How to Make a Japanese Rock Garden

I love the serenity of Japanese gardens; they always seem so peaceful. You can recreate the simplicity and elegance of a Japanese-style rock garden, with plants, foliage and flowers in a small part of your own garden. Arrange plants in a rocky area, making it look elegantly balanced, as though they’re part of a natural scene that has been there for years.

How to Make a Japanese Rock Garden
Photo by Samuel Berner on Unsplash

Japanese-style rock gardens strive to create the beauty of nature in miniature. Small trees are pruned to suggest age-old specimens; a trickle of water may represent a raging river. These gardens feature a limited number of different plants, mostly evergreens, ferns, small trees and flowering shrubs, which are arranged to suggest natural drifts and clumps.

Rock Garden
Image by Ilona Ilyés from Pixabay

To create a garden with the same elegant feel, arrange plants next to a small water feature such as a pond or fountain. The water’s trickling is very relaxing to listen to, and you can add some lighting to enjoy your rock garden in the evenings.

Plants to choose

Japanese maple

Japanese Maple
Image by Thanks for your Like • donations welcome from Pixabay

The deciduous Japanese maple, otherwise known as an Acer, has deeply lobed, burgundy or green leaves with small, red-purple flowers in spring and brilliant red, orange or yellow autumn foliage. They can grow to a height of six meters, but there are miniature varieties too.

Mountain Laurel

The Mountain Laurel grows to a height and spread of 2.5 metres. It is a dense, bushy shrub with glossy, evergreen leaves and produces clusters of showy pink, white, red or bi-coloured flowers in late spring.

Japanese Skimmia

Japanese Skimmia
Image by armennano from Pixabay

This 1.5-meter evergreen shrub has dark green, fragrant leaves. Female plants produce white flowers, followed by red berries. Both male and female plants must be grown for fruit production.

Polypodium Fern

Polypodium is an evergreen fern with medium green, deeply divided fronds. It grows to about 30cm tall and wide and spreads by creeping, brown rhizomes. It also grows atop rocks and boulders.

How to create a rock garden

  • Along with a sloping site, with the trickling water and large rocks. Test the soil pH and work in peat moss and compost to adjust, so it is slightly acidic.
  •  Look for rock-free planting sites at the top of the slope for trees and shrubs. Move rocks around it necessary. Prepare the site for planting.
  •  Plant the Japanese maple, Skimmia and Mountain Laurel. Arrange in natural-looking groupings. Reposition rocks around them.
  • Dig weed roots out of crevices between rocks and refill with topsoil and compost. Plant the rock crevices with Polypodium Ferns. 
  • Remove one to three lower branches on the Japanese maple to accentuate its shape and expose the trunk. Prune only in spring.
  • Prune shrubs and trees regularly to encourage densely branched growth and keep plants compact and well-shaped.

A rock garden will be a gradual process that you can build up over time. All the effort you put in will be worthwhile in the future, something to be enjoyed for many years.

How to Make a Japanese Rock Garden 1


  • Annette, 3 Little Buttons

    April 24, 2021 at 10:51 am

    I wish we had a bigger garden to be able to create something like this. We love how beautiful and ornamental Japanese Rock Gardens can look.

    1. Sabina Green

      May 26, 2021 at 10:01 pm

      They are stunning aren’t they, I have always wanted one too.

  • Sarah Stockley

    April 25, 2021 at 1:12 pm

    I love Japanese style, if I had a garden I would go for this style. Acers are my favourite trees and I love the whole zen garden ideas too.

    1. Sabina Green

      May 26, 2021 at 10:02 pm

      My Mum has always had Acers, they are so beautiful.

  • angela

    April 25, 2021 at 2:32 pm

    Japanese garden is my most favourite place.Love the way they decorate!

    1. Sabina Green

      May 26, 2021 at 10:02 pm

      I have always been drawn to them too.

  • Kathy Kenny Ngo

    April 26, 2021 at 7:48 am

    It must be so nice to create something as Zen as this. Every person in the world needs this.

    1. Sabina Green

      May 26, 2021 at 10:02 pm

      We could all do with a little more zen.

  • Stephanie Moore

    April 26, 2021 at 7:57 am

    This is a fab post for me as we have a couple of large acers, be lovely to make a feature of this area for them

    1. Sabina Green

      May 26, 2021 at 10:03 pm

      Oh wow, you’re so lucky, our garden isn’t big enough for trees but I would love Acers if I could.

  • Sally

    April 26, 2021 at 3:33 pm

    I miss having a yard that I can plant things in and have a garden. It’s not possible for me now, but maybe again someday.

    1. Sabina Green

      May 26, 2021 at 10:10 pm

      Don’t give up on the idea, you’ll have one again for sure if you want it enough.

  • Renata Feyen

    April 26, 2021 at 10:07 pm

    Great that you split it up in easy to follow steps – love the color of that maple tree

  • Kiwi

    April 27, 2021 at 1:43 am

    I would love to incorporate some of these elements in my garden.thank you for this information!

  • Yanitza

    April 28, 2021 at 9:32 am

    I love that Japanese Maple! These gardens are so peaceful and so full of natural beauty.

  • Monidipa

    April 28, 2021 at 3:18 pm

    I really need this, this is heavenly to me!

  • Kylie

    May 1, 2021 at 1:58 am

    I can’t believe how beautiful these gardens are. It wish I was a small insect and loose myself in this gorgeous little world! Thanks for sharing x

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