You want some attractive rock garden plants but you don't want to put a serious dent in your bank account or make costly buying mistakes. Let's look at some specific varieties like native plants or sun and shade-loving plants that make the best plants for rock garden and are budget-friendly as well.

Rock Garden Plants
Credit: Zipity11, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons,

Best Sun Loving Plant Choices

Try planting some of these plants that love sun or partly shady areas for rock gardens that get their fair share of sunlight.

  • Alpine Aster (Aster alpines) is a clumping perennial plant that grows to be about six to 12 inches tall. It prefers full sun but will tolerate partial shade. It blooms in spring and summer and produces tiny white flowers.
  • Alpine Columbine (Aquilegia alpina) can reach a height of 18 inches, making it a good choice for a rock garden background plant. It is deer resistant and tolerates sun or shade well. Its blooms are various colors of pink, white, violet, and lavender; as a bonus, it will attract bees and butterflies to your garden.
  • Black-Eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) are self-sowing biennials that will fill your rock garden with blooms from June through September. Because they grow as high as 30 inches, they make colorful background plants in gardens.
  • Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberose) is a plant that gives double bang for the buck. Its brilliant flowers are available in a range of oranges, yellows, and pinks, and it attracts butterflies to the garden. This perennial tops out at three feet and is a true sun lover, so there is no need to mulch.
  • Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) is another dual purpose plant. Its large lavender flowers give a stunning focal point to gardens, and it is also a useful healing herb. It grows to a height of two to four feet, so use it in the background to avoid overshadowing other plants.

Some important tips to remember are to consider the soil conditions of the rock garden site, plant vegetation with similar needs, and consider how big the plants will be when they mature. Considering the width of a mature plant is just as important as calculating its height when fully grown to avoid overcrowding the garden area.

Next, let's talk about what kinds of rock garden plants do well in the shade, and then we will go on to look at a list of plants that you want to avoid so they don't take over your rock garden or your entire yard.

Sunny Rock Gardens Need Sun-loving Plants

Purple Coneflower
Credit: By Arto Alanenpää (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Recommended Shade Loving Plant Choices

While some of these plants can tolerate a minimal amount of sun, most of these will be happiest when planted in the shade.

  • Bloodroot (Sanguinaria Canadensis) produces stunning white blooms in April and May. Bloodroot is a good ground cover—just six to nine inches high—and easy to propagate by simply dividing the rhizome.
  • Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans) is an excellent shady loving choice. It produces pink, lavender, and white flowers and stays relatively small (approximately four to six inches tall.) However, it is fast spreading so take care to keep its growth in check so that it does not overwhelm the rock garden.
  • Dutchman’s-Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria), with its unusual flowers that look like white britches, can make a stunning floral accent in rock gardens.
  • Foamflower is an attractive ground cover that produces tiny white blooms, but it does need some special care. Because it has a shallow root system, it is important to keep it well mulched. It grows between six to 12 inches high and blooms in April and May.
  • Forget-me-not with its dainty china-blue flowers is best suited for rock gardens that include a pool or fountain or are situated close to water. Because of its sprawling nature, it needs a watchful eye to make sure it does not overtake the garden. It is a perennial, which reaches between six to 16 inches in height and blooms May through August. Including it in rock gardens is a good way to make sure you keep some color in the garden for longer periods.

If you are not as concerned with choosing plants that will bloom and add dashes of color to your rock garden, ground covers are excellent choices for shady areas as they tend to be very low maintenance.

Wooly thyme, for instance, grows into a dense, thick mat of green foliage punctuated with teeny blooms. It is shade and drought tolerant, but it does need some sun every day.  Stonecrop is another excellent ground cover and its star-shaped flowers will give your rock garden a whimsical charm. Give it lots of TLC while it is getting established, and you will find it to be a very low maintenance plant that requires little supplemental watering or fussing.

Shaded Rock Gardens Need Shade Loving Plants

Dutchman's Breeches
Credit: By Jason Hollinger (Dutchman's Breeches Uploaded by Amada44) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

If You Plant These, You May Be Sorry

Knowing which plants to avoid planting is just as important as knowing which to plant. There are plant species, which are commonly called invasive species, that will quickly take over the rock garden and potentially the entire yard. Consider this list of spreading and creeping pests before deciding on your rock garden plants.

  • Mimosa
  • Giant reed
  • Japanese Barberry
  • Asiatic bittersweet
  • Crown vetch
  • Queen Anne's Lace
  • Morning glory
  • Russian olive
  • Climbing Euonymus
  • Dame's rocket
  • Perennial pea
  • Japanese honeysuckle
  • Double bird's foot trefoil
  • Purple loosestrife
  • Sweet clover
  • Fountain grass
  • Reed Canary grass
  • Buckthorn

Avoid Planting Invasive Species Like Japanese Honeysuckle

Japanese Honeysuckle
Credit: By Tomwsulcer (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons,

Tips for Designing Your Rock Garden

Other Helpful Tips

Some other tips to consider when choosing rock garden plants are to take into account how often a plant will bloom and for how long. If the garden has plants with different blooming schedules, you are assured of having colorful blooms for most of the growing season. Be sure to include some varieties with spectacular greenery to provide visual appeal during the times when the plants are not in bloom.

By doing your homework, and researching your plant choices, you can take an existing rock garden and turn it into a lush haven. By varying the species planted or adding features like water fountains or waterfalls, you can create a garden that attracts birds, or butterflies, or simply soothes your soul.

After you have your rock garden designed and in place, you may want to consider making it a spider friendly environment. Although many people are afraid of spiders, they are very beneficial to gardens and can be a cost-effective, environmentally friendly method of pest control.