Rock gardens are uniquely beautiful landscape elements that are well suited for a variety of perennials. From low-growing evergreen shrubs to plants that produce delicate flowers atop slender stems, there are many great rock garden plants to consider. Wondering what to plant in your rock garden? Explore 25 of the best plants for rock gardens to discover your options. There are so many great choices that you may have trouble selecting just a few. That's okay. You can plant several kinds of rock garden flowers and shrubs to create a space that is uniquely yours.
Basket of gold (Aurinia saxatilis) grows well in dry, rocky soil that drains well, as long as it is positioned to receive at least six hours of sun most days. It can reach up to a foot tall and spread to a width of around 18 inches. It produces lovely yellow flowers in mid-spring. This plant is hardy in USDA Zones 3-7 and can sometimes survive summers as far south as Zone 10.
Bluebell (Campanula rotundifolia) grows to reach between four and 15 inches tall. This upright plant prefers partial shade and will even do okay in dappled or close to full shade. It prefers non-acidic soil that drains well. It produces dangling bell-shaped bluish-purple flowers on thin stems throughout the summer months and into fall. It typically grows to reach around a foot tall with a width of six inches to a foot. This plant is hardy in USDA Zones 3-9.
Carpathian bellflower (Campanula carpatica), also referred to as Tussock bellflower or Carpathian harebells, prefers well-draining soil paired with full sun to part shade. It produces bell-shaped flowers that face upright during summer. Its blooms may be blue, purple, or white. Carpathian bellflower can grow to stand between six inches and a foot tall, with an equivalent spread. This plant is hardy in USDA Zones 3-9.
Carpet bugle (Ajuga reptans) is a spreading ground cover that will reach between four and 10 inches in height. This herbaceous perennial is also referred to as carpetweed or bugleweed. It prefers full or partial shade and well-drained soil. Carpet bugle will produce blue or purple blooms during spring and early summer. This plant is hardy in USDA Zones 3-9.
Common bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), sometimes referred to as kinnikinick, prefers full or partial shade. It likes acidic soil that is gritty or sandy and that drains well. Common bearberry produces bell-shaped flowers in pink or white during spring. It can grow six to 12 inches tall and spread to between three and six feet wide. This plant is hardy in USDA Zones 2-7, making it a particularly excellent choice for northern rock gardens.
Creeping Baby's Breath
Creeping Baby's Breath (Gypsophila repens) is a dwarf version of baby's breath that is very well-suited for rock gardens. It prefers full sun and grows best in soil that drains well. This creeping plant tends to stay less than six inches tall and spreads to between six inches and a foot wide. It produces small white or blue flowers in late spring and early summer. It is hardy in USDA Zones 3-9.
Creeping speedwell (Veronica repens) is a terrific miniature rock garden plant, as it generally doesn't exceed two inches in height. Even though it is low to the ground, this plant has a spread of up to two feet. Creeping speedwell prefers to grow in partial shade and needs well-draining soil. It blooms in late spring and early summer, during which time it puts on a show of very small blue and white flowers. This plant is hardy in USDA Zones 6-9.
Golden flax (Linum flavum 'Compactum') is a bushy perennial that is well-suited for rock gardens that are situated in full sun and have soil that drains well. This dwarf plant starts producing bright yellow blooms in late spring and keeps on blooming all the way through summer. It typically stands between 10 and 16 inches tall with an equivalent spread. Golden flax is hardy in USDA Zones 5-9.
Hardy Ice Plant
Hardy Ice Plant (Delosperma cooperi) grows best in full sun. This compact succulent doesn't need much water, which is one of the reasons it works so well in rock gardens. Hardy ice plant is a short plant--it doesn't grow taller than two inches. It has a creeping habit and can spread up to 18 inches wide. It produces bright pink blooms in late spring and summer. This plant is hardy in USDA Zones 5-9.
Hen and Chicks
Hen and chicks (Sempervivum spp.) is an ideal plant for rock gardens in dry climates, as long as they get plenty of sunlight. These tiny succulents need full sun and thrive in dry, gravelly soil. They can grow to reach between one and six inches tall, and their rosette-shaped evergreen foliage can spread to up to 18 inches wide. They produce pink or red blooms from mid-summer until early fall. This plant is hardy in USDA Zones 3-8.
Garden juniper (Juniperus procumbens) is a miniature shrub that is often grown in rock gardens, largely due to its compact size and the fact that it's very low maintenance. Garden juniper ranges from six inches to one-foot tall. It can spread up to six inches wide. This dwarf shrub does not bloom, but it is evergreen, so it provides color in every season. Garden juniper is hardy in USDA Zones 4-9.
Lobed tickseed (Coreopsis auriculata), also referred to as mouse-eared tickseed or dwarf tickseed, is a stoloniferous perennial, which means that it's the type of plant that puts out runners from above-ground horizontal stems (like strawberries). It grows to be between six and nine inches high and can spread up to two feet wide. Lobed tickseed produces bright yellow daisy-like flowers during spring and summer. It is hardy in USDA Zones 4-9.
Maiden pink (Dianthus deltoides) grows in any kind of alkaline or neutral soil that drains well as long as it receives full sun. This plant typically stands between six inches and a foot tall and has a spread ranging from one to two feet. It produces lovely bright pink flowers from late spring all the way through the summer months. It is hardy in USDA Zones 4-10.
Moss phlox (Phlox subulata), also called creeping phlox or mountain phlox, will grow in any kind of soil that drains well. It thrives in full sun in most areas, though it prefers dappled shade in places that have really hot summers. It produces fragrant flowers in a variety of colors throughout most of the spring. Bloom colors include pink, purple, red, or white. This plant is hardy in USDA Zones 3-9.
Mother of Thyme
Mother of thyme (Thymus praecox articus) is a short, creeping variety of thyme, so it provides a great way to extend your herb garden into your rock garden. Mother of thyme likes to be planted in sandy soil that drains well, and it needs full sun. This plant typically doesn't exceed three inches in height, but it has a spread of up to 18 inches. It produces highly fragrant blooms purple or pink blooms during late spring and summer. This small aromatic herb is hardy in USDA Zones 4-8.
Mountain alyssum (Alyssum montanum) grows best in full sun, but it will also tolerate a bit of light shade. This groundcover plant has evergreen foliage and grows best in dry rocky soil, where it typically grows to between four and ten inches tall. Mountain alyssum produces bright yellow flowers during spring. It is hardy in USDA Zones 3-9.
Pasque flower (Pulsatilla vulgaris) prefers well-drained soil, and it grows well in full sun or partial shade. This herbaceous perennial grows to reach between six inches and one foot in height with a spread of approximately one foot wide. Pasque flower blooms in early spring with flowers that can be blue, purple, red, or white. This plant is hardy in USDA Zones 4-8.
Prostrate rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis 'Prostratus'), also called creeping rosemary, is a great plant to add to your full sun rock garden. This herb grows very well in dry conditions, including in sandy or rocky soil. Prostrate rosemary is a low-growing variety, usually staying around one foot in height. It has a creeping growing pattern and can spread up to two feet. It produces lovely and fragrant purple blooms from mid-spring through summer. This plant is hardy in USDA Zones 8-11.
Purple Gem Rockcress
Purple gem rockcress (Aubrieta deltoidea) is a succulent that is ideally suited for rock gardens. Not only is it drought resistant, but it will also grow in full sun or part shade in just about any kind of soil. It stays between four and nine inches tall and spreads as much as two feet wide. This plant produces purple blooms from mid-spring through early summer. Purple gem rockcress is hardy in USDA Zones 4-9.
Pygmy iris (Iris x pumila) is an interesting choice for a rock garden. It is a dwarf iris variety that stays under a foot tall; some cultivars tend to stay between four and eight inches tall. Pygmy irises come in a wide variety of colors, including purple, red, white, and yellow. This plant blooms in spring or early summer. It is hardy in USDA Zones 4-8.
Rock soapwort (Saponaria ocymoides) will grow in any kind of well-draining soil as long as it has full sun. It doesn't even need much water. This plant grows to be six to nine inches tall and has a spread of between one and two feet. Rock soapwort produces lovely light pink blooms from late spring until late summer. This plant is hardy in USDA Zones 2-9.
Sea pink (Armeria maritime), also referred to as sea thrift or thrift, prefers full sun and dry soil that drains well. It typically grows to a height of four inches and spreads in clusters that reach upwards of a foot wide. It produces small flowers in pink or white in late spring and early summer. Sea pink is hardy in USDA Zones 4-8.
Snow-in-summer (Cerastium tomentosum) is an herbaceous plant that grows best with full sun and in sandy, dry soil. It is a matting plant that can be as short as six inches or as tall as a foot. Snow-in-summer has a spread of between six and 18 inches. It produces cheerful daisy-like white blooms during the summer months. It is hardy in USDA Zones 3-7.
Snowcap rockcress (Arabis alpina) prefers full or sun or partial shade and well-drained soil. This plant grows to reach between eight and 10 inches in height with a spread of around six inches. Snowcap rockcress profusely produces gorgeous white blooms during April and May. This plant is hardy in USDA Zones 4-9.
Stonecrop (Sedum spp.) plants are great choices for rock garden designs because they like dry soil and can tolerate conditions from extreme heat (even in the dessert) to extreme cold. They don't like humidity, but other than that, they will grow just about everywhere. There are hundreds of stonecrop varieties, each blooming at various times during summer and fall. Stonecrop is hardy in USDA Zones 3-11, though some varieties are not hardy across that full range.
Choosing Plants for a Rock Garden
The sky is the limit when you're selecting plants for a rock garden. When choosing shrubs and flowers for a rock garden, be sure to stick with selections that are well suited for your climate and the amount of sun they'll get where you plan to place them. Beyond that, seek out low-growing, low-maintenance plants that you won't need to water frequently and that will look stunning growing amidst rocks. In addition to the plants listed above, consider other groundcover plants or plants that thrive in sandy soil. Before long, your outdoor living space will include a beautiful and nearly maintenance-free rock garden filled with flowers and greenery.