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Create dry creek in the garden – instructions and tips for planting

dry creek create garden river stones

There are many beautiful ways to integrate the element of water into the garden design, whether with natural streams and ponds or artificial fountains. But what do you think of the idea of creating a stream in the garden, but which requires no maintenance at all? No technology, no instruments, no art. We are talking just about the dry brook, which is laid out with stones. A dry brook in the garden is not only aesthetically pleasing, but also proves to be a practical solution for rainwater drainage of the plot.

Dry creek in the garden is a beautiful, but also practical design element

create dry creek japanese garden

Dry creeks are a unique, sustainable way to use natural stone in garden design while solving stormwater drainage problems. A dry creek in the garden typically contains no water, but collects rainwater and allows it to slowly soak into the ground. The dry creek helps to slow down stormwater runoff and direct it in the desired direction.

create dry creek japanese garden design guide

Dry stream channels are useful wherever drainage is needed, which relieves pressure on the soil and, most importantly, drains stormwater. They can be placed at the bottom of a slope, in a low spot where rainwater occasionally collects, or on a small hill to catch and direct rainwater as it flows down. Because dry streams are filled with natural stones, they look wonderful in Japanese and natural gardens. However, they also fit a variety of landscaping styles.

dry creek create river stones mulch contrast bridge bollard lights


Each dry creek is different, depending on the area, the stones used and the conditions. But the common element in all designs is the foundation. After the soil is dug, pour a 20-30 cm layer of coarse chippings and lay garden fleece on the base. The chippings store excess rainwater and act as a drainage system. On top of the grit, river pebbles and other stones are spread.

How to create a dry stream

dry brook in the garden create instruction

It is not too difficult to create a dry stream in the garden. You will need a sufficient number of fairly large stones (size about 30 – 45 cm), chippings as a base, a roll of garden fleece and pebbles for filling.

First, dig a slightly curved channel and widen it in certain places. The shape and alignment of a dry stream is important to make it look natural.

garden design dry brook course japanese planting


Think about how water moves through a landscape. Streams in nature are not straight channels; they meander back and forth. Make your dry creek a curved line and make sure you have a wider area where the invisible water “flows”. Cover the edges with large natural stones and place supervising plants that will bring a nice visual effect.

create dry creek in garden before and after pictures

The width of the dry stream channel should vary. Part of it could be narrower, about 40 cm in width (before placing the stones) and other sections as wide as you like. The bed of the stream should be at least 25 – 35 cm deep (or more if it is to serve as a deep catch basin for rainwater).

Pile the excavated soil on the sides of the stream. You can pile more soil on one side of the stream to create a taller plant bed there. This creates an eye-catching feature in the landscape and works especially well with plants that have their stems hanging down. It’s as if they extend to the stream bed.

dry creek japanese garden design different types of stones plants

Then the entire stream bed is laid weed fleece (not plastic!). Also pull it out over the sides. Place large stones and boulders along the stream to hold the fleece in place. You can leave the stones higher than the ground level or the plant bed. It depends on what effect you want to achieve. Rocks that stand upright have a sturdy look and create a dynamic image. Experiment with the curbs as you place them. There is no wrong choice here!

Dry creek directs rainwater into pond

After the large rocks are placed, fill in the gaps with gravel and stone, making sure the fleece liner is well covered. Behind the bank on land, you want the soil to have optimal nutrients so that plants can thrive.

create dry creek encourage rainwater runoff

Fill in the stream bed with chippings and gravel. Here, a layer thickness of 0.5 – 1.5 cm is sufficient. If there is a problem with drainage, it could be thicker. In such cases, it is best to install an underground pipe with a diameter of 10 cm and connect it to an underground catch basin.

Above the gravel layer, carefully spread a single layer of rounded pebbles of your choice. The stones will contrast nicely with the rocks on either side of the stream. You can use decorative stones of various sizes and colors.

Plant the dry creek in the garden

dry creek planting gravel lawn plants

Once the dry creek has been created in the garden, the plants for the coastal zone should be selected. The rule here is: you should not overdo it with the decoration of the banks, otherwise the dry creek will quickly become a flower bed. When choosing shrubs, perennials and flowers, it is important to take into account the composition of the soil, sunlight incidence and rainy periods.

A carpet of flowers along the edges of a dry stream can be created by ground cover. For an even more beautiful effect, choose blue, purple and pink flowering varieties. From spring to late summer and even fall, perennials make for a beautiful sight. Popular plant varieties include: Dalmatian bellflower (Campanula portenschlagiana), large-leaved Caucasian forget-me-not, cushion phlox, Ajuga reptans, blue cushion (Aubrieta), lobelia, grape hyacinth (Muscari), thick-leaved bergenia (Bergenia crassifolia), star moss, primrose, astilbe, columbine, heuchera, Iris sibirica and others.

A dry stream of stones will not look complete without daylilies, ornamental grasses, bamboo and reeds. The lush foliage of these plants creates an optical illusion of wild thickets on the banks. The most popular are: Miscanthus, blue fescue, pampas grass (cortaderia), sedges, funkias and calamus.

dry creek planting garden fleece chippings

If you want to have a wintergreen hedge of conifers on the rocky shore, it is best to choose dwarf juniper, mountain pine, spruce and fir. These plant species grow well on a sandy loam soil.

Low deciduous shrubs should be selected with care. Because in the fall you need to remove the fallen leaves that get stuck between the stones. Have you already bought a leaf vacuum for this purpose? Then you can plant shrubs such as dwarf loquat or barberry. They will enchant you with their bright colors throughout the year.

An example of planting a dry stream.

dry creek planting diagram palm species

1. green powder bamboo (Phyllostachys viridiglaucescens)
2. iris (Iris barbata)
3. lobelia (Lobelia)
4. creeping bugle (Ajuga reptans)
5. hanging cushion bellflower (Campanula poscharskyana)
6. greek blue cushion (Aubrieta deltoidea)
7. large-leaved Caucasian forget-me-not (Brunnera macrophylla)
8. star moss (Sagina subulata)
9. red-leaved günsel ‘atropurpurea
10. pile cane (Arundo donax)

A cleverly designed decorative dry creek gives the impression that it has just been dried up, but water will soon flow there again. Let the examples in our picture gallery inspire you for your own project!

dry creek plants ground cover perennials full sun

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