Dry Creek Bed Landscaping Ideas

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Homeowners that find themselves faced with an area in the yard that has impossible growing conditions: there is a solution for those areas that are wet and swampy, or hot and dry or just too shaded to grow plants. In these areas, consider creating a dry creek bed. A dry creed bed is a stone lined stream bed that mimics a natural watercourse with a wandering path that is lined with plants. These dry creeks can be made a part of the landscape by incorporating stepping stones, bridges and waterfalls.

Designing the Dry Creek Bed

Problem areas in a landscape need attention. If water is allowed to sit in one place, it can become stagnant and become a source of mosquitoes. Water that runs freely can cause erosion and prevent those areas from growing any plants. Dry creek beds reduce water consumption by replacing lawns with rocks and drought-tolerant plants. And, a dry creek bed is a means to channel runoff water and prevent drainage problems from heavy rains.

Before you begin landscaping a dry creek bed, observe natural creeks and streams in your area. Look at how the rocks are positioned, how the streams are wider in the bends, how the creek follows the slope and changes in elevation. If you are unsure of how to begin or if you anticipate a large project, consider consulting a professional that has experience designing landscapes with dry creek beds.

Here are the steps for landscaping a dry creek bed:

  • Locate the path of the creek. Watch how the water naturally runs its course. The creek should be curved with a meandering path to slow down the force of the water and to prevent erosion.
  • Mark the path of the dry creek with landscaper’s paint and remove the grass and other vegetation from this area.
  • Dig the channel of the creek bed. A creek bed is twice as wide as it is deep. If a dry creek bed will be 4 feet across, it should be 2 feet deep.
  • Line the channel with landscape fabric and pin it down with landscape pins.
  • Cover the landscape fabric with a layer of sand, gravel and river rocks. If the stream bed will carry water, the rocks must be permanently set in place with mortar or cement.

dry creek bed landscaping ideas

Landscape Materials for a Dry Creek Bed

Much of the material that will be used to landscape a dry creek bed consist of gravel, stones, river rocks and boulders in a variety of shapes and sizes. These rocks and stones provide a bed for the creek. Rock size should be consistent with the size of the creek and the area surrounding the creek. Here are a few tips for arranging rocks in the creek bed:

  • Do not place rocks in any sort of pattern. The rocks should look random and natural.
  • Arrange small and medium size stones in the middle of the creek bed.
  • Large rocks should be placed randomly along the edges of the creek and in the middle of the creek bed.
  • Boulders can be used to hide the headwaters or be placed in the bend of the creek.
  • Use gravel along the edges and at the lowest edge of the creek to soften the edge of the rock and blend into the surrounding plants and landscape.

Plants give a dry creek bed and natural feel and create areas for sitting, relaxing and enjoying the landscape. Plants that are native to your local area will add to the natural appearance of the creek. Native plants are also low maintenance and are highly tolerant of local growing and climate conditions.

Here are a few tips for plantings along the creek edge:

  • Use birch trees or other slender shade trees to provide an overhead screen to conceal the creek from neighboring homes.
  • Find small niches between stones to plant low growing groundcovers such as false heather.
  • Create raised planting beds along the edge of the creek. Use large rocks to build the raised beds.
  • Ornamental grasses add a contrasting shape to a curving stream.
  • Plants small trees that tolerate wet conditions near the edge of a creek that floods such as dwarf southern magnolia and river birch.
  • In shaded areas along the edges of the creek bed, plant varieties of astilbe, hosta cultivars and native ferns.
  • Areas along the creek bed that are not in danger of flooding can be planted with gingers, English ivy, geraniums, Japanese maples and Chinese elm.
  • Plants that will add color to a dry creek include iris, daylilies, barberry and sedum cultivars.

There are other features that can be added to the dry creek bed landscape. Give a creek a personal touch by decorating the landscape with decorative pieces of driftwood, benches where you can enjoy the scenery, a small bridge crossing over the creek or some of your favorite outdoor statuary.

A dry creek bed requires a small amount of maintenance. Broken tree branches may become lodged between the rocks or leafs may accumulate in a small puddle. This tree material and other debris can be easily removed with a grass rake. The low maintenance qualities of a dry creek bed provides you with more time to enjoy this unique and relaxing landscape feature.

Last Updated: April 11, 2013
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About Coletta Teske Coletta Teske has 25 years' experience in tech journalism, as well as home and gardening topics. She has freelanced for Fortune 500 companies such as Boeing and Microsoft, published more than two dozen computer books for Prima Publishing and Macmillan, and worked as a freelance correspondent for West Hawaii Today. Coletta has been an avid gardener since she was 2 years old. While living in Hawaii, she achieved a lifelong dream of becoming a certified master gardener.

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