Landscape dry creek bed

Create the illusion of a once-bubbling stream without the fuss. A dry creek bed adds interest and texture to areas of your landscape where plants have difficulty thriving. It mimics the movement of water and how it meanders its way around and over stones of varying sizes.

A dry creek bed is more than simply a ditch with rocks in it. Whether you are trying to divert drainage or stop erosion, this landscape feature is easier to build than it looks.

Contents

Build a Dry Creek Bed:

  1. Look for channels where water flows after a rain. Mark the natural flow with landscaping paint to shape out the creek bed. Design with curves and vary the width for a realistic look.
  2. Dig a trench along the markings varying in depth up to 8”. Save the soil that you remove to build up the sides of the creek bed.
  3. Tamp the ground firm to create a flat surface with angled sides.
  4. Line the inside of the creek bed with landscaping fabric to prevent weeds.
  5. Cover the entire bed with ½” of crushed pea gravel. The gravel’s texture stops erosion.
  6. Lay the largest rocks first, placing them at the bends of curves and randomly along the outer lines of the creek bed.
  7. Fill in the rest of the bed with a mix of different sized smooth stones.
  8. Plant low-growing and drought-tolerant plants along the sides of the creek bed to soften the borders.

Product Checklist:

  • Landscape paint
  • Shovel
  • Tamper
  • Landscape fabric
  • Pea gravel
  • River rocks of varying sizes and shades
  • Wheelbarrow
  • Low-growing and drought-tolerant plants

A Beautiful Way to Catch Runoff: How to Build a Dry Stream

There are plenty of great ways to incorporate water into the garden, whether with natural streams and brooks or (wo)man-made ponds and fountains. But what about a design that implies the idea of water, but doesn’t require any maintenance? A dry stream is a landscaping design that looks like a decorative garden feature, even though it is also a practical solution to garden runoff.

Author and award-winning landscape designer Jan Johnsen joins us to explain what a dry stream is, why it’s a good addition to the garden, and how to build one of your own from her new book The Spirit of Stone: 101 Practical & Creative Stonescaping Ideas for Your Garden.

By Jan Johnsen

Dry streams are a unique, sustainable way to incorporate natural rock in a garden and address poor drainage issues. Made to look like a babbling brook, they do not normally contain water, but instead channel and collect rainwater, allowing it to percolate into the ground slowly. They are essentially shallow depressions in the earth designed to slow and capture runoff.

I first saw dry streams in Japan decades ago and fell in love with them. They follow the model of a watercourse filled with gravel and stones, and may have plants along the banks.

Dry streams are a great solution wherever there is a need for on-site rainwater drainage. They can be placed at the base of a slope, in a low spot that puddles occasionally, or up a small rise to intercept rainwater as it flows downhill. Since dry streams are a small-scale version of a real-life landscape feature, they look wonderful in naturalistic gardens. Yet, they also fit in with a variety of landscapes, rural or urban, dry or wet.

I have created several dry streams. Each one is slightly different, depending on the area, the rocks used, and the conditions. But the common element in all of them is that they are filled with an 8-12” base layer of coarse gravel wrapped in filter fabric. The gravel absorbs excess rainwater.

Atop the gravel, I place a thin layer of decorative rounded river stone to create a more finished look.How to Create a Dry Stream

It is not too difficult to create a dry stream. You need a sufficient number of fairly large-sized rocks (about 12-18” long), a roll of filter fabric, and gravel to fill in the stream.

First, lay out a slightly curving trench and widen it at certain sections. The shape and alignment of a dry stream is important in making it look natural.

Think of how water moves through a landscape. Streams in nature are not straight channels, they meander back and forth. Make your stream a curving line and be sure to include a wider section where the invisible water “pools.” This pool provides a place where you can set larger rocks and maybe an eye-catching plant. The width of the trench should vary. You can make part of it as narrow as 16” wide (before placing rocks) and other sections as wide as you want. Excavate the trench at least 10-14” deep (or more, if it is meant to act as a deep catch basin).

Place the soil from the excavated area on the sides of the stream. I place more soil on the far side of the stream to create a higher plant bed there. This creates interest and works especially well with plants that drape over rocks because they will not grow into the stream bed.

Line the entire trench with filter fabric (not plastic!) and extend it beyond the sides. Set large-sized rocks along the stream bank atop the filter fabric. The rocks will be partially covered by the gravel and stone, so there is no need to worry about how their bases look. You can have the stones protrude higher than the outside ground level or plant bed. It depends on the look you want to create. Jutting rocks have a rugged appearance and create a dynamic look, especially in modern settings. Feel free to experiment with the border stones as you place them. There is no incorrect way of doing it!

After they are placed, backfill behind the rocks with good quality soil. The soil may be brought up close to the top of the rocks that border the dry stream, if you want. The soil should not be too clayey and be able to sustain healthy plants or lawn.

Fill the trench with 1/4-1/2” gravel. In very wet situations, add a few inches of gravel, install a 4”-diameter subsurface pipe atop this layer of gravel and connect to an underground catch basin. Then fill the trench almost to the top of the stream. Atop the gravel, carefully install a single layer of rounded pebbles of your choice. The stones contrast beautifully with the rocks on both sides of the stream. You can use rocks of various sizes as a topper as well.

About the Author

Jan Johnsen is a highly regarded landscape designer, author, and teacher with a passion for plants and beautiful gardens. In her first book, Heaven is a Garden: Designing Serene Outdoor Spaces for Inspiration and Reflection, she draws on ancient traditions and modern trends to show how to make a ‘feel good’ garden. An advocate of the transformational power of Nature upon our well-being, Jan is an award-winning instructor at the New York Botanical Garden and writes the popular blog Serenity in the Garden. She is a co-principal of the design/build firm Johnsen Landscapes & Pools in Westchester County, New York.

Trained in landscape architecture, planning, and professional horticulture, Jan has worked in the landscape profession in Japan, Hawaii, and Kenya, among other places. For seven years she taught in the landscape design program at Columbia University and now speaks around the country. Her firm received a merit award in 2014 from the Association of Professional Landscape Designers (APLD). Her landscapes have appeared in Garden Design, This Old House, Landscape Architecture, East Coast Home and Design and many books.

In The Spirit of Stone, Jan presents a richly photographed guide to the many creative ways that durable stone and gravel can be used in a garden. The chapters address rock gardens, walls, stone accents,walks and more. There is a chapter on sustainable stone that shows how to capitalize on stone’s functional qualities in a beautiful way. The final chapter highlights plants and stones together, natural companions in a garden.

More Posts You Might Like:

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  • The Many Garden Design Aesthetics of the Pacific Northwest
  • Edible Edges: Landscaping that’s Good Enough to Eat!
  • Visionary Landscapes: Finding Balance in the Gardens of Hoichi Kurisu

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As an avid ,do-it-myselfer, I tend to look at things and an immediately think, “I can do that.” Not everyone works that way and prefer to hire a professional to complete tasks around their house like gardening or constructing a display based on some dry creek bed ideas. But if you’re anything like me, you can take a picture on Pinterest and not only copy it but make it better. Sometimes all we need is a little inspiration and this list of dry creek bed landscaping images is sure to succeed. Have a look-see and start planning your dry river bed landscaping ideas for this weekend.

Table of Contents

Backyard Haven

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For the go-getter in all of us, this dry creek bed landscaping idea covers the whole darn yard. Everything from rock beds, mulch mounds, gravel pits, and even a cute bridge to join two areas, this idea is certainly a big project but definitely doable.

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A Lush Bed of Rocks and Plants

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This dry creek bed design is a lot of lusciousness in a small area and shows how, with a bit of creativity, you can turn a narrow outdoor space into an oasis. A simple rock path lined with larger stones and thick greenery lead the way to a quaint seating area where you can enjoy your hard work with a drink in hand.

Easy, Yet Intriguing Japanese Style

This dry creek landscaping idea is a good one for first-time do-it-yourselfers. It’s extremely easy and only requires two main things: flat rocks and a bit of time. Once you’ve cleared the creek area you wish to fill with rocks and lined it with fabric, turn the flat stones on their sides and begin to fill the space in a line form. Eventually, the creek is filled and you have a visually stunning outdoor feature.

A Simple Stack

It really doesn’t get any easy than this. Gather up a collection of large, jagged stones and place them stacked underneath or in front of one of the eaves trough drains around your house. It’ll filter the water coming down and help guide it away from your house with style.

Stunning Stone Feature

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If some of the previous images are just too easy for your adventurous tastes, then try this one on for size. A heavily involved DIY dry creek bed landscaping idea, this one requires some land manipulation to create the slope of the bed around the seating area. Carefully plan this one out.

A More Natural Bed

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This landscaping idea is best pulled off in a larger area. If you have a big, empty backyard or some land you can use, then by all means, have at it. By using plants that are commonly found in nature rather than from a nursery, you can achieve this nature-inspired dry creek bed. Take it one step further and use plants that are native to your environment.

Dry Creek Bed with a Fountain

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Turning your backyard into a rock garden oasis is even better when you have a cool rock fountain. Plan and design your dry creek river and then plant a fountain, front, and center. An outdoor fountain creates a more serene outdoor environment, and they’re pretty easy to install.

An Easy Stone Path

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This idea is really neat because it’s a dry creek bed which doubles as a walking path. By making the walkway using stones like the one shown in the image, you are creating the perfect place for water to gather and filter into the ground. Lining the sides with similar rocks finishes it off and allows you to plant some flower beds.

Slanted Dry River Bed

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By designing and forming your dry river bed on a slant such as this, you make the gorgeous feature visible from just about anywhere in the outdoor area. And if you’re going to put in the hard work of creating a beauty like this one you may as well show it off.

Rainy Climate? No Problem!

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If you’re one of those people who live in a wet or super rainy climate (usually coastal areas) then you most likely deal with a heavy burst of water coming down through your eavestrough. View this as an opportunity to create a gorgeous dry creek bed and a self-sufficient pond such as this.

A Contrast of Stones

Creating visual interest is simple and easy to pull off when you use two strikingly different stone, both in shape as well as color. In this image, you can see how they lined the bed with lush plants, filled the bottom with small, dark stones and then placed large, light colored and jagged rocks throughout.

Add Some Flare

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As if dry rock creek landscaping beds weren’t cool enough, try adding some other unique visual flare like colored glass balls. They give your garden a touch of character and float around when the bed fills up with water.

Adding Color to Your Dry Creek Bed

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This image shows how you can add your own personal tastes with some colored stones or glass. Border the bed with stones or brick and then fill with plants. Leave room to add a simple line of colored stones and/or glass like the ones shown in the picture. The options are endless for colors, so have fun!

Simple is Sometimes Better

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This dry creek bed landscaping idea shows how you can use simple stones to create a beautiful garden feature. The rocks don’t seem like much, but they give contrast to the lush plants that line the bed and also help drain any rainfall away from the property.

Tailored Stone Path

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This image shows an immaculate dry creek idea. A path is created with stones and flat rocks are nestled along the road to create a simple path. Similar rocks are used to create a barrier that separates the path from the plant bed. Super cool, easy to do, and can work on a large or small scale.

Mulch, Rocks, and a Bridge!

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This images showcase some do-it-yourselfers in action and proves just how easy these dry creek bed landscaping ideas can be. Here we see three main components: dark mulch, light stones, and a neat little bridge to add some effect. All this idea needs are some plants and flowers.

Garden Balls!

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Nope, not the kind of ball that requires you to dress up and dance, but you could definitely dance around in your garden if it looked like this. The unique spheres are created with concrete and peat moss and then placed throughout for a super cool feature that will set you aside from the neighbors.

Simple, But Effective!

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For those who are easily overwhelmed by the complexity of a project, this idea helps ease your mind. You can see just how easy it really is, it just takes some elbow grease a bit of spare time. Plan everything out first and then dig in!

Put a Little Pep in Your Step

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Here you can see how easy it is to add a teeny bit of character by simply adding a bridge to break up the stone pathway. Line your creek with small rocks, nestle in the flat walking stones, and then find the perfect spot to stick the bridge. Easy Peasy!

A Thin Line of Rocks

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Here is a great example of how you can do so much with so little. Tend to your garden, liven it up with some colorful plants and lush trees, and dig a narrow trench to fill with rocks for your dry creek river. Simple, effective, and unique.

Dry Creek Patio

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Go from super simple to really involved with this dry creek river idea. The rock placements form a partial moat around the patio seating area and add visual interest to the outdoor environment. You could really liven up your backyard or ground level patio with this one.

A Striking Display

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If you’ve got the space to do it, then this idea would be stunning in your backyard. The striking difference between the dark mulch and the nearly white rocks is gorgeous against the vibrant green plants. Although it looks like this person has carefully placed each individual pebble lengthways, you could probably save some time and just fill the space with round pebbles.

Garden Friends

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A dry creek bed landscaping idea doesn’t have to be limited to rocks, mulch, and plants. Have some fun and add a bit of character with little gnomes, frogs, or even a few metal fish like in this one idea.

More Garden Friends!

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Take the whole idea of adding little friends to your garden or dry rock bed and kick it up a notch. Instead of planting trees and flowers rights in the ground, consider taking the time to build custom flower beds and tree planters. Super cool and fun.

A Mesmerizing Pattern

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Here’s another really awesome example of how you can do a lot with very little, all you need are some rocks and a bit of imagination. By using different shapes and sizes, you can create beautiful designs in your dry creek bed rather than just filling the space with stones. It may take a bit of time, but it’s definitely worth it.

Break It Up

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The line where your lawn meets the fence can be used as the perfect spot for a dry creek bed. Plan it out, dig the area, and then begin filling it with stones, rocks, and plants. You could even create a cute little rock bridge like the one shown here. It’s a great way to use an area otherwise untouched and add some visual interest to your backyard.

Line The Perimeter

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Go nuts and surround your whole house with a cool dry creek river. Why not, right? It’s a great way to make help filter rainwater away from your property. Plus, you’ll look cooler than the neighbors.

Drift Away

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After carefully plotting out your dry creek river and spending hours assembling it in your yard, you step back and ask yourself, “What’s missing?”. Well, it could be some driftwood, just sayin’. Adding a soft texture life driftwood can really warm up the stone feature and add some contrast in color, too. Plus, driftwood is already acclimated to the outdoors.

Divide and Conquer

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If you have a massive backyard and absolutely no idea what to do with it, then consider dividing the area with a dry creek river. One side could be grassy yard, the other a ground level patio, both divided by a really awesome stone feature. Ta da!

Underneath it All

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Let’s take a step back and assume that you’ve never done a dry creek river before. What’s underneath it? Where do you start? Well, this gives you a pretty good idea. After planning out the placement of the river, dig the trench and line it with some landscape fabric or pond liner.

Design and Deflect

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This is a great way to guide the rainfall away from your house and even away from your driveway. Find the natural flow of water and dig the trench to deflect away, but still close enough to enjoy the visual curb appeal it gives to your home.

Stack – n – Slope

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This is a really cool and also easy way of doing a dry creek bed. All you need are some large, flat rocks and some smaller round ones. Find a somewhat slanted area in your landscape and run with it. Start stacking the flat rocks in a line and then trim them with a border of the round ones. Voila!

Over The Top Awesomeness

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This image shows the carefully constructed beauty of a unique dry creek river. The entire area is utilized when creating it and you can see the tedious work that must have went into placing each of the stones at the bottom of the creek. Massive rocks form a jagged and super cool border, but get some help lifting if you plan on pulling this idea off.

Beyond Beauty

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For those of you who don’t know, adding a dry creek landscape bed to your outdoor property isn’t just for looks. It serves a purpose and it’s to help the natural water drainage flow away from your home in a stylish fashion. Think of them as the Liberace of eaves troughs.

A Border Creek

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Dry creek beds aren’t just for guiding the natural water flow from your property, they can also be used as a unique way to frame a flower bed. Scaling down and making a narrow bed of rocks such as this adds interest, helps keep water where it should be, and boxes in your plants.

Borderline Cool

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Another great example of bordering a flower bed with a dry creek display. Only this one uses cool, smooth, black stones that look really great when wet. Slick and stylish.

For the Nut in All of Us

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If these stylish and extravagant dry creek bed landscaping ideas are too fancy for your tastes but you still want something interesting in your backyard, then try adding quirky touches like this! Super easy, all you need are some round stones and a bit of paint. If M&M’s aren’t your thing then maybe Skittles or Smarties?

Massive Scale

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If your property has some serious water drainage issues and no way to neatly guiding it away from your house, then try expanding the scale of a dry creek bed idea. Same rules apply, but having a massive dry creek river will surely handle the abundant water flow.

A Pile O’Rocks

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Got a super rocky and uneven landscape that you don’t want to both flattening out? No problem. Just fancy it up with a cool downward flow of stones and create a dry rock bed that will help the natural flow of water drain from your property a little better.

Dry Creek Drainage Canal

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City houses, I feel ya. The tiny morsel of a backyard that you’re given doesn’t lend much in the way of landscaping. So having a gorgeous dry creek river is probably out of the question. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get creative. Set up a cute drainage canal like this one for each of your eaves trough run-outs.

A Natural Bridge

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Like we mentioned before, adding simple touches like woodland creatures and bridges can amp up your dry creek river. But that doesn’t mean you have to run out and spend money or buckle down and build something. All you need is the perfect rocks and you can create a natural bridge across your dry creek.

Helping nature Out

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If you’re lucky enough to have a heavily treed property then you probably also deal with damp, mucky trails. Consider clearing some room through the trees and putting in a dry creek river to help drainage and leave the trails around your home a little drier.

Double Standard

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Back to flower beds, here’s another perfect example of how a dry creek bed can double as the border to a planter or flower bed. You’ll probably find a ton of great ideas along the road, but they all have the general basis.

Bringing Nature In

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A dry creek river doesn’t have to be just rocks. You can add some cool perennials if you want. They’ll thrive from the constant flow of water underneath and add a pop of color against the otherwise dull stones.

Jam Packed Full of Awesome

This dry creek river is small and compact, but full of curb appeal. By scaling down each aspect of the feature you can include a rock bed, some plants, contrasting mulch or soil, a few decorative pieces of wood, and even toss in a gnome or two.

It Really Is Super Easy

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If you’ve come this far and still aren’t convinced that creating a dry creek bed in your backyard is achievable, then take a look at this. Not only are these some really great ideas, you can also see how painless and easy it really is.

Feed Your Flowers

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Again, here we see more inspiration for installing a dry creek river while also creating a border for your flower garden. Go ahead and get those crazy gorgeous exotic plants you had your eye on. The dry creek will help feed them the constant water source they need.

Rocks, rocks, rocks!

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Again, we see how you don’t need over the top décor pieces or lush plants to make a dry creek bed appealing. The shape and design of the bed itself is really all you need to add that interest to your backyard.

Cost Efficient, Style Luxurious

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A dry creek bed or river is a great way to add visual interest to your yard but also divide up some larger areas, we already established that. But what you probably didn’t know is that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to achieve a stylish look. Often, the materials you need are already there, in nature. And you can construct cute bridges using nothing more than an old pallet.

Dry Creek in Action!

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To give you an idea of how a dry creek bed landscaping idea can help transform your property as well as protect it, this image says it all. Whether it’s a small rainfall or a massive storm, the bed will guide the water out and away from your house.

Lets Share Ideas!

And there you have it! A huge list of 50 great DIY dry creek bed landscaping ideas that anyone can do with a bit of free time and minimal cost. We hope it helped inspire some ideas of your own. Share your ideas and thoughts in the comments below!

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If you want to make a dramatic statement in your garden, without a lot of maintenance, a DIY dry creek bed is the way to go. It gives your yard a natural feel. And they are surprisingly easy to DIY, but still have a professional look to the finished project. They are great options for an area that doesn’t drain well, has poor soil, or perhaps has an easement. Try these DIY dry creek landscaping ideas to give your yard that “wow” factor without the upkeep of a true water feature!

How to Build a Dry Creek Bed

A few tips to keep in mind?

  • The creek or stream bed should meander naturally, never in a straight line.
  • Add larger boulders at turns in the creek bed for drama.
  • Vary the size of the rock in your creek bed.
  • Anchor the “banks” of your creek bed with plants.
  • Choose rock that looks natural for your region.

Photo from ‘Houzz‘.

DIY Dry Creek Bed landscaping Projects

Let’s start with a tutorial on the basics, how to build a dry creek bed, by ‘BHG‘.

‘Fine Gardening’ also has a great tutorial on making a dry stream bed, but to get to the actual directions, you need to go to page 3 in their How-To post. The first two pages has good information though, so take a peek.

‘Pink and Green Mama‘ did an entire backyard makeover, and they have a DIY dry river bed to cover a drainage problem… Read about how they did their garden makeover on a budget!

‘My Weeds are Very Sorry‘ has a lot of great tips on stone placement, and how much is enough. (And what is too much!) Good advice on getting a professional look for your DIY dry creek bed.

Dry Creek Bed Ideas

Ok, now on to the inspiration. These don’t have tutorials, (you don’t need them now anyway, you got the basics above!) but they have great ideas for us to.. ahem… steal. 🙂 This dry stream bed by Johnsen Landscapes & Pools was brought to us by ‘Serenity in the Garden‘.

Again from ‘Serenity‘, this is a dry stream bed in the backyard of Jan Johnsen… Love the black rocks! This was done in a small backyard for all of you who think you don’t have enough space.

Lastly, from ‘Sharons Scrapbook‘, this dry creek bed is a great example of lining the “bank” with plants.

Ready to start building a DIY dry creek bed? We’ve built two! Now jump on over to our posts on DIY Garden Projects with Rocks and Classic Lawn Edging Ideas! And don’t forget, Pin your favorites! (Our tall pin at the top is great fro this!)

Image Credits: Houzz, BHG, Fine Gardening, Pink and Green Mama, My Weeds are Very Sorry, Serenity in the Garden, Sharons Scrapbook


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Have you ever wondered why people have dry river beds in their landscaping? Did you know that can help put a stop to drainage issues and can prevent ruts in your lawn?

Another fantastic thing about dry river beds is that they look stunning! Your garden, terrace or yard will look so much better and different once you install one. Granted, you can always hire a professional, but that takes all the fun out of it! Below are some dry river bed landscaping ideas some tutorials on how you can do it yourself.

See how you can landscape on a budget, here!

1. Backyard Dry River Bed

Pink and Green Mama decided to give her backyard a facelift. They added various landscaping and a dry river bed to increase the appeal. The result is beautiful. Get inspired here.

2. Dry Creek Bed

DIY Network gives a detailed description of how to include a dry creek bed into your landscaping. It will take about a day worth of work, but it will transform your space. Check it out.

3. DIY Dry Stream

Jan Johnsen at Garden Therapy talks about how to make your very own stunning dry stream. You will be blown away by how gorgeous it is! The contrasting colors of the plants with the rocks is perfect. Take a look.

4. Weekend Dry Creek Bed

If you have a weekend and want to put in your dry creek bed, you should see how State by State Gardening recommends to do it. They give you lots of details and photos to get you started. Look at this here.

5. Dry River Bed For Drainage

Mary at Gardening Know How offers some great tips on the reasons to add a dry river bed for drainage issues and also how to complete the project. Take a peek at what she says.

6. Dry River Rock Garden

The Happy Housie wanted to take their eye sore yard and transform it into a gorgeous, relaxing oasis. When they installed the dry river rock garden, it turned out beautifully! See what they did.

7. DIY Dry Creek Bed

The Spruce gives tons of instructions and tips that will help you put in a dry creek bed by yourself. They even provide tips on which plants to include too. Check out how they did it.

8. Build A Dry Creek Bed

Over at Sunset, they provide no-fuss instructions on how to put in a dry creek bed yourself. What they did is so inspiring and looks great with the plants they chose too. Take a look for yourself.

9. Design Your Own Dry Creek Bed

Leslie at Deeply Southern Home was inspired to put in a dry creek bed because they had issues with drainage. Plus, they wanted to add some marvelous landscaping too. Take a look.

10. DIY Dry Streambed

Southwest Boulder & Stone show you how you can build your won dry streambed with seven easy to follow steps. The result is stunning! Check out how.

11. Homemade Backyard Dry Stream

SFGate has provided a guide on how to make a dry backyard stream with rocks and a few other materials to aid in water runoff. See how you can make your own.

12. Dry Stream Bed

Fine Gardening has many photos of a great dry stream bed at a home in Montana. This is pure beauty, and the dry stream does its job. Take a peek.

13. Beneficial Dry River Bed

Jan at The Golden State Newspaper explains the importance of installing a dry river bed and why you should think about doing to the same thing. This photo will inspire you to get started on your next task. Take a look.

14. How To Build A Dry Creek

Married to Plants shares a detailed tutorial with tons of photos on how you can make your dream of a dry creek a reality. You are going to want to look at this here.

15. Natural Looking Dry Rock Bed

Town Mouse and A Country Mouse have started the project of putting in a natural looking dry rock bed. They give you tons of helpful advice and some facts that will help you understand. Check out their progress.

16. Easy Dry Creek

Debbie at Hometalk provides a quick look at how easy it was for her to put in a dry creek. It looks fantastic, and it is a bonus that she didn’t have to put in a ton of effort. Take a look.

17. Create A Dry Creek Bed

Jay at Houzz shares several photos and information to give you some inspiration. Several stunning dry creek beds are sure to get your mind wondering what you can do. Look here.

18. How To Make A Good Dry Rock Bed

Kate Presents gives several pointers on what you need to know about making an excellent dry rock bed. You don’t want one that isn’t going to hold up. She has several different photos to look at too. Check it out.

19. Low Maintenances Dry Rock Bed

Birdz of a Feather shares on Hometalk how he had space in the backyard that he needed to fill in with something so he wouldn’t have to mow it. The results are lovely! Find out what he did here.

20. Creating Your Own Dry Creek

Better Homes & Gardens share how to divert water for drainage and look stunning at the same time. You are going to love how beautiful this turned out. Check out their tutorial.

21. DIY Dry Rock Garden

We Didn’t Come Here For The Grass wrote a fantastic article about how they spruced up their backyard with a dry rock garden. It was a lot of work, but completely worth it. I like the red bridge they added too. See how it looks.

22. Gorgeous Dry River Bed

Gardenista shares the results of a dry river bed located at the Tiger Glen Garden. It is simply exquisite! You have to take a look at this one of a kind garden. See here.

23. Dry Creek Bed

Kerry at RC Willey talks about his desperate need for resolving a drainage problem. He finally decides it was time to put in a dry creek bed. He has added a few photos he is using for some inspiration. Take a look.

24. Creating A Dry Creek

Laurie Bloomfield at Do It Yourself shares everything you need to know about installing a dry creek. Your landscaping will look fantastic after this project. Check it out.

25. DIY Dry Creek Bed

Art of Stone Gardening often gets asked why it is essential to add in a dry creek to your garden. They explain water erosion and the harm it can cause. They have several photos that will awaken your creative juices. Find them here.

I hope you found some great dry river bed landscaping ideas that will work for your very own dry rock bed! Which style is your favorite?

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Being a garden designer, one of the first topics I must address with my clients is water flow/run-off issues; this includes erosion issues, water accumulation/drainage issues, water flowing too close to structures, etc. Water flow issues must be resolved first since it directly affects the elevation and lay of the landscape. Unfortunately, I so often see it neglected, especially in new home construction.

One way to resolve water flow issues is to build a dry creek bed. Dry creek beds can redirect water, help prevent erosion and resolve drainage issues. Not only are they functional but they have become somewhat of a desireable hardscape addition, being very attractive in their own right. Some of my clients have even installed them purely for aesthetic reasons; adding beautiful structure with natural stone.

So depending on your purpose for building the dry creek bed, functional or aesthetic only, the methods will differ slightly. If it’s functional, we need to look at the amount of water flow (or is it just for water accumulation), the source of the water and where we want to direct the water. If we are building for aesthetic purpose only, we have a bit more creative freedom.

The Weekend Project

This weekend project will take place at Cindy and David Affolder’s landscape in Suwanee, GA. I’d been consulting with the Affolders over the past three years on their woodland area; creating many meandering paths, sitting areas and planting beds to house her extensive collections of camellias, hydrangeas and azaleas. To add some visual interest and hardscaping to the area, we decided to add a large dry creek bed. Though this dry creek bed is purely aesthetic, it fit in so naturally, given the slight slope and dip in the terrain.

Since the Affolders’ woodland area is over an acre, we wanted the dry creek bed to be a substantial focal point from a distance. The creek bed is approximately 100 feet long, 4-6 feet wide (measuring outside of rock), and 6-10 inches deep at center. Always keep in mind the scale of the area in which you are working. For example, if this was a small courtyard that visitors see up close, it might only be 8 feet long by 2 feet wide.

This project took approximately one full day with six people working. (Special thanks goes to the Gwinnett County Master Gardeners that helped!) We were fortunate to have many friends that liked to lift heavy things! Let’s walk through the process.

Estimating Materials & Supplies

This particular job was a very large dry creek bed (100 ft long by approx. 6 ft wide) and cost approximately $3.30 per square foot ($2000 for project) but can cost as little as $100 for a 10 foot by 3 foot dry creek bed. Another factor affecting cost is the type of stone selected. The calculations below will help guide you as to the quantities needed and their approximate costs. Be sure to consult with your stone supplier as to quantities/costs. Different types of stone will vary as to square foot coverage per ton. It’s important to have all materials on-site before starting. This will keep the job running smoothly.

Site Analysis:

•Dry creek bed size for Affolder project – 100 ft x 6 ft = 600 sq. ft.

•Slight grade down from top to bottom; approximately 6 foot drop.

•Woodland area with nice clearing for dry creek bed area.

Materials Needed:

•Mossy basket boulders – 10 tons (also Tennessee fieldstone works well); if you have a functional dry creek bed (one with flowing water), note that the rocks will need to be large enough that they are not pushed downstream by the water.

•Bridge, approx. 8 x 3 foot.

•Cinderblock caps (4”x 8”x 16” – 4 caps for bridge footings).

Other Optional Materials:

•River rock to fill in between the larger rock (approx. racquetball size); be careful here if you have heavy water flow; if too small, they’ll end up downstream.

•Cement/sand mixture to mortar any hard to hold areas (this is for a functional dry creek bed with flowing water).

•Landscape fabric – see comments below.

•Decorative glass marbles, etc to

put between the stones for some added color.

Tools Needed:

•Leather gloves (In old wood and rock piles, you will often come across black widow spiders).

•Tiller – use a large tiller such as a 5-6 horsepower (cost $50-60 per day to rent)

•Rake (Rake up initial debris from the area and rake the freshly tilled soil up onto the sides).

•Shovel (shovel soil from tilled area to form berm).

•Wheelbarrow (to move rock).

•Tamper (though once you drop the rocks in place, it will help tamp down the soil on the edges).

•Safety glasses (use while tilling).

•Level – you can eyeball this, however, if this is a functional dry creek bed, you will probably want to use a level.

Calculations (These are approx., check with your supplier to be sure of quantities needed):

•Stone quantity – (coverage will vary based on stone size. This is for the size we used on the Affolder job) 1 ton at approx. 8” thick (laying 1 rock high) covers approx. 30 sq. ft.

•River rock quantity – approx. 1 ton will cover 100sq. ft., 3-4” deep.

Cost:

•Approx. $3.00-4.00 per square foot (plus a good work out!).

The Installation Steps

•Assess the landscape. Find property lines and compass direction, slope of elevation, water issues and determine shade/sun lines. Also determine where utility lines are (Call before you Dig telephone no. – 811)

•Define dry creek bed lines – use a rope or hose or flags to create a smooth curved flow then mark the line with landscape paint. If the dry creek bed is functional, determine the point source of water and where you will route the water; this must be at a lower elevation. Perhaps you are allowed to route it to the street (check city/county ordinances), which will eventually go to a stormwater drain. Or perhaps you can route to a low-lying natural area (and be sure you are not adding any point source pollutants to any natural areas). Or if these options are not available, you might add a pond or rainwater garden where the water can slowly percolate into the ground. Also, be sure not to route the water to your neighbor’s backyard.

•Measure out the area and do a scale drawing to get correct square footage prior to ordering rock.

•If lawn or undesirable plant material is actively growing in the bed area, spray existing lawn and other undesired foliage that’s inside the marked bed line with glyphosate (Roundup or Greenlite) OR remove by hand. For turf (especially Bermuda and zoysia), dig approx. 3-4 inches deep to get all of the roots.

•If in a woodland area, rake out debris, branches, leaves, etc. within the bedline area. You might need to do a bit of finagling with the bed lines to avoid large tree roots. Use common sense here. Tree roots under an inch in diameter of large mature trees will be fine to cut.

•Rent a tiller or dig trench with shovel. Tilling is much easier to do and will save your back in the long run. If tilling in a woodland area, you’ll need a good-sized tiller; perhaps a 5 or 6 horsepower mid-tine. While one person is tilling, have one or two people raking the soil to the edge to berm (building up the edge) the sides; this will reduce the amount of tilling you’ll need to do to get to the desired depth.


The area is marked with flags and sprayed with landscape paint.


The area is first raked out and cleared of any debris prior to tilling.

David begins tilling, while workers rake and shovel the soil to the edges.

•The depth will vary on the amount of water flow and the size of rock you are using. It might be a few inches to 1.5 ft. deep. You want to be sure first and foremost that if this is a functional dry creek bed, that it’s doing its job; i.e. deep and wide enough to hold the water. If it’s just for aesthetics, than just deep enough to house the rocks and be sure that the lowest elevation (in the center of the bed) after the rock is added, is at least a few inches lower than the elevation of the outlying areas. Otherwise, if it’s higher than the rest of the surrounding landscape, it will look out of place.

•While berming, avoid pushing too close to the base of trees. Piling heavy soil around trees can suffocate roots.

•Grading and leveling. If this is a functional dry creek bed, you want to be sure your dry creek bed is level from side to side so you don’t have any low spots that water will favor and run out of the bed.

•Lay the landscape fabric – in the case of the Affolders’, there was no need to use landscape fabric. There are only a couple of occasions I use this: for dry creek beds using small gravel which soil/silt will easily puddle over and cover. If using small stone/gravel, then it’s either only for aesthetics or an area that has standing water rather than flowing water. Pros – if area has existing perennial weeds that you did not have a chance to spray with glyphosate (Roundup) or did not dig up, put down the fabric to prevent their growth through the rock. Cons – water can tunnel under the fabric causing erosion and “cave-ins” of the rock. It doesn’t prevent new weeds from germinating; new weed seeds come from above.

•Determine where the bridge is going and place the footings in the soil. Place the bridge and be sure it’s level.

•Add the rock. Think largest to smallest. If you have any large boulders, place those first (I like to add boulders intermittently, but always add something large at the beginning/top of the creek bed). Also, be sure to dig in large boulders so that approximately 1/3 of the boulder is buried. I first like to find my border pieces, the larger rocks, and lay those up on the bermed area. To set the border rocks in snugly, I literally drop them into place. This also tamps the soil in the process. While placing the border, I’ll angle some of the rocks towards the center; this is not only for looks but will also help slow the flow of water. Remember to use your legs rather than your back when lifting stone!


Tilling is finished and edges are bermed. Now start lining the edges of the bed with the larger of the rocks.

Start adding some of the rock to the inside of the bed.

•Now fill in between the larger rock with a smaller river rock so that no soil below is showing; perhaps baseball size or smaller (again, this will vary according to how much water you have flowing through your dry creek bed).

•Now you are ready to add some plants to soften the edges. I especially like plants to gracefully weep over the edges of the rocks and boulders, especially at the top where the dry creek bed starts. It’s also visually appealing to tuck plants in between the rocks, such as sedges, rushes, sedums or ferns if you have shade. Prior to planting, be sure to add good soil amendments around the perimeter of the dry creek bed.


While placing the rock on the edges, add the footings for the bridge.


The Affolders completed dry creek bed. In time, hydrangeas, ferns and hellebores will be planted along the edges.

A project like this can be a bit labor intensive but it’s relatively simple and straight forward. Invite some strong friends over for the “barn raising.” Many hands make light work! At the end of the day feed them well, give them nice cold beverages and enjoy the fruits of your labor!

From Alabama Gardener Volume VIII Issue VIII. Photos by Shannon Pable.

Posted November 2014 Shannon Pable is a certified arborist, an award-winning garden designer and owner of Shannon’s Garden Gallery (shannonpable.com), specializing in garden design, illustration and plant identification for natural areas. She is a member for the Georgia Native Plant Society (gnps.org).

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