Last season, I created a dry creek bed for a desert landscaping project. I thought you might be interested in some of the tips I learned along the way. Here’s how to build a dry creek build quickly and easily, while making sure that it stands the test of time.
Here’s a picture of the project I did last year. You can see that the rocks are still very much in place, despite the strong winds we often get in Central Texas. This is due to the strong borders I created to shape this particular creek bed.
As with any other landscaping projects, there are many ways to build a dry creek bed in your yard. There are many different types of rock you can use … different ways to shape the border … different accent plants you can use. You get the idea. Lots and lots of choices along the way. So don’t take my approach as being set in stone (pun intended). This process worked well for me, and I was happy with the finished product. But you can certainly tweak this approach to suit your own needs. With that being said, let’s talk about specifics.
Building a Dry Creek Bed – The “Brandon Method”
- Ground preparation is the first thing you need to do, regardless of how you end up building the creek bed. You need to (A) identify the area where you want to put the bed, and then (B) clear it of vegetation and other obstructions. Nothing mysterious about this process. Just dig up the grass and weeds, and remove anything else that’s in your path.
- Next, you need to map out the general shape and “flow” of your dry creek bed, which can be done in several ways. You could use landscaper’s paint for this process, scrape the border with a shovel tip, or just use the border stones to mark the path. Whatever works for you. You can adjust the shape as you go, if necessary.
- Once you’ve identified the area where your bed will go, you need to put down a weed blocking fabric of some kind. This is particularly important if you removed a bunch of grass and/or weeds. In nature, dry creek beds often have plants growing out of them. But in a yard, this just makes it look unkempt. You can put a few plants or grasses in the bed, if you want. But you don’t want weeds sprouting everywhere. So put some fabric down before building the finished product.
- Once you’ve got your weed cloth down, you might want to lay a foundation of decomposed granite, or some other stone-based mulch. (See the picture above for an example.) This step is optional, but it will help keep your rocks in place. The stones that make up your border can nestle down into the DG mulch, which helps keep them in place. Of course, if you’re using sizable rocks for the edges of the creek bed, you can probably skip this step. You’ll have to play it by ear.
- Now you’re ready to build the borders of your creek bed. This is simply a matter of placing the larger stones along the path you sketched out in step #2. You can use a variety of landscaping locks for this purpose. In the project / picture above, I used what’s commonly referred to as rainbow rock (named for its color variety). I like to pile the rocks along the border. Placing them in a neat line, end to end, looks too man-made in my opinion. You can also scatter a few of the border stones in the middle of your dry creek bed, for good measure. This will make it look more natural.
- Once the border is solid, you’re ready to fill it with smaller stones. Here again, you have a wide variety of options. Most Home Depot stores sell a product called “river pebbles,” and these work well for this kind of project. They actually come from rivers, and they’re polished smooth by the water current. So they look very natural in a creek bed project. This stuff never goes as far as you think it will, though, so buy more than you think you need. A thicker layer is better than a thin one.
- The last step is optional but highly recommended. In nature, creeks usually wind around rocks, trees and elevated areas. This is what makes them follow a serpentine pattern. So you might want to put some small boulders and plants inside the curves of your bed. You can see one example of this in the picture above. The dry creek bed in the photo is winding around a limestone outcropping, complete with some lantana and pink gaura. Though you can’t see it in the picture, the bed winds around some other boulders and plants as well. This is what makes a landscaping project look more natural — you have to mirror what happens in nature.
So there you have it, how to build a dry creek bed in seven easy steps. I hope you found this lesson helpful, and I wish you well in your future landscape projects.