How to Create a Dry Creek Bed in 5 Not-So-Easy Steps

I used to think the concept of having a dry river bed in your yard was stupid, artificial, a waste of good planting space, pretentious, and lot of other adjectives I don’t have to mention. But having had my vision expanded and exposed to lots more interesting features recently, I’m increasingly a fan. Of well designed dry river beds, not most of the ones I’ve seen on Houzz. (Having said that, most of my pictures here have been slurped from Houzz.)

Here’re your main points:

1. Make it natural looking

This is an actual natural dry river bed. Thanks to Kate Presents
This is an actual natural dry river bed. Thanks to Kate Presents


*Following a natural slope if possible

*Irregular in width

*Heaviest rocks don’t move much, so tend to be either in the centre or embedded in the banks. Lightest–sand and small rocks–wash away  with the flow of the river and are deposited along the edges in “beaches”.

Thanks to Town Mouse and Country Mouse
Thanks to Town Mouse and Country Mouse
Also from Kate Presents, and this time a pretty good man-made version.
Also from Kate Presents, and this time a pretty good man-made version.

2. It doesn’t need much space, but the depth should be twice the width. When excavating, if the soil is usable it can be mounded a bit along the edges, so as you’re digging deeper you’re raising the edges–less excavating. Tamp down the bottom, then line the bottom with heavy landscape cloth. Much as I hate landscape cloth, in this case you’re going to be exposing long buried weed seeds to light, and that means growth. And then covering them with rocks, which means getting those weeds out is tediously hard work. Landscape cloth will help minimize that. Place your biggest rocks first, if possible embed some into banks, others in the middle. Then fill with small-medium sized rocks–mixed sizes are much more natural than all one size, and mixed colours ditto. Keep the smallest stones to create widened areas opposite and just a little “downriver” from your largest boulders.

Apparently this is a BC creek, or so the caption says on the photo. Town Mouse
Apparently this is a BC creek, or so the caption says on the photo. Town Mouse

3. Make the beginnings and endings appear to come out of something and go into something. These somethings could be a collection of rocks, or a collection of plants.

4. Plant along the borders. Grasses are particularly effective in this context, as are creeping things flowing over the banks and side rocks. I don’t care much for the actual river bed here, but the planting is cool.

Ditto here:

5. Add some lighting. These can be low-profile spots that show up large rocks, and/or in the planting beds alongside. Or under a bridge you built to “get over the river”.

That’s a ridiculously simplistic primer on dry river beds, but if you like that, google “dry river beds”, and with these five steps in your toolbox you’ll be able to judge better what you’re reading and viewing.

Look forward to your questions and comments.

Would love to hear your comments. Go to Client Site Analysis page for design help.

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