Top 10 Tips for Using Boulders to Improve Your Landscape Design

Say goodbye to ordinary landscaping!

One of the real advantages of using natural stone boulders in your landscape is that they offer the wondrous effect of revealing nature’s pure beauty. These large, stately landscaping stones can alter the appearance and feel of your property. And they can also lessen the need for as many plants while still providing a handsome appeal.

Landscape Creatively with Boulders

If you are a garden lover, then you are inherently a lover of beautiful landscape designs. You probably deeply enjoy creating serene and colorful spaces with plants, shrubs, flowers, stone, and accent pieces. Many people with these artistic instincts find that landscaping with boulders for the first time offers a new spark to their design creativity. This is because boulders, due to their large size and interesting dimension, make tasteful focal points in any garden or landscape setting.

Part of the creative fun with your design is choosing the placement of either a single boulder or a grouping. You can often draw inspiration from their various sizes, textures, and colors. Tall grass and indigenous flowers make for a graceful and natural complement to solitary or grouped boulders. We suggest that the use of boulders can help breathe creativity into your landscape or garden design.

1. Start with a plan.

If you are going to be landscaping with boulders you will definitely want to do some advance planning. Remember that because of the considerable weight, boulders are difficult to move. If you aren’t certain how to move a boulder safely, ask a professional landscaper or the landscape supply yard where you buy from.

So, because of their weight and the fact that they are natural focal points, you will want to position the boulders first. And remember that by using boulders they will also act as a kind of visual anchor. So it’s a good idea to plan for your other landscaping elements and your garden design around your boulders.

And you’ll want to plan to set your boulders partially into the ground, at least a few inches. This provides safety in case children decide to climb on them and play around them. It also helps protect the boulders against shifting and placing stress that may one day cause them to crack. And from a design standpoint, they look more natural this way. No huge rock sits lightly above the dirt. They settle in. Depending on the size and weight of the stone and the soil composition, some designers will set them as much as 25% below grade. Sometimes placing them on a gravel or concrete base is advisable, especially when arranging them in a dramatic position.

2. Go big or go home!

One piece of advice we often give to customers when they are in our landscape supply yard trying to decide which boulders they want is, “Don’t be afraid to go big.”

We often find that people viewing a boulder away from the context of their property tend to underestimate the size needed. It’s often the case that when their rock is taken home and placed they find that it looks much smaller in relation to their home and landscape. So we recommend choosing a boulder that seems to be a little too large. Then when it is set into the context of their larger landscape it is usually the right size.

3. Build levels into your design.

With such varieties of size available, landscaping with boulders provides the perfect medium for building distinctive levels into your design.

First, you will want to decide on the prime areas in your space where you want to establish and develop levels. You can choose to do this with raised beds, retaining walls (if you have sloped or hilly ground), or simply through the use of your rocks and greenery. You can create definition for each level by using varying dimensions of boulder groupings. Then add in your smaller landscape stones and greenery to further characterize each level.

4. Use specialty boulders for dramatic effect.

You can select and place single boulders of different mineral composition to produce variety in texture and color in your landscape or garden. Or, you can create texture or color groupings to add visual impact to an area. Often your choice may be due to the shape of the rock. You may want blocky or angular stones for accents or features in one area of your garden and then rolled, water-smoothed rocks for other areas of your space.

5. Use colors to set a mood.

Choose from peaceful off-white and ivory colored stones to striking boulders of black, or from lively yellow and red hues, to mellow gray or taupe shades highlighted by greens from lichen and moss to inspire the mood and feel of your design. Boulders offer you a surprisingly wide variety of color at your disposal to augment your landscape. And since our moods are influenced by color, you can use boulders to help you design areas of your garden or landscape to be either soothing or stimulating spaces to enjoy.

Boulders with moss and lichen can also provide some nice color options such as varieties of green, gold, gray, brown and even some orange.

Guaranteed to get your guests’ attention, these brand new decorative landscape boulders offer an amazing, show-stopping color effect. Naturally enhanced with sparkling mica mineral deposits, these beauties can provide eye-catching color and panache just where you want it. Plus, you can design amazing centerpieces unique to your neighborhood or dazzling accents to make your landscape really pop. These beauties are also excellent natural stone color options for beautiful accents, retaining walls, or water features.

6. Create interest or accents with unique textures.

One can make use of the great variety of textures available in different kinds of boulders. From smooth and rounded to rough and angular, there are many options to stoke your creativity. Weathered limestone boulders, mossy boulders or boulders with lichen or other vegetation on them can also add to your many creative texture options.

When an impressive boulder with unique texture is what you are wanting, then Holey Limestone Boulders offer a perfect example. Named for the interesting holes throughout the layers which characterize these beautiful, natural limestone rocks, these often make grand centerpieces or stand-alone focal points in a lawn or garden landscape. Such use of an extraordinary look can create intrigue and will really draw the eye to that area, and then hold the viewer’s attention.

7. Use landscape lighting for dramatic effect.

Boulders make terrific focal points for landscape lighting. Experiment with different bulbs. A wide-angle flood will create a different effect than a narrow spot. While this is a matter of taste, warmer lighting is generally used on boulders because it has a more natural feel. You can also get some very nice effects by uplighting either the boulder itself, or some features that may be behind the boulder, such as a wall, tall grass, or a tree.

8. Make an impression with placement of boulders.

If, for example, an Oriental feel is what you are going for, implement this design as a creative idea to accomplish your goal. Place a smooth, solitary white boulder in a designed setting of small smooth stones to emulate the tranquility of water.

Or, by placing your boulders in a cascading fashion down a grade you can form and create the impression of a waterfall. And even better, if you happen to have a stream or perhaps some other water features in your landscape, you could use your boulders to actually create a waterfall.

Don’t underestimate the power of placing a single, solitary boulder. A large boulder in just the right place can create a dramatic effect.

And don’t underestimate the power of placing a single, solitary boulder. A large boulder in just the right place can create a dramatic effect. If you’re not sure where to place it, trust your first instinct. Your subconscious mind knows what looks natural and fitting, so trust your intuition. After all, landscaping is really about evoking and stirring feelings.

9. Allow the style of your landscape and the features of your boulders to determine their arrangement.

A good rule to keep in mind is that your landscape should serve and compliment the beauty of your home, So your goal is to create the design that unifies both aesthetics. Consider the style and feel of your home and property when deciding which side of your boulder should face up or in a specific direction. Intuitively allow the shapes and dimensions to influence whether your boulder should stand up, lie flat, or dramatically jut upward at an oblique angle. Get your visual cues from the style and appearance of your home and from your landscape or garden, then arrange your boulders accordingly.

And while you’re at it, change up the directional placement of your boulders to provide some variety. If all your boulders are set upright or if they are all lying down, this can give your landscape or garden an artificial or deliberate feel. This is not how things look in nature. Stand some upright and lay others down or lean them against another. Mixing it up helps it look for natural.

10. Include boulders in your rock garden ideas.

Often the addition of boulders creates inspiration for further design. For instance, placing one, three or five boulders in your rock garden seem to give it an air of mystique. And for some reason, using odd numbers of boulders just seems to work better. Many find that once the large stones are set, a “flow” seems to emerge, and then adding landscaping with small boulders and gravels seems to happen more naturally. These beautiful creations are what inspire more and more people to want to try landscaping with rocks in their front yard.

Their fascinating shapes, subtle striking colors and solidity mean that with landscape boulders you’ll add an air of permanence to your garden, making of it a place where your gardening dreams are truly “cast in stone”.

And remember that you can always consult with your experts in landscaping with boulders, Southwest Stone Supply, about the best ways to position your boulders. They will even offer suggestions on which parts of the boulders should be buried and which part would provide the best viewing interest.

More About Boulders

We have recently received some questions about boulders, so we’re going to answer a few of them here!

1. How many boulders are in a ton?

Of course, weights will vary from one rock to the next, so these are just rough averages.

  • A one-man boulder is a relatively small landscape boulder, generally up to 12″. These little guys can weigh anywhere from 20-200+ lbs.
  • A two-man boulder is generally up to roughly 18″. These are typically somewhere in the 150-500+ lb range.
  • A three-man boulder can be up to 36″. So, how much does a 3-foot boulder weigh? These bad boys can weigh up to 800 lbs or more!

So you see, the terms one-man, two-man, and three-man do not actually mean you can use people to move these behemoths! You will usually want professional equipment, shipping, and placement when it comes to your larger and heavier boulders. It should also be noted that there are still much larger boulders than these available. Click here for an example of a very large boulder being loaded by people without the proper experience! 

2. How do you transport a boulder?

Professionals are going to use a large truck, usually a flatbed. The boulders should be placed and strapped onto pallets where they can be loaded (depending on weight) with a forklift or a backhoe. Bad things happen when people attempt to load and transport large boulders with the wrong equipment. Not only do you risk damaging your vehicles and loading equipment, but you can place people in harm’s way. 

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