Creating a Dry Streambed

Creating a Dry Streambed

Plan Your Streambed

In a well-designed landscape a streambed suggests a purpose. Water, real or imagined, should flow from higher elevations to lower. Keeping this in mind, determine the path of our stream. A stream that cuts a diagonal line across your property is usually more appealing than one that cuts the landscape into square or rectangular blocks. Variation in width, course (direction) and slope also make more natural looking and interesting streambeds.

Select Materials

Variation in size is important if you want a natural looking stream, as rocks ranging from large boulders to small pebbles are normally present in natural streambeds. Color and texture are also important. While wide variations in color exist in some natural streams, most seem to be complimentary in color. Round edge rocks are more common in streams that crushed or fractured types as the tumbling process that occurs in natural streams smoothes the broken edges. We recommend using a filter cloth/weed barrier under the streambed rock. If a lot of water occurs during rainy seasons or other run-off situations, consider a heavy plastic liner or a pond liner.

Site Preparation

First, remove any unwanted vegetation and other debris from the area. Then, using your plan lay out the streambed on the ground with powdered gypsum, lime, or marking paint. Move any sprinklers, pipes, wiring, etc. that may be in the way.


Taking drainage into consideration, grade the area to establish the stream channel. Streams found in nature are usually narrow in steep areas where the water moves fast and wider on flat ground where the water moves slowly. Be sure to allow for the depth (size) of the rock you will be using when establishing the ‘rough’ streambed elevations. Also allow for the extra soil you will generate when digging holes for boulders.

Install Boulders

Most boulders are found at the edge of natural streams, or sometimes in the stream as an island rock. Wherever you place yours, we suggest that boulders be buried a portion of their depth to give them a natural appearance. INSTALL ANY PIPES, WIRING, ETC. THAT YOU MAY WANT TO CROSS UNDER THE STREAM BED.

Install a Filter Cloth

Fit the filter cloth/weed barrier to conform to the streambed. Lap joints a minimum of 2″ and use scissors to cut irregular edges around boulders or other objects. Nails (8d) work well for holding down the edges of the fabric until the rock is installed, (nails can be left in place).

Install River Rock

Using the natural stream example, a higher percentage of large rock is found at the edge of the stream and in steep areas where the water washes the small material away. The smaller, finer material is found in flatter areas where it is deposited by the slower moving water. A simple installation method works well. Dump a mixture of rock sizes in the streambed and spread them across the width of the bed by moving the largest rocks to the outer edges. Detail your streambed by filling in the voids with smaller rock. Larger rock has a ‘nestled in’ appearance when installed with smaller rock around it. When finished, spray the streambed with water to wash off the dust and settle the fine materials.


Divide your area by the number of square feet per yard of coverage based on how many inches deep you want the rock. An area of 325 square feet covered 2″ deep with 1″ rock would require 2 yards of rock. At 5″ deep, the same area would require 6 yards of rock. *Coverage’s are approximate. How level your area is to start with will make a difference in how much rock you use. Low and high spots will require more or less rock for good, consistent coverage. Try out our calculator by clicking on this text. For more information, please call (702) 896-2070.