Rocks for Planting Succulents

Best Rocks for Succulents

From the standpoint of landscape design, a garden featuring succulents can never have too many rocks. Rocks add rusticity to plantings of succulents, making them look just as you would see them in nature. All kinds of rocks can find their way into the succulent garden, but choosing the best rocks for planting succulents is always driven by your terrain and our choice of plant.

Why Use Rocks in Your Succulent Garden?

Rocks of all sizes—from pebbles and cobbles to boulders you have brought into your garden with a crane—add texture to your terrain. They create vignettes and focal points. They cover bare ground so your garden achieves a finished look.

Massive, flat rocks do double duty as benches when they are set alongside garden pathways and near patios. If you have chosen your property specifically for your succulent garden, chances are that you already have large, flat rocks. If you did not, you can always find dealers who deliver the huge flat rocks that make a big difference in the feel of your garden.

Many gardeners use rocks and boulders found in their immediate vicinity. Others use ornamental rocks, like Arizona sandstone with its orange-and-cream curls. 

It’s always OK to use rocks to make a statement. Rocks with delicate features like gray and silver veins can be used to complement the colors of succulents large and small. But don’t make a succulent garden that is flat as a pancake featuring tall cacti separated by a vast expanse of white gravel, unless you want to emulate the worst garden design trends of the 1960s.

What Do You Do If You Know You Want Large Rocks But You Don’t Know Where to Put Them?

Large rocks can be used to enhance your home’s curb appeal. If you can’t decide where to put large rocks in your front yard design, look at the outline of your house and try to complement it 

For example, if your house has a porch or a gable that is visible from the street, place your rocks as if you were painting a landscape. Put your largest rocks to the left, and then place successively smaller rocks going to the right. 

Make your largest rocks look like they have been there forever. How do you do that? Remember this simple rule:

Never, ever let the underside of a big rock show.

Covering the base of big rocks with smaller rocks does more than appeal to the sense of the aesthetic. It also assures visitors to your that the large rocks and boulders you place in your succulent garden are stable. They aren’t going to tip over. They are safe and secure, so it’s alright to inspect the garden more closely.

Rocks Enhance the Health of Your Succulent Plants

Rocks around succulents. Rocks for Planting Succulents
Succulents in rocks

Related: Best States for Gardening

Rocks don’t just make your succulent garden beautiful. They also help to keep your succulents healthy.

In your garden as in nature, rocks keep the crowns of your succulent plants above the soil line. They keep the crown dry, even in excessively rainy weather. Rocks keep splashing mud and debris off their leaves, and create pockets of moisture and warmth in the soil where your succulents can put down roots. Small coarse rocks added to the mix ensure that the roots of your succulents drain quickly and never suffer from excessive moisture. And small rocks can be exactly what you need to create a vitality and a “feel” in your garden that cannot be achieved with your plants and larger rocks alone.

Small Rocks for Succulents

No succulent garden is complete without small rocks for a very basic horticultural reason: small rocks increase drainage.

Succulents aren’t fussy about soil, but they can’t survive without drainage. Small rocks can make a critical difference in protecting their roots from decay,

Beyond the health and even the survival of your succulents, small rocks can also make a big difference in setting your aesthetic. There is also a fundamental design principle for using small rocks for succulents:

Small rocks decorate small gardens of succulents.

How do you make small rocks work in your succulent garden?

Make Room for Small Rocks for Your Succulents

Site preparation is the first step in planting any garden, including a succulent garden. You need to clear the area for your small succulent garden of any grass, weeds, or invasive plans. You want to be sure to dig up any tubers, roots, or rhizomes that could send up shoots after your small succulent garden has been planted.

Lay out the perimeter of your garden with rocks that are large enough to stay in place but small enough not to become attractions of their own. These rocks should not be larger than 12 inches (30 cm) in any dimension.  Then fill in the interior of your garden with your least attractive small rocks and stones. These rocks will act as a base layer that ensures drainage for your succulents and any plants you place around them. It also helps to hold your succulents in place during wind and rain.

Next, fill in your small succulent garden with sandy, well-draining soil. It’s OK to make your own cactus planting mix from sand, perlite, and minerals. The more minerals, the more nutrition your succulents will receive. Don’t use clay or any potting mix that is high in compost or organic matter.

Lay down any big stones before you add the next layer of rocks. It is OK for large stones to poke up over the soil line, but they should not be set down on loose rock.

Add a Top Layer of Small Rocks for Your Succulents

Colorful succulents in rocks
Best Rocks for Succulents
Decorative rocks and succulents

Now it is time to add a second course of stones. Avoid laying down a circle of rocks inside the outside circle of rocks. You want to draw attention to your plants, not to your rocks. Avoid putting down the top layer of small rocks in a crisscross pattern, too.

This is the time to place your prettiest rocks. But knowing which small rocks will look best depends on both their proportionality to your succulent plants and color combinations.

Choose the Succulents You Want to Plant

Now it is time to match your plants to the mood you want to create with your succulent garden.

Maybe you want a tiny space in front of a bench or deck chair where you can enjoy your plants while you sip your morning coffee. Intimate areas lend themselves to jewel-like sedums and frilly echeverias.

Or maybe you want a small garden of large succulents to frame the rest of your garden. You can use your small space for growing large plants, like aloes, agaves, and yuccas, along with their companion plants, such as ornamental grasses.

Choose the size of succulent you want and then take a closer look at its colors to add a few smaller rocks on top of the first two layers to complete your design.

Here are some considerations for your choices.

  • Make your small succulent garden sparkle with tumbled glass. Or place a mirror on the ground in your succulent garden and top dress it with a criva, the size of peppercorns, to give the illusion of an oasis. Or scatter the top layer of your succulent bed with florist’s marbles.
  • Use dwarf versions of aloe, euphorbia, sansevieria, opuntia, and ocotillo to emulate a larger garden planting.
  • Consider whether the succulents you want to plant hold their color no matter what the weather conditions. Blue senecios, for example, retain their blue foliage regardless of drought or cold. The top-dressing for their bed only needs to complement their blue leaves. Aloes, crassulas, and sedums, on the other hand, change from green to rose, red, and orange when they are stressed, and need a rocky ground cover that complements all of their potential foliage colors.
  • Combine small rocks and small succulents to create a fantasy scene. Use the kalanchoe variety “Chocolate Soldier” as a “tree.” Create a “hedge” from dark-green crassula and bright yellow sedum and dymondia.
  • Integrate decorative pots into your landscape of small succulents. Use them for cuttings and to display your tiniest succulents safely in your garden.

What kinds of small rocks should you buy for your succulent garden? Gardening gurus agree that these seven kinds of rocks work in almost any situation.

  • Baja Cresta Boulders. These chunks of recently created rock sport intense grays with streaks of gold and wine. They will be at least a foot (30 cm) across, and weigh 165 pounds per cubic foot (2640 kg per cubic meter).
  • Baja Cresta Rubble. These smaller pieces of Baja Cresta Boulders show streaks of red, rust, and maroon.
  • Desert Gold 3/8″ Crushed Rock. This craggy gray rock flashes hints of gold and silver. It is sometimes identified as “decomposed granite.”
  • Gambler’s Gold 3/4″ Crushed Rock. Crushed from larger stones, gambler’s gold has angular surfaces that lock it into place in your succulent garden display. It reflects gold at noon and pink around sunset.
  • Gold Quartzite Boulders. These huge landscape rocks look like genuine gold, especially in bright sunlight. They come in all shapes and sizes.
  • Mexican Beach Pebbles. These grayish rocks collected on the Pacific coast of Mexico are naturally round due to years of wear. They are extremely versatile in all kinds of landscape applications.
  • Red Lava 3/4″ Crushed Rock. Red lava rock absorbs heat during the day and releases it at night. It is also a very effective weed suppressant. 

Decorative Rocks for Succulents

Rocks for Planting Succulents
Beautiful succulents with rocks

Decorative rocks for succulents are usually small rocks. Very small rocks, in fact, about the size of a pearl. These decorative best rocks for succulents bring out the colors in succulents in pots, while performing many of the same functions as small rocks do in in-ground displays.

Why use decorative rocks with your potted succulents?

First, they help to hold the potting soil in place for those rare occasions you water your plants. The sandier your potting mix, the more your succulent benefits for a top dressing of decorative rocks.

Additionally, decorative rocks bring out the colors in the succulents they surround. Decorative rocks can capture the tones of different succulents in the same pot, bringing all their colors together.

A top dressing of decorative rocks makes your display look more finished. It enhances your floral design. You may not want to follow the common advice to add moss to your designs (although moss works well with seaside succulents), but you will want to explore all the color combinations you can for your plants and decorative rocks, like these:

  • Top dress Crassula marnieriana with pink and gray pea gravel.
  • Bring out the subtle blues of ghost plants with purple decorative rocks.
  • Accent the subtle tones of echeveria with either pure white or dark brown decorative rocks.

No one should just dump decorative rocks around a potted succulent. You will be much happier with the results if you take the time to place your decorative rocks on top of the soil in the pot with tweezers. For really small spaces, you will need a bead scoop. But what should you do when you buy an arrangement of succulents with the decorative rocks glued on top?

What to Do When Succulents Come with Decorative Rocks Glued in Place

It is a common practice among florists to glue decorative rocks for arrangements of succulents in place before shipping them or sending them out for delivery.

Sometimes the glues are water soluble and will break down the next time you water your plants. Sometimes they are not.

Don’t break up the glue if you feel confident you can get water to the roots of your plant. But do break up the glue if you see water puddling when it’s time to give your plants a drink. Loosen up some areas to let water flow down to the roots, and to give roots room to expand upward as your plant grows.

Another reason to break up glue is air flow. When a top layer of decorative rock is glued on tight, air can’t get in and out. That means that any moisture already in the pot is trapped, except for transpiration through the plant’s leaves. There isn’t a lot of transpiration because your plants are, after all, succulents. Waterlogging is the enemy of all succulents.