DIY Garden

DIY Side Yard Landscape with a River

October 24, 2017
Side Yard Landscape with a River

I decided to landscape my side yard with a dry river because I love the country.  Our area has been extremely dry the last five to seven years but we finally got some rain this year.  Most people are abandoning their thirsty yards and installing rocks, bark, and succulents.  The side yard has always been an awkward area so river rocks were installed and basically forgotten.  I’m sure you know the story.  The next thing I know it is covered with weeds and very ugly.




Landscape Materials:

  • River Rocks
  • Smaller rocks (about 1/4 to 1/2) size of the river rocks
  • Hoes
  • Rake
  • Screen Box to clean the dirt from the rocks
  • Door or Windows with Safety Glass (Broken)
  • Bricks (if desired)
  • Weed Barrier
  • level
  • Grid Paper
  • Pencil
  • Sand

Clean the Area to be Landscaped

In the beginning, I just pull the weeds.  So you may prefer to use a product like “Round Up” which is fine but you will still need to pull out the brown residue from the plants after you kill the weeds.  In the side yard, the weeds were just the beginning because I also have river rocks and the small rocks in place.

The next step was to remove the large rocks and move them out of the work area. I didn’t plan well enough so I had to move the rocks twice which I definitely learned from when landscaping.  My original idea was to only do half the area but realized it would look awful with only half of it newly landscaped.

The small rocks are sifted through the screen box and set aside for later.  The shifting of the dirt from the rocks was a very long process and one I don’t recommend.  It is always best to keep your landscape in good order so the project remains on the smaller manageable size.

Forming the Landscape Design

Once the rocks and weeds are removed I began the design process.  I designed the project in my head but I always map it out on grid paper which usually keeps the mistakes at bay.  I designed the river to be crossed over by the brick path which I think is a nice feature.

The dirt will need to be raked lower for the river and higher for the path.  I flatten and level the area beside the river so the brick path will be easier to level.

Weed Barrier

I started placing standard weed barrier black plastic on the area.  I ran out of purchased weed barrier so I reverted to what my mom used to use which was wet newspapers or paper bags.  Her method was taken one more step though and used dog food bags.  The dog food bags are very durable and have a moisture barrier on the inside of the bag.  The combination of wet paper and then the dog food bags ended up working twice as well as the commercial weed barrier.  The wet paper inhibits weed growth not allowing the weed seeds to propagate.

Dog Food Bags as Weed Barrier

Dog Food Bags as Weed Barrier

Brick Path Installation

Put a thin layer of sand in the area where the path will be in the side yard.  My bricks are different sizes so I have to make sure that I keep the brick design consistent using the right size of bricks.  Put the bricks down and use a level to level them.  Brick leveling is not for the faint of heart.  I put a brick down and then take it back up because it is too high or too low.  My hands were the best tools for putting in more sand or removing sand to level the path.  I did the first section of the brick path before the river.

River and Bank

Next, I begin to create the edges of the river with the large river rocks.  I use the small rocks for the river and for most of the bank.  The river rocks will be used near the fence to cover the concrete from the fence posts and to keep the neighbor’s dogs out of our yard.   Once the river and river bank are completed to the end of the brick path then I will return to the next section of the brick path.

Remainder of Brick Path

Again, the brick path is at the forefront of the project.  Finishing the brick path is a need before I can add more rocks.  It is time-consuming but the bricks must be level.  I need to level several times to get a safe walkway.

Remainder of the River and Bank

Next, cover the edges of the river with the large rocks and the river is filled with the small rocks.  When I get to the edge of the bricks where the walk goes into the patio, I use just the large rocks because of the dog.  The dog loves to run the edge of the fence and if the small rocks are used then we will have a mess of rocks everywhere.  The larger river rocks hold steady with his 13 pounds of girth running across them.


After, the basic rocks and brick are complete you can do a couple of things to make it a little more realistic.  I add some colored marbles to the river and a special material.  I add glass from a broken door which is a dual pane glass door with temper.  The glass makes the river pop and look more like a river.  I love it!!

Large Rock Area with Homemade Hose Rack

Large Rock Area with Homemade Hose Rack


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