3 tips for building a DIY creekbed

There are so many reasons to consider a dry creekbed in your yard. I love it as a way to create definition and interest in an outdoor space. It also brings a natural look by creating pockets for plants and accent boulders.

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 tips 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.

You need to keep one thing in mind: a creekbed is a dividing feature. Therefore, if you want to keep useable space, it’s better to not run it down the center of your yard.

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. This offers a nice opportunity to add a little footbridge which is always 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.

Placement and scaling rocks

A lot of times I’ll see creekbeds that literally look like someone dumped a load of rocks and kicked them around. Instead, I suggest hand placing the stones. I know this takes quite a bit longer, but once you’re done, it will look so much better!

The best natural-looking creek beds also use rounded stones. That is what you’d find in real creekbeds 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 fill the gaps left behind by the larger stones. However, try not to 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 lackluster so I tried to freshen it up by reorganizing and adding new stones.

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 gives more scale and pockets to nestle in larger boulders. Lastly, you’ll want some depth if you want to add a bridge. A bridge over a flat pile of rocks looks wrong!

Check out my book, “Big Impact Landscaping” for the full step-by-step instructions!

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