My house is surrounded by rocks (wraps all the way around the house and in places is 10 feet wide) that my father-in-law put in 20+ years ago, way before my wife and I bought his house. Those rocks grow lots and lots of weeds and the reason they grow lots and lots of weeds is because there is a lot of dirt in the rocks.

There is black plastic underneath the rocks, but I'd imagine that either, much of it is damaged, or enough organic material decomposed on top of the rocks to give everything a nice layer of sediment in which to grow weeds (and there are lots of bushes that were ripped out without ever repairing the plastic.

So, this isn't really back breaking labor since it's impossible to shovel these rocks in any meaningful way, it just takes me a million years to sit and sift out the dirt and replace the plastic.

What's the easiest way to repair (remove the dirt and weeds) rock garden landscaping so it's good for another 10-15 years or so?

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    Peter, could you add pictures so that we can see what exactly it is that you're dealing with? There isn't no one fix works for all for rock-gardens... the advice might vary depending on the situation. Sep 22, 2011 at 20:08
  • @PeterTurner Can you please post a photo, so we can get an idea of the scale of this rock garden? Do you want to remove just the weeds, or the weeds + the "layer of sediment"?
    – Mike Perry
    Sep 22, 2011 at 20:10
  • OK, but no pics till this weekend (the sun's going down too quick for me to get a good pic in the PM) Suffice it to say, I want to de-dirtify my rocks. That'll take care of the weed problem. Sep 22, 2011 at 20:13
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    @PeterTurner It might not be quite that easy, especially if weeds are coming up through the "black plastic" barrier. Without seeing how big the rock garden is, is it too big to dismantle, then build anew? Do you want a "permanent" fix or a fix that will give you a few "weed free" years (at best)?
    – Mike Perry
    Sep 22, 2011 at 20:16
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    @Mike yeah, that's great thanks. I've been meaning to ask this question about as long as I've been meaning to accomplish this task! Sep 22, 2011 at 21:46

7 Answers 7


One option is to get a powerful jet washer and just blast water through the gaps to loosen the dirt. You can easily get these for rental at your local rental store.

You might have to do a little bit of rearranging prior to hosing them (to make the gaps wider) and provide a path for the water+dirt mix to flow out.

Once you get the dirt out of the way, you can get some fine gravel and pour it through the gaps, spreading it with a small stick (poke through the gaps) under the rocks, so that it will help suppress weed growth.

It'll be easier to refine this advice when I see a pic of the rock garden. However, do note that there is no easy way out. You will have to undertake some manual labour to get it done.

Please take caution: The water pressure is extremely high and could injure humans if directed at them at close range. You've also got to be careful that you don't spray on any plants that you do want to keep, as the pressure could blow them to bits. If you do take care of these, I think it really is a good option, as it certainly does leave your rocks looking spankin' new.

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    That's a good idea, especially since it would actually make it look good. I replaced about 20 feet of edging (over the course of 6 weeks) this summer and it was an awful task which left everything very dirty. Sep 22, 2011 at 20:21
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    Sounds like it would be worth a shot. Don't ask for "gravel" though, you'd be better off with 1/4" washed pea stone. Gravel could bring along a lot of sand and/or silt that will undo all of your pressure washing work.
    – bstpierre
    Sep 23, 2011 at 13:38

Alternatively you might try throwing buckwheat seeds into the dirt areas between the rocks. The buckwheat grows quickly and is easy to pull out. This might loosen up the soil between the rocks a bit. I had some success with this when removing deep sediments from cracked concrete. This might be a good idea if you want to keep the dirt to turn it into a planned rock garden, instead of removing the dirt from the rocks completely.


I recently found out about weed torches. They won't get rid of the dirt, but they should make quick work of weeding around rocks and hardscaped areas (that won't catch fire, of course).

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    Do a number on his plastic landscape cloth too! May 20, 2017 at 17:34

I have 90 tons of rock landscaping in my front yard, and it tends to fill up with dirt because we live on a dirt road. When cars drive by, or when the wind blows hard, the dirt blows, and settles in between the 1-2" rocks. Although we live in the desert, there is the occasional massive rain storm the washes huge amounts of muddy water across the rocks from the dirt road.

So it is an annual job for me to blow the dirt right back out of the rocks. I use a high-power blower to blast the dirt out and up into the air. On a real windy day, a lot of the dirt blows up and away, so I pick a day when the wind is blowing in the right direction to get the dirt off of the nearest edge of the rocks. I just start on one part of the rock area and work my way in the direction of the wind toward the nearest edge of the rock landscaping. There is a plastic liner under the rocks, and the rocks are heavy enough that they don't move too much. If I had smaller rocks, this blowing technique would not work because it would just blow smaller rocks away with the dirt. Near the edges of the rock areas, I am careful not to blow with too much velocity, because I don't want to either blow the rocks out of the landscaped area or blow the rocks under the edge of the plastic liner. It is tricky, because if the rocks get under the plastic, it creates gaps along the concrete curbing edging where small weed seeds will start to germinate. For those rock areas not near any edges of my landscaping, it is not efficient to keep trying to blow the same dirt over a long distance to get it off the yard, so I built a 4' x 8' plywood platform that I can blow the dirt on and then shovel it into a wheelbarrow. I haven't tried this out yet, so it may or may not work...


We live in California City, CA. High dessert with your exact same problem. It is driving me crazy. When we first bought the house, five years ago, the large lot was a blank slate.

We had 11 palms, etc. Brought in, put in drip irrigation to about 10 dessert pines and lots of other xeriscape plants. Did a focal point of dry stream bed with large river rock and had 1/2 to 1" granite gravel spread on the dirt along with areas of crushed brick for interest.

It looked nice for about a year, until we had a huge dirt storm like they have in phoenix. It almost covered the front yard with fine dirt. In some areas you could hardly see the gravel or brick. Our neighbor (who was born here and does nothing to their yard) said it doesn't take the dessert long to reclaim itself, so true.

I'm glad we didn't let the landscaper (who we didn't hire) talk us into the expense of putting down plastic or landscape cloth. All the weeds we have are from the dirt that is blown in consisting of tumbleweeds, rabbit bush etc. Seeds. They germinate whenwe have any rain in the spring.

All this was a huge mistake and if we could start again, we'd just have a small lawn to mow and water and do some decomposed granite that could just be blown off, not the nightmare of gravel.

We, too, blow off the gravel on a windy day. I have washed more gravel by shoveling it into a wire mesh wagon and spraying it with a hose and dumping it back on. Back breaking work, way more than mowing a lawn.

Too, it never looks very good, not like a freshly mowed lawn. It almost always has some dirt that constantly blows in on the gravel. People do give us lots of compliments on our oasis low maintenance yard, ha!!

Hope I have discouraged some poor new home owner from making the mistake of putting gravel on a yard in a windy, dusty dessert.

Don't know if I helped a lot with the original question, except to identify with it, lol. If a landscaper could come up with a solution to all of this and offer that service, we'd be the first to hire him.

Kind regards, Donna


To effectively clean out a "drip edge" such as this and bring it back to it's original state, the best bet may be simply to start again.

If you save the stone you can wash/sift them off and save a ton of money. But prep the bed again, place some decent metal edging as a barrier between the stones and the garden, and begin refilling the hole.

Often times this is actually less work in the long run than trying to pick and pull at weeds over the years. using a decent weed barrier between the soil and rock is a good idea to help, but it really is only a starting point. Weeds grow from the ground up....AND from the air down. Seedlings fall and germinate and then seek the soil out... as well as start from the soil and seek the sun.


I have 1-5" off white pebble beds around my home and in a few areas around a stand of trees, and along my property fence line. I live in NE PA along a bluff overlooking a stream with many large 100' sycamore and popular trees (dirty). Last summer I rebuilt a 30 x 40 second story deck that was over one of the larger rock garden beds, and being under the "porch" I didn't clean the area as thoroughly as say my front drive or house front beds. How you ask? Well I'll tells ya: first use a high powered blower after grass raking the dead leaves left over from previous fall seasons. Then use a garden rake to jiggle the top layer of rock to break up the soil that embeds between the pebbles and bribe your spouse to blower the spot you are jiggling (oh you do have a dirty mind!). This will give you some satisfaction and would probably be "good enough" for an annual cleaning, but if you've been lax, you may want to get down a few more layers then a blower or power washer will achieve. Here's my trick. I have a wire garden cart (tractor supply, Lowes etcA that came with a rack insert. The 1" mesh allows me to shovel the lossened stones into the rack that I sit on a large round wash tub. I do the prospector shuffle and sift the dirt from the rock. I put these into 5 gal buckets and save to respread on top once I have gone down enough layers to be happy. Note that you don't have to go all the way to the plastic, and also you'll find that these beds can be pretty thick if done in the good old days with quality workmanship. I am always surprised when I try to restore another area how deep the stones are and I often find the the perimeter extends a foot or two beyond where Ive been maintaining. For example a 10' square by my mailbox is all rock, but over the years the Ivy has claimed the middle half around my driveway landscape light (and is forever needing to be cut back). There is now mulch and plant along the road and a dirt/rock path on the inside perimeter that I bet is over at least 1' of original peddlerock. I maintain a 2'x4' swatch of clean pebbles that border my drive. A note on tools: obviously depending upon where you live, the initial debridement tool may be better suited for what you are removing from on top. In PA I have leaves (tons of leaves!) That fall. Every year, too! Plus maple wings, acorns, walnuts, bird seed shells by the feeder, grass clippings and any of another source of hubris that all become a really good black soil albeit with chunks. I use the fan rake and a blower to get whatever leaves I've missed during fall cleanup. Then the heavy 12-20 tooth garden rake with pressure to loosen the rock from this soils bind, which can be tough if not done for a year or few. I blow away the loosened dirt (blow it away, not back into the bed or you'll just have to address it the next layer or two done when your more tired). Then you have to collect enough cleaned rocks to replace them as the new top layer(s). Blowing moist dirt doesn't do as well as waiting for it to dry a bit, so move on to another section and come back to blow it off. I have used a spade garden shovel to dig up the old rock after its been loosened, or a coal shovel that I scoop up rock from a raked pile. What I hope to try today is to use a "coal fork" - kind of a T handled pitch fork with thicker tines ( like 5-6 pointed metal linguini tines instead of round spaghetti tines for hay bails). I'm hoping that I can work these into the rock deep enough simply to "turn" the garden and this will act as my sifter and shovel as one. Probably won't work as well as I want it to, so the rack screening method will still be needed for high viz areas. All said, its a pain in the all over to do, so do little bits at a time. To me, I stay away from squirting it with a washer or hose til I have it back in place after maybe hosing off the rock in the screen before bucketing them. I've found the power washer is good for cleaning clean rocks, and making dirty rocks harder to clean or rack out. And finally, some landscapers didn't do the job deep enough in the first place as a gift to the homeowner (I can save you a few hundred Mrs Jones...) If you skimp of the depth, it looks badder more faster ;). So some areas may need a little cleaning and another new bags mixed in or on top to get that fresh brushed feeling. It is like brushing your teeth. If you take care of your stuff routinely, then its easier to do the real cleaning twice a year and have a happy smiling landscape. Of course if you throw ciggie butts in your pebble garden and only give it some love every 5-10 years, you can expect some decay or even an extraction is necessary. Take your time, get your system, quit yapping about it and just go do it! Now where the heck did I put that linguini shovel??? ~Dr Bob in Reading PA on the mighty Tulpehocken

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