How to Build a River Rock Dry Creek Bed

Landscaping projects that include dry creek beds have become popular for many reasons. For some, controlling water drainage in the yard is a necessity. For others, a dry creek bed is simply a creative addition to the yard. Perhaps you have an area in your yard that is useless because the area always floods or the space is difficult to landscape. A dry creek bed is an ideal solution.

  1. Plan the course and location of the dry creek bed. This will entail watching water runoff during a rain to determine where the runoff starts and ends. The creek bed does not have to be a straight line. You can construct it in a meandering stream; it will still capture the runoff and carry it away. You can build a pond at the end of the creek bed or have it end in the woods further from the house or toward a drainage ditch, depending on the options your yard and preferences give you.
  2. Use the spray paint to spray the outlines for your creek bed on the ground. Spray both sides of the creek bed from start to finish, measuring the width as you go to keep it within the desired range. The spray paint shows how your creek bed will look and gives you an outline for digging. Most hand-built dry creek beds are approximately 3 feet wide and 1-1/2 feet deep.
  3. Excavate the area between the spray-painted lines to remove grass, weeds, debris and other rocks. Save any rocks, as you will be able to use them when adding the river rock.
  4. Pile along the edges of the creek bed the dirt you remove to create the depth of the bed. In this way, you are building the banks for the creek bed and at the same time creating the foundation of the creek bed. Tamp the mound of dirt with the back of the shovel to pack it down.
  5. Lay the landscape fabric down the creek bed with the edges lying over the mounds of dirt on the sides. Use the garden stakes along the edges of the landscape fabric to hold it in place.
  6. Fill the bottom of the creek bed with one layer of pebbles. Use the large boulders along the sides of the creek bed against the side of the dirt mounds. If you have a bend in the creek bed, be sure to put a large boulder at the bend to force the water to follow the meandering stream.
  7. Lay the river rock along the bottom of the creek bed, on top of the pebbles and where it is needed along and between the boulders on the sides.
  8. Use mortar between the rocks to hold them in place, if desired. Prepare the mortar according to manufacturer's directions. Put the mortar on the landscape fabric and press the boulders and rocks in place into the mortar. Only apply small sections of mortar at a time as it dries quickly. Note that it is not necessary to mortar the rocks in place.
  9. Trim the landscape fabric until it is just under the uppermost row of boulders where it will not be visible. Add plants along the sides of the dry creek bed to soften the edges, if desired.

Things You Will Need

  • Spray paint
  • Tape measure
  • Shovel
  • Landscape fabric
  • Garden staples
  • Mortar (optional)
  • Pebbles
  • Boulders or large rock up to 3 feet across
  • River rock, various sizes up to 3 inches
  • Scissors or utility knife
  • Plants (optional)


  • Install a small bridge over the creek bed for access to the other side.
  • Build a pond at the end of the creek bed.
  • Search rural areas, woods and around your home for rocks and boulders. This will save money by using natural resources.


  • Enlist the help of other people to excavate the creek bed and lift the boulders.

About the Author

Cathy Conrad has more than five years of newsprint experience as an assistant editor and is a professional writer. She has worked as a virtual assistant and email support specialist, and has more than 20 years of experience working in the medical field. Conrad is currently licensed as a Texas insurance representative and has many years in home improvement and gardening.