3 Reasons Rocks Don’t Rock the Landscape

When it comes to gardening, what happens in Vegas should stay in Vegas. Here’s why Sin City’s gravel-gilded grounds aren’t a good gamble in Texas’ terrain.

There’s a common misconception that rock yards are the only ones that save water. That’s only partially true, as rocks don’t need any watering whatsoever.

But when used 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 — rocks rock! Still, they are not a requirement of a water-savvy landscape.

Here are three common myths people believe about rock.

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 backland prairie. For now let’s stay with our Texas desert, the Chihuahua 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 Chihuahua 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.

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 Mohave 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.

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. And these choices need little to no supplemental water and may 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. 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.” We have a lot more options that can look wild and wooly, elegantly formal or exploding with tropical colors.

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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