Four Questions To Ask When Choosing Decorative Rock For Your Landscape
My gardening years have been enjoyed in a variety of climates, as I’ve had the good fortune to live in Florida, Virginia, New York, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Minnesota, and California. All of my homes have had slightly different landscapes, but all shared a common foundation – grass lawns and mulched beds. Until now. Six months ago, we moved to Prescott, Arizona – a mile-high mountain town in central Arizona situated north of the heat of Phoenix and southwest of the harsher winters of Flagstaff – USDA Hardiness Zone 6b, for those who care about such things.
What is significantly different about the landscape here is taking quite a bit of getting used to (just ask our dogs), because for the most part, there are no “lawns” to speak of, but instead there are “yards” full of rocks. That’s right – no grass, no mulch – just decorative rock interspersed with trees, plants, and pots. Occasionally you will run across grass in a park, a schoolyard, or in the landscaping of a private resident who just cannot give it up, but for the most part, it’s rock. But it’s decorative rock, so with a little imagination a gardener can transform their landscape into something beautiful and unique. Or at least that’s what we’ve been told.
With the hope of transforming our rather dull monotone front yard into something with a bit more style and pizzazz, we headed to the nearest rock store (yes, this is a thing), or to be more precise, Prescott Dirt, LLC. Prescott Dirt features a wide variety of landscaping materials, including a huge assortment of decorative rock in all sizes, colors, and even shapes. I had no idea this was going to be such an . . . adventure. Fortunately the owner was extraordinarily patient, obviously used to decorative rock newbies who were easily identified by their aimless wanderings from rock pile to rock pile with no idea as to what to look for.
Here are the questions we were told we needed to consider before making a selection:
1. Who is going to walk on this rock, and how often?
2. What is our budget?
4. What colors will complement the color of our house?
Who was going to walk on this rock, and how often?
Decorative rock comes in multiple shapes and sizes, some more conducive to walking on than others. In our case, we have an elevated patio and a lower-level deck where we spend most of our outside time, so we don’t plan on walking across the yard on a regular basis. However, we do have two small dogs who are going through grass-withdrawal, and their little feet would not do well on small jagged decorative rock. Something to consider!
What is our budget?
We went into this project with absolutely no idea about what a project like this would cost. What we did learn, though, is that there is a wide price differential between different styles and sizes of decorative rock, and once you learn the cost of that can’t-live-without 1″ Mesa Brown ($50.00/ton), you may find that you are just fine with the ¾” Santa Fe Marble at $32.75/ton. (Or you may not – sorry, honey).
How many tons of rock will we need?
When you’re talking tons of rock, you don’t want to miscalculate the amount that you’ll need. Most landscaping companies will be happy to come measure for you, which is a very smart move on your part. Most landscapes requiring rock are not level, so a simple length times width calculation will not suffice, as depth levels will vary and need to be taken into account. Again, leave this to the professionals.
What colors will complement the color of our house?
Can you imagine taking delivery of 17 tons of rock, only to realize that the color clashes with that of your house? According to the crew at Prescott Dirt, this happens all the time. And here’s why. The same rocks have three completely different looks, depending on their state:
- Dirty and Dry
- Clean and Wet
- Clean and Dry
Obviously, you want to choose the rock based on its clean and dry state, but that is not the state you’re likely to see it in when you first make your rock selections. That’s why it’s important to take samples home with you, wash them thoroughly, and then make your selection when they are clean and dry. Take a look at the difference in one of the rocks that we selected:
We narrowed our choice down to three samples, and took a sample home of each so that we could see how they looked in various places in the yard, including up against the house and alongside the pavers that make up the front walkway. Here are the samples we chose:
Once we washed and dried each of the samples, we placed them up against the house (which in our case is stucco), to see which look we preferred. The very helpful people at Prescott Dirt recommended we keep each sample’s baggie underneath the corresponding rocks at all times so we didn’t mix them up – great advice! Naturally when placed up against the house, the Mesa Brown (the most expensive) was the overwhelming favorite, probably because it reminded us of a rock version of our beloved mulch, which I will probably always miss.
It looks like our excellent taste is shared by many – the 1″ Mesa Brown is currently on backorder, which my husband thinks is a good thing – giving me time to change my mind and choose one of the less expensive choices. (Patience is a virtue, my grandma always said.) In the meantime, we are adding a patch of the Creek Rock to the side of the house where the dogs do their business, since the rocks are smoother and easier on their feet. Once the Mesa Brown arrives, I’ll make sure to update this post with a before and after shot. Next up will be figuring out how to plant in 3 inches of rock . . .
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