One of the commonest reason people go with dry creek bed landscaping is to divert water away from their home in an attractive, functional way. But others build them simply because they make an appealing water feature when it rains that remains highly attractive when dry. Dry creek bed landscaping takes planning and more than a little hard work. Read on for some suggestions to guide you for this project.
Marking and Excavating
Mark where you want the creek bed to be with spray paint or landscapers paint. You want to define the edges so you will know where to begin digging out grass and weeds, and soil, too, if you want to make the bed deeper.
It is a good rule of thumb to create a depth that is approximately half of the width, so if your creek bed is to be, roughly, three feet wide, it should be about a foot and a half deep. Keep in mind that if you run into tree roots or large rocks, your project may take considerably longer and be more difficult.
Excavate the creek bed so that it meanders down your slope, rather than in a straight line. This not only adds visual interest and makes it look more natural, but it also helps break the flow of the water during heavy rains. Just make sure the dry creek does not end at your neighbors property or on city property (unless you have gotten a signed agreement okaying it).
After you have removed all grass, weeds, and any other debris that might be in the bed, line the entire area with landscape fabric to keep more vegetation from growing there. Anchor the fabric down with garden staples, fabric pins, or even pieces of wire coat hangers cut and bent into U shapes. You can bypass this step if you do not mind frequent weeding.
Or you can use a product such as Round Up to kill grass and weeds as they appear, but do not forget: Just because the product kills the unwanted vegetation, it does not pull it out. To keep it looking nice, you will still need to occasionally go out and clean out any dead weeds, grass, and maybe even a volunteer tree seedling or two.
It is now time to add the rocks. Begin with the base rock, which should be the smallest. You can use pea gravel, but something a little larger but prettier, like river rock, makes for a more aesthetically appealing bed. Next add your largest rocks.
Do not place them in any sort of perceived pattern; remember you want this to look natural. Nature seems to place things in odd numbers, so place these largest rocks in groups of just a single one, three, or five. Finally, place your medium-sized rocks around your largest-rock groupings in random groups.
Plant Material & Trees
Along the edges, your dry creek bed landscaping should appear as natural as possible, too. If possible, use native grasses and plants to bring to mind a meadow with a creek running through it (that is seasonal, of course).
Small ornamental trees might even be appropriate, but do not plant anything that blocks the view of your other landscaping or your house.
A Final Bit of Optional Finesse
Consider building or purchasing a footbridge to cross your creek bed. These give just the right bit of ornamentation without taking away from the natural look.
And that is it. You have now got a good-looking dry creek bed landscaping project finished and ready for the next rain, but pretty as a picture just at it is.
Pescadero Creek Image by William Ward