Planting & Landscaping

The Dry Creek Bed: Tips and Images

A dry creek bed is a great addition to any landscape.

It's a long, narrow channel that can be used for drainage issues or an attractive pathway. It also provides the perfect spot for planting shrubs and trees!

Building a Dry Creek Bed

Dry river bed in spring

Follow this set of instructions to build a dry river bed. It's an easy project that will add curb appeal and improve your home's resale value. 

Use these images as inspiration for the materials you'll need, the overall design, and how to install it.

Equipment Needed


  • Shovel
  • Trowel or backhoe
  • Gloves for protection
  • Tamper


  • Landscape Fabric
  • Spray Paint
  • Pea gravel
  • River Rocks and Boulders
  • Pebbles
  • Plants and Trees

1. Plan the Creek Path

Dry river creek

Before you get started on your construction project, it's best to plan the dry creek bed design out and make sure it will work for your space.

Make sure you have enough room and that the creek bed will drain water away from buildings, garages or other structures where it would cause damage.

Start by marking out the design with spray paint, which will give you the outline of the creek.

2. Dig the Creek Trench

River rock edging dry creek bed

Dig a trench. You can use a shovel, trowel or backhoe to do this! It's important that the depth of your trench be at least 1.5ft deep (about 45cm) at the center.

The design and depth will help water flow through it and prevent any standing pools from forming.

The width of a dry creek bed is usually 3 feet (1m) across and up to 12 feet (3.5m) at its widest point. However, if there is a slope near your planned area, it's best to make the dry river bed narrower near the slope so water can form a catch basin. Then, plant a rain garden in the catch basin.

Remember that you should always tilt the bed away from structures that will help avoid water pooling near the foundation of your home or other buildings.

3. Tamp Down the Soil

Once you have dug your channel, make sure to tamp down the soil so that it's flat in the middle and angled on either side of your channel.

Tamping the soil will help stabilize it.

4. Lay the Base

Dry river bed with low growing ground cover

Dry river bed with low growing groundcover

Put a layer of crushed stones or pea gravel, or landscape cloth to create a base.

This base will allow water to seep through and keep the bottom of your dry river bed stable, as well as a weed barrier.

5. Decorative Rock for Drainage Solution 

Decorative Rock in a dry river creek

Add larger rocks to the bottom of your channel to keep it stable, as well as smaller pebbles to make it look attractive. You can also add plants if you want a decorative touch! 

For the natural look, you'll want some larger rocks and pebbles for mulch and edging that can provide a border between the earth around your dry creek bed.

Your river landscape rock edging will also help keep the dry creek bed from eroding.

For a modern look, consider using pebbles or smaller rocks or even succulents for edging instead of large rocks. This will add some variety to your dry creek bed and make it different from other landscaping ideas!

6. Plants for Decoration 

planting around a dry creek bed

After finishing construction on your dry creek river, plant it with native plants, shrubs, trees, and a rock garden.

Plants add some color and soften the hardscaping.

In addition, a dry creek bed can be used as an attractive pathway! You may want to plant the edges with a low ground cover such as trailing daisy or shasta daisy for sun or creeping jenny for shade, to create a nice border.

Or you could also use taller shrubs or trees on one side of the channel for more privacy and shade.

A few things you can do to help your dry stream bed stand out: For example, place large rocks near the top of the bank so it looks like they slid down naturally from an earthquake.

Related: What to Plant Between Pavers: For Sun and Shade

Dry River Bed vs. French Drain

A dry creek bed is not the same as a French drain.

A French drain removes excess water from your property and goes underground rather than being located above ground.

It's usually found in low-lying or flat land areas that can't release rainwater through natural drainage systems.

A surface drainage system that redirects the water for runoff is a better option than a French drain if your yard slopes toward your foundations.


Dry creek bed landscaping is a great way to improve the appearance of your property and provide some added utility.

As long as you take care in planning your diy dry creek bed, construction and plant selection, it's an easy project that serves many purposes.

Remember: always plan ahead with your dry creek bed ideas so you can create something beautiful!

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