The hand stacked dry creek bed in parents yard using native and imported rocks

There are so many reason to consider a dry creek bed in your yard. I love it as way to create definition and interest in an outdoor space. It’s also brings a natural look by creating pockets for plants and accent boulder. However, maybe the most important thing is its ability to slow down and/or capture water so that it can slowly sink back into the dirt filling our groundwater which is increasingly important in urban areas.

Here are my top 3 tip for making natural & just darn good looking creek beds

  • Location: Where you place your creek bed in your space can really make or break a yard. A creekbed is a dividing feature, so it’s not something you want to run down the center of your backyard if you are trying to keep useable space. I usually like to place them on either side of the yard and leave a little space for some plants between the property line and the creek. Sometimes I like to let them wind into the yard to circle around an open space or patio and this offers a nice opportunity to add a little foot bridge which is alway fun! Creek beds are great features for the front yard as well. I have a lot of clients that have narrow and long yards that are not really used so installing a creekbed down the center of the space can actually be a great way to add some curb appeal.
Dry creek bed in front yard
Replacing a dead lawn with a creek bed for lower maintenance & curb appeal for narrow front yard.
Designed: Sara Bendrick/Sarita Landscapes Installed: Calvine Landscape
hand placing stones for creek bed
Sara hand placing stone for a dry creek bed using indigenous and purchased rocks
  • Placement and scaling rocks: A lot of times I’ll see creekbed that literally look like someone dumped a load of rocks and kicked them around. I suggest hand placing the stones, yes I know this takes quite a bit longer, but once your done, it will look so much better! The best natural looking creek beds also use rounded stones as that is what you’d find in real creekbed from tumbling around in the water. They also have a variety of sizes of stones, I usually use a few 2-3′ boulders to anchor turning points in the creek, and then use a few 1′ boulders, 6-8″ boulders, 2-4″ stones and then smaller filler stones. It’s not an exact science, but variety makes it more believable. The small stuff is important to filling the gaps left behind by the larger stones but don’t go too small as the best way to clean a creek bed from fallen leaves is to hand pick or use a battery powered blower.

Here’s an example of a creek bed that was made from recycled onsite stones. It lacked definition and was a little lack luster so I tried to freshen it up with reorganizing and adding new stones.

excavation for creek bed
Excavation for dry creek bed, 18″ deep tapered to grade about 3′ wide
  • Trenching: I have seen a lot of ‘quick’ creek beds that just place the stones on top of the flat soil… It looks weird! Besides one of the great benefits is the ability to soak up water in the event of rain. Digging the creekbed down give more scale and pockets to nestle in larger boulders. Lastly, you’ll want some depth to if you want to add a bridge. A bridge over a flat pile of rocks looks wrong!
creek bed separating a garden and lawn
This creek bed features stones of different sizes separating a lawn and a garden space.

Check out my book, “Big Impact Landscaping” for the full step by step on how to build a DIY dry creek bed and the footbridge 🙂