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Can you Plant on Rocks? What you Should Know

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There are many situations where the planting conditions may not be ideal. Planting on rocks or rocky soil can actually be successful, and some plants have adapted well to growing in stony ground.

The plants that grow on rocks are called Lithophytes. They grow in areas with very little soil and water. They survive by clinging to stones, logs, and other surfaces for support. Plants grow into cracks or crevices in the rock surface where water and nutrients can be found to survive.

Plants can grow on rocks if they have the right conditions – enough water, nutrients, and sunlight. This article is about the plants that grow on rocks. Keep reading this article to know more about the topic. 

Can You Plant on Rocks?

Planting on rocky soil

This article is about the little-known fact that you can grow plants on rocks? Yes, it is possible to plant on rocks. The key is to use the correct type of soil and plant.

Plants that can grow in or on rocks are known as lithophytes. Lithophytes can be classified into two categories: Epilithic and Endolithic

Epilithic plants are those plants that grow on the surfaces of rocks, whereas endolithic plants are those plants that grow in the crevices of rocks (also known as chasmophytes). 

Lithophytes are also categorized into two more categories, the first being obligate and the other being facultative. 

Obligate lithophytes grow solely on the rocks, whereas facultative lithophytes grow partially on the rocks and partially on another substrate.  

However, some conditions need to be met for the plant to grow successfully. Conditions are listed below: 

  • The first condition is that the plant needs a lot of sunlight. 
  • The second condition is that it needs a lot of water and nutrients. 
  • And finally, it needs a lot of patience and time.

Examples of lithophytic plants are Paphiopedilum orchid, ferns, algae, and liverworts. These plants use rainwater and absorb the organic nutrients from the dead and decaying tissue of their own body and other plant bodies. 

How to Plant on Rocks

This article is about planting on rocks. It will teach you how to make your garden look better and more beautiful. 

Using a potting mix specially designed to grow in rocky soil, you can plant on rocks. You can also use stones or gravel as a planting medium.

Growing plants in a rocky environment can be tricky for some. However, it is possible to make your rock garden with some effort. 

Plants that grow well in rocky areas are naturally small and don’t need rich and loamy soil to turn out well. 

If the right conditions and the right plant are chosen, a beautiful rock garden with simple efforts is possible. 

Here are simple steps that you should follow to plant a rock garden: 

Planting on stony soil (2)

Step 1: Remove the Weedy Layers of Topsoil

First, remove the weedy layers of the topsoil. To do this, dig into the rocky area and uncover the base rocks. 

If you are thinking of creating your rock garden, start digging with slight depressions in the soil for larger rocks to about one-third of their mass. This will help them be stable and create a more natural look to the growth of plants on the rock. 

Step 2: Digging Between the Rocks

The next step is to dig the existing soil out between the rocks. Digging should leave crevices deeper for larger shrubs and small crevices for smaller shrubs. 

Step 3: Refilling the Crevices 

Dug crevices in the previous step now have to be refilled again. You can do so by using gravel at the base of the crevice to provide drainage. 

Next, fill the crevice with a well-draining soil mixture of topsoil, sand, and compost. It may happen that for large crevices, some soil or rocks previously removed may be required. 

Step 4: Planting the Plants

Now, the time has come to plant the plants. According to the choice and climatic conditions of the area, choose the plant. 

Mound them between the rocks, hang them over the edges, and let them find their way around the crevices. 

These are the four steps you should follow to grow plants on rocks successfully. It may sound at first instance that growing plants on rocks would mean no soil is required. But this doesn’t seem right. 

To create a rock garden or grow plants on rocks, rocks and soil are arranged alongside so that specific ideal conditions are created for the successful growth of plants. 

Things to Know Before Planting Around Rocks

While you follow the steps above to grow plants on rocks, here are some essential things that you need to know beforehand. 

  • Growing plants on rocks must be in an open and sunny area. It should be ideally away from large trees. Possibly, undulated land is the best place to grow plants on rocks. Hence, sunlight is of utmost necessity for the healthy growth of a rock garden. Some plants can grow well in the shade. So, choose both the location and plants wisely. 
  • Besides location, the type of rocks you will plant in should be selected wisely. Rocks should be of local origin, porous, and have a weathered look. Limestone and hard sandstone are considered the best choice for growing plants. 
  • Stones should be placed in a slightly slanting position and leaning backward. This will help the plant’s roots get adequate rainwater through trickling. 
  • Rocks plants do not grow solely on rocks. They do need fertile and free-draining soil to have a beautiful rock garden. 
  • You can mulch-colored sand, pebbles, gravel, and wood chips on the ground to prevent the growth of weeds.  

Consider following the steps mentioned above and keeping the pointers in mind. Grow the plants carefully, note the local climatic conditions of that area, and you are good to go. 

What Plants Can Grow on Rocks?

Rock gardens can be beautiful. They are the unique type of gardens that one can have. 

Although plant growth depends upon the fertile and drain-free soil, efforts must still be made to grow such plants that may thrive in poor soil and may not require water all the time. 

Many plants can grow on rocks. In this article, a few best have been listed that can add to the greenery of the gardens. 

Blue FescueCoral Bells
Pulsatilla VulgarisSedum
Yellow Alpine AlyssumIrish Moss
Prickly Pear CactusThyme
Hens and ChicksStone Crop
Rock CressIvy
Evergreen CandytuftAubrieta
Plants that can be grown in or around rocks

How to Amend Rocky Soil for Plants

Excessive rocky soil can become a problem if you are thinking of starting with growing a plant. 

It is challenging to grow a garden in rocky soil because there aren’t sufficient nutrients present in the soil, and it cannot often retain water. But do not worry. It is easy to amend the rocky soil and grow the plants easily. 

All you have to do is follow the below steps: 

  • Transform the rocky soil by removing large stones from the area. This will lead to a suitable garden patch for growing plants. 
  • Take the help of a straight rake and rototiller to remove surface rocks and debris from the area. Be cautious while you do this and look out for larger-sized rocks as they can potentially cause damage to equipment. 
  • When the garden is free from the rocks and pebbles, lay down the layers of organic compost. Peat moss, well-rotted manure, and lawn trimmings will do good. 
  • Again use a rototiller to work the mixture of compost into the soil. Try building a 3-4″ organic compost on the top of the garden. 
  • Consult with someone at your local nursery regarding the suitable material that soil needs according to its quality. It is imperative to choose a suitable material for your soil needs. 
  • Repeat this process around three to four times to create good soil for planting. 

Planting a garden, especially a new garden, requires some effort. It is better to dig deeper and wide holes for the plants. 

It will ensure that plant roots are getting enough nutrients to survive. This is how rocky soil can be amended efficiently. 

Will Roots Grow Around Rocks?

The answer to this question is yes and no. Roots can grow around rocks, but it’s not easy for them to do so. There are a few limitations. First of all, roots need enough water and nutrients to grow. 

They also need a good amount of space to expand and take root around the rock. They may also find it difficult to grow through the rocks because they are too dense.

For example, if you have a small rock on the ground and you plant a tree nearby, it’s unlikely that the roots will go around the rock because there isn’t enough space for them to grow.

Although sometimes roots can grow around rocks because they can find a way through the cracks in the rock and then continue growing on the other side. But this is only in a few circumstances.

Looking at the situation above, the question should not be whether or not the roots will grow around the rock, but it should be what will happen if they do. 

Roots will be exposed to more injury as compared to those in soil. This is because the tip of each root is covered with a layer of cells called a root cap that works to replace them from inside constantly. 

Hence, outer exposure of roots will lead them to the damaged path.

The Takeaway

Having rocky soil or an area filled with rocks can be somewhat disheartening when it comes to planting but knowing what to plant in such areas can remove much doubt.

Plants can grow on or over rocks. Lithophytic plants grow in or on the rocks. They can grow even in areas where there is little soil and water. 

They possess a unique growth process. Plants growing on rocks add to the greenery of the garden.

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