Gardening in Rocky Soil

Gardening in Rocky Soil

Fortunately, even if you do have rocky soil you can still grow a beautiful garden. Growing a successful garden in rocky soil can be a challenge. Logic tells us that a plant can't survive on a bare rock face and whether the rock is on the surface or underground the effect is the same. Rocky soil does not drain well and does not have enough organic material for many plants to survive. This is going to take some work.

TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Susan Patterson adds, "Many people with rocky soil build raised beds for their garden where they can control the soil quality."

Preparing Your Garden

Start small, particularly if you're working by yourself. Rocky soil is going to require ongoing effort and taking on a project that is too large will be frustrating and possibly, eventually overwhelming.

Choose the place in your yard that will make the best garden. A level area that receives good sunlight (but not all the time) and is open to some rain is ideal. Start by getting rid of surface rocks. Use a sturdy rake to gather them. If the rocks are large, use a shovel and/or a crowbar and wheelbarrow to move them out of the area. Consider stockpiling the rocks somewhere close by so they can be used to build a garden edging or for a stone wall or rock garden in the future.

After removing the surface rocks, use a rototiller to turn the compacted soil over (and bring more rocks to the surface). Take your time and work slowly, there may be large rocks lurking just under the surface and they could damage your machine. Rake up and remove any rocks from your first tilling produces. Then spread a layer of compost, organic material (peat moss, organic fertilizer) or top soil over the garden area and go back over it with the tiller--turning the compost into the soil. Adding peat moss to your garden will help the soil retain moisture while organic fertilizer will provide nutrients to help the new plants grow strong and healthy.

You'll want to do this process at least twice (three times is better), so you end up with a garden bed of native soil and compost or organic matter 8 to 10 inches deep.

Choosing Your Plants

Different plants grow better in rocky soil than others. After all the hard work preparing your garden area, it's well worth some time to gather information about plants that grow well in your area. Good sources of information include your local garden center (who will know as well as stock plants that thrive in your area) and perhaps a university or state colleges extension division, that can provide information on gardening in your area. Other informal sources could be garden clubs, articles in local newspapers, or knowledgeable neighbors.

TIP: Susan advises, "Native plants will grow best."