3 Reasons Rocks Don’t Rock the Landscape

Rocks rock when you use them strategically and effectively. But rocks are not a requirement of a water-savvy landscape. We’ll give you three reasons why.

Recently I’ve had many people say SAWS just wants them to have rock yards. And I’m here to tell you that could not be farther from the truth.

Here are three common myths people believe about rock.

1. We are on the edge of a desert. Yes, but…

If you’re in San Antonio long enough you’ll hear how we are at the edge of a desert. And we are. But we’re also on the edge of the coastal plains and the Blackland prairie. For now let’s stay with our Texas desert, the Chihuahuan desert, and the largest of the four U.S. deserts, each one unique. When people think of a desert they usually think of the sands of the Sahara or the rocky, red, hard-packed soils of the Mojave. Unlike these deserts, our Chihuahuan desert is a shrub and grass desert, with rolling grasslands dominated by blue grama grass, sotol, bear grass, and cenizo; also present are oaks, juniper, Texas madrones, and even some mountain laurels.

Sound familiar? It should. Most of these plants have been WaterSaver Landscape coupon selections at one time or another.

2. Rock is easier to maintain than mulched beds. Maybe, maybe not.

This is a good example of why what happens in Vegas should stay in Vegas. It’s not as easy to keep rocks nice and neat in San Antonio. Without regular cleaning, rocks will trap leaves that turn to soil pockets, that in turn host weeds — and suddenly you have a messy, weedy rock garden. San Antonians may be imitating what they see in the cities of the Mojave Desert (namely Las Vegas) and mistakenly think it’s easier to maintain than shrubs and perennial beds. And it is — in Las Vegas, where there are few shrubs and perennials that naturally occur. But this is San Antonio, and here, once established, these beds will “shade out” weeds and require little to no additional watering. They may or may not need annual pruning.

3. Rocks don’t need water. That’s what SAWS wants, right? Yes, but…

We get a lot more rain and have a lot more plant choices in San Antonio than the desert cities out west. Just take a look at our local natural areas like Hardberger Park and Government Canyon. As the great Garden Geek says: “there are no fairies or gnomes watering the trees in the woods.”

San Antonio’s native plant options:

  • need little to no supplemental water,
  • provide habitat for our local and migrating songbirds and pollinators,
  • provide cherished shade and increase diversity in the landscape.

And that’s an all-around good thing. Our natural diversity lends towards options that range from wild and wooly, elegantly formal, or exploding with tropical colors.

So how do we recommend incorporating rocks into the landscape?

If you truly love rocky landscape features, then rock on! Rocks rock when you use them strategically and effectively — as a border, around an A/C unit, in between a flagstone patio or walkway, or as a “dry creek” feature to correct drainage issues on your property. Otherwise, rocks are not a requirement of a water-savvy landscape.

For easier maintenance use rocks in shady areas that will naturally suppress sun-loving weeds. If you feel you must use it near the street, select larger sized stones that are less likely to end up in the street and clog up storm drains.

Picture of Dana Nichols
Dana Nichols
As conservation manager at SAWS, Dana spent her days promoting beautiful San Antonio landscapes that need little to no water while benefiting Texas wildlife. While she’s no longer whipping up new landscape programs, she’s still cooking up delicious dinners made with fresh herbs from her low-water-use garden or planning the next trip with her husband, Rick -- preferably to some exotic place that requires a passport.
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