smaller stones, then put them very close together (as in touching) so they look more natural but don’t scatter them randomly through the garden.

A single rock — an interesting shaped or colored rock — can be a sculptural element and stands by itself.

This speaks to the notion of garden design — is the design to be sculptural or is to be natural looking.

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Bottom line On Landscaping With Rocks:

Assuming we’re not landscaping with rocks to create an alpine garden — the rules of thumb are to use single stones that are “interesting” or multiple large stones that add a landscaping value and look natural.

I note that a single large rock dumped into the middle of a front yard doesn’t look natural nor sculptural. It simply looks lonely surrounded by it‘s obligatory bed of annuals and a few evergreens.

Check out the other garden solutions on my Amazon ebook list here.

How To Understand a Landscaping Contract To Save Money

There are 3 important things in a landscaping contract (and as a consumer you really want one of these if there is major work being done).

  • First – those signing must have the ability to enter into a contract. In other words, you have to own the house or have the right to make modifications, you have to be of legal age etc.
  • Second: There will be a “consideration” – this is where the landscaper agrees to do certain kinds of work for a consideration – you paying them.
  • Third : Lawyers call it a “meeting of the minds” – a written contract about what will be done and not done and the associated costs involved.
Photo by Scott Graham on Unsplash

Note: This article should not in any way be considered legal advice. For any questions on this, please see your personal lawyer as state and provincial laws differ in many ways. This article is a general guideline only.

Why a Landscaping Contract?

The hard reality is that if a landscaper has been burned by customers in the past (an it only takes one or two and serious contractors quickly smarten up and expect contracts) then you can expect a contract. This should protect you both in the case of work that’s not done to satisfaction.

What You’re Likely To See?

Non-refundable deposits.

In some cases, a client will take on a landscaper, the landscaper will do a great deal of preliminary work and invest time and resources in the work before the actual landscaping will start.

But then, the client decides not to go forward and the landscaper is left holding the bag (and plants ordered and paid for etc).

So expect to make a commitment on this.

Payment Terms

Your landscaper will likely want a series of cheques as the project progresses and agreed on timelines are met and accomplished.

It is up to both parties to agree on those steps and how they are to be measured.

The larger the landscaping contract, the more important this provision will turn out to be.

Novice gardeners may find themselves surprised at how this works but landscapers will make sizeable investments in plants, time and resources to get a project underway and they usually want to make sure payments are coming in on time to fund the work.

Always get a hold-back amount (often 5-10%) of the landscaping contract until all work is done to your satisfaction no matter how much is being paid out during the work period.


  • A deposit of 20% is common on landscaping contracts.
  • Second payments: Some landscapers ask for another 50% on starting the project. This is negotiable.
  • Final payment: this is usually within 15 days of completion but sometimes 30 days.

Changes to the Design

This is a major problem for landscapers and a source of frustration for many clients. Often in the middle of a project, the client will say, “Don’t do that – do this instead”. And not realize the extra cost involved in “this” compared to “that”.

Some landscapers work this out on the fly but don’t be surprised to see a “change order” section of the landscaping contract that deals with the how and what of changes to the original order.

Many landscapers will also charge an administration fee for every change you make during the work as these changes cost them money to do. (You change your mind about how much brickwork you need and the landscaper now has too much brick or too many trees or not enough trees and has to absorb more shipping charges)

These change orders are important and can add up to significant numbers in a surprisingly short amount of time.

Warranties and Guarantees In Your Landscaping Contract

You want them! On both plants – and hardscape.

Sometimes the landscaper will balk at a full plant guarantee because they have no control over how (or if) you water or feed your plants. Negotiate. Most landscapers will guarantee woody plants for a year- but not perennials.

There will often be a clause that if the plant died from neglect or mismanagement (you whipper snip the base of a tree) the landscaper will not be responsible for replacement (and rightly so in my mind – you kill the tree in some way, it should be your problem not somebody else’)

One thing to have clear is who pays for installing the replacement plants?

Have this spelled out in the contract to avoid misunderstanding.

Hardscape warranties are a little harder to negotiate on your behalf. Problems with hardscape (brickwork) etc take a few years to develop as ground settles and drainage issues surface (or not).

Phone around to other landscapers in your area to discover the average length of time they offer. Try to get your landscaper to go beyond this number if possible but you may simply settle for the area average (your landscaper will be working to the competitors numbers)


There will be legal language relating to liens the landscaper will apply if you don’t pay or if there are problems. This will vary from legal area to other areas and the only way to know if they are correct is to get a legal opinion.


The contract should spell out clearly who is to get the necessary permits.

Without this, you could find yourself in a pile of trouble right away. Small projects aren’t usually a problem (fill out a single form – pay a charge – move forward) but larger projects that involve construction or water/electricity etc might involve drawings and code work and a ton of paperwork.

Get it spelled out who’s responsible.


Here’s a really important but little understood issue. Somebody has to mark the utility lines if they’re buried.

Somebody has to mark sewer and electrical lines if there’s to be any digging,

Mess with those and you’re into big bucks as you’ll be responsible for any damages caused by lost power or sewage flooding!

Spell it out in the contract who is going to do this and who is responsible for any damages.

Get other practical landscaping tips here.


There is often legalese at the bottom of a landscaping contract that gives the landscaper rights to collect or not lose rights. Your lawyer will advise what this means.

Again, this article is not legal advice and any concerns you have should be dealt with by a lawyer in your area.

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