By Erin Marissa Russell
If your gardening area has rocky soil, you can choose to use what you’ve got and plant what flourishes in rocky areas or you can put in some elbow grease. If you want to grow any type of plant, you may choose to amend your rocky soil, construct raised beds so you can grow on top of your soil, or opt for a container garden. But if you’re going to work with what you’ve got, you must be sure the plants you choose will be capable of performing well in the rocky soil.
The Best Plants for Gardens With Rocky Soil
As a rule, you can count on most types of succulents and cacti to grow well in rocky soil. However, there are varieties that perform better than others, and there are also shrubs, trees, flowers,and herbs that will do well in areas that have rocky soil. Choose among the plants on this list to work with your rocky soil instead of against it.
Aloe vera is a succulent well known for the healing properties of the gel inside its leaves when applied to sunburns, burn injuries, and other skin problems. It’s appropriate for USDA growing zones 9 through 11 and can grow up to 24-39 inches tall.
Anemone (Ranunculuacaea) does best in moist rocky soil and offers varieties that produce blue, pink,purple, red, white, and yellow flowers. It can reach three or four feet tall in USDA hardiness zones 4 through 8.
Baby’s breath (Gypsophila) is known for its sprays of white flowers, which you’ve probably seen in cut flower arrangements or used at weddings. There are also types that bloom in pink. Grow baby’s breath in USDA zones 3 through 9, and it can get between two and three feet wide.
Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) are a wildflower with yellow daisy-like blooms that have black centers. It does best in USDA zones 4 through 7, and varieties range from a foot or so in height to a six-foot-tall giant variety.
Cacti can grow just about anywhere, and they require very little care, being suited to desert conditions. Best of all, there are plenty of varieties to choose from to suit your location and size or appearance preferences.
Catchfly (Silene armeria) is a perennial that flowers in white and shades of pink in spring and summer. Mature plants stand between 12 and 18 inches tall in growing zones 5 to 8.
Catmint (Nepeta) is a relative of catnip that blossoms in purple, white, pink, and yellow. Plant in zones 3 to 7, and it’ll grow between 12 and 36 inches tall.
Columbine (Aquilegia) offer beautiful, unusual blooms in a variety of colors for dappled and partially shaded areas. They’re usually about two feet tall and can be cultivated in hardiness zones 3 to 9.
Common sage (Salvia officinalis) is a pretty herb that’s a traditional addition to flavor stuffing, sausage, and lots of other dishes. Gardeners in USDA zones 4 to 11 can see their sage plants grow up to 18-24 inches tall and 24-36 inches wide.
Coneflower (Echinacea) is a pink, daisy-like plant that requires little from the gardener. Plant it in USDA zones 3 through 9, and watch it grow to about three feet tall.
Crabapple trees (Malus) are a favorite of gardeners for their glossy foliage and white or pink blooms. They can get up to 20 feet tall and do best in hardiness zones 4 to 8.
Crane’s-bill (Geranium) is an annual flower in pink, purple, red, or white that gardeners love for its easy care. Size varies, with heights from four to 48 inches. Plant these in zones 10 or 11.
Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia) is a groundcover with yellow blossoms that prefers full sun. Plants are mounding, just two to four inches tall, but spread along the ground from 12 to 18 inches wide in zones 3 to 9.
Dogwood trees (Cornus) are an ornamental known for their gorgeous white blooms. They can stretch up to 20 to 40 feet tall and thrive in USDA zones 4 to 9.
Hazelnut trees (Corylus) are easy to care for and, in addition to adding beauty to the garden, you can harvest the delicious hazelnuts (also called filberts). They grow to about 10 feet tall by 10 feet wide in zones 4 to 8.
Hawthorn tree (Crataegus) blossom in red, white, or pink as well as growing small fruits. Between 15 and 25 feet tall, they do best in zones 3 to 8.
Hellebores are old-fashioned flowers in a variety of colors, even unusual shades like pale green or black. They’re about two or three feet tall and do their best for gardeners in zones 4 to 9.
Choose between winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata), American holly (Ilex opaca), and Japanese holly (Ilex crenata). Some grow to six feet, while others tower at 50 feet tall. Most breeds flourish in zones 5 to 8, but some can be grown in 7 to 11.
Johnny Jump Up
Johnny Jump Up (Viola) is a cheerful tricolor flower in purple and yellow that’s related to the pansy. In USDA zones 1 to 10, they grow between four and six inches high.
Lavender (Lavandula) is often grown for its scent and gray-green foliage in USDA zones 5 to 9. This small shrub grows between 20-24 inches in both height and width.
Pinks (Dianthus) are a popular perennial, with pink, white, or bicolor flowers with jagged-edged petals. Most grow in zones 3 to 9 and reach between six and 18 inches tall.
Purple Fountain Grass
Purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum rubrum) is a dramatic ornamental grown as a perennial in zones 9 to 11 and an annual in other zones. Plants stretch to between three and six feet tall.
Red Cedar Tree
Red cedar tree (Juniperus virginiana) is a gardener favorite for its needled branches and pyramid-like shape. It can reach heights of 50 to 70 feet in hardiness zones 2 to 9.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is known for its delicious taste and clean, woodsy scent. The small shrubs can grow up to 3 to 8 feet high in zones 8 and 9.
Russian oregano (Origanum vulgare subsp. gracile) is an herb, but it also offers flowers in bluish purple. It gets to be between a foot and a foot and a half tall in zones 4 to 8.
Shasta daisies (Leucanthemum × superbum) are the classic daisy: white with yellow centers. Plants stand two to three feet tall in gardens in hardiness zones 5 to 8.
Showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) is a perennial in the dogbane family that will draw plenty of pollinators, especially butterflies. In zones 3 to 9, it can reach heights of two to six feet.
Smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens) is a favorite of any old-fashioned garden with its enormous white flower clusters. They’re three to five feet tall with a spread between four and six feet, and they thrive in growing zones 3 to 9.
Stonecrop (Sedum) has lots of varieties to choose from that do well in rocky soil, so choose the one you like the best. For gardeners in growing zones 3 to 10, they grow between one and three feet tall.
Sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima) is also called carpet flower and is known for its generous clusters of white flowers. Plants grow to 10 inches tall and 14 inches wide year-round in zones 7 to 11.
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is another herb garden mainstay that can be used to flavor meat, potatoes, and more. Plant in zones 5 to 9, and it can grow from just two inches to 15 inches tall.
Tickseed (Coreopsis) offers yellow or orange flowers, with plants from 12 to 24 inches tall. Grow in hardiness zones 4 to 9.
Verbena is low maintenance and blooms between spring and fall in shades of red, white, pink, purple, or apricot. It grows in clumps that reach six to 10 inches tall and does best in zones 5 and up.
More Plants You Can Grow in Rocky Soil
American bladdernut (Staphylea trifolia)
Barrenwort/Bishop’s hat/Fairy wings/Horny goat weed (Epimedium)
Beach rose (Rosa rugosa)
Blue fescue ornamental grass (Festuca glauca)
Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides)
Common bearberry(Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)
Creeping phlox (Phlox stolonifera)
Evergreen candytuft (Iberis sempervirens)
False Indigo (Baptisia)
Gentian violet (Gentiana)
Hens and chicks (Sempervivum)
Ice plant (Delosperma cooperi)
Lamb’s ears (Stachys byzantina)
Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium)
Maiden silvergrass/Chinese silvergrass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gracillimus’)
Missouri evening primrose/Bigfruit evening primrose/Ozark sundrop (Oenothera macrocarpa)
Mugo pine (Pinus mugo)
Netted iris/reticulated iris (Iris reticulata)
Olive tree ( Olea europaea)
Pasque flower (Pulsatilla)
Prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis)
Purple poppy-mallow/Winecup (Callirhoe involucrata)
Rockspray cotoneaster (Cotoneaster horizontalis)
Rose campion (Silene coronaria)
Royal candles speedwell (Veronica spicata ‘Royal Candles’)
Royal catchfly (Silene regia)
Sea thrift (Armeria maritima)
Snow-in-summer (Cerastium tomentosum)
Sumac tree (Rhus)
White heath aster (Symphyotrichum ericoides)
Wineleaf cinquefoil (Potentilla tridentata)
Wood spurge (Euphorbia amygdaloides)
With so many plants to choose from, there’s no reason to be down in the dumps about a property with rocky soil for gardening. If you don’t want to install raised beds, plant in containers, or amend your soil, the plants we’ve listed here will be good options for your rocky soil garden.
Want to learn more plants to grow in rocky soil?
Birds & Bloom covers Top 10 Plants for Rocky Soil
HGTV covers How to Plant in Rocky Soil
Gardening Know How covers Working in Rocky Soil
SFGate Homeguides covers Plants That Will Grow Through Gravel
Living the Country Life covers Dealing with Rocky Soil
Missouri Botanical Garden covers Plants for Shallow, Rocky Soil
The Spruce covers Plants for Rock Gardens
Troy-Bilt covers Plants that Grow in Rocky Soil
Troy-Bilt covers How to Amend Rocky Soil