General gardening topics

How to create an alpine rockery planter – step by step

Last updated on October 11th, 2022

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Alpine rockery plants are one of my favourite types of plants, they look amazing, are easy to grow, require minimal care and don’t need watering quite as often as most plants. Overall, I think they make a great alternative to bedding plants, especially if you plant them in a container or trough which I will be doing in my guide here.

I recently planted up this strawberry planter and even planted these amazing summer wall trough planters, so next on my list was to plant a new alpine rockery in a shallow terracotta container to use as a centrepiece in the middle of my patio table.

I thought I would take the opportunity to create this guide so you can do the same yourself. It’s so fulfilling when you create a rockery garden and best of all, they take very little maintenance to look after.

What you need to plant a rockery planter

What you will need

  1. Some sort of container (I used a shallow terracotta planter but you can use any container as long as it has holes in it. Belfast sinks and shallow stone troughs are popular options.
  2. Multi-purpose or potting compost
  3. Horticultural grit (to mix with soil and add a decorative layer to the surface).
  4. Some broken crockery or stone (to cover the drainage holes).
  5. A selection of your favourite rockery plants – I also have a guide which includes 10 of my favourite alpine rockery plants here (opens in a new tab).

Let’s get started

Choosing a pot

The first thing you need to do is choose a container, shallow containers are best but not essential. In the past, I’ve used belfast sinks and shallow stone sink troughs that I’ve bought from farm auctions. In this guide, I’m using an affordable terracotta shallow planter that I picked up from my local garden centre. Whatever planter you choose, it’s essential that it has drainage holes so the water can drain away freely. If not the planter could fill up with water and kill the plants.

Adding crockery to planter to stop the drainage holes becoming blocked

Don’t forget to add crockery

Firstly, you need to add some broken crockery to the bottom of the container to cover the drainage holes up to prevent them from becoming blocked up. If you have something like an old belfast sink with a large hole, I would add a small piece of mesh wire or chicken wire over the hole first and then cover it with the crockery.

Adding a layer of hori grit to the bottom of the container to further improve drainage

Adding a layer of grit for improved drainage

Next, I like to add a layer of horticultural grit to further improve the drainage. Alpines don’t like having their feet wet.

Mix multi purpose compost with grit 50/50 to ensure the compost is free draining

Mixing the right compost

When it comes to compost, most alpines aren’t too fussy but they must have gritty free-draining soil. I like to mix 50% compost (multi-purpose or potting compost will be fine) mixed with 50% horticultural grit. A 50/50 mix.

Filling shallow rockery planter with a mix of 50% compost and 50% grit

Putting the potting media into the pot

Next, fill the container with the compost mix to just under the rim of the pot. I like to give the compost a light press and a couple of taps to make sure there are no air holes in the compost.

Arranging plants before planting to make sure they are going to be in the right position

Now for the fun bit, planting

I like to position them beforehand to get an idea of where I want to plant the alpines. It’s best to do this rather than just randomly starting to plant them only to find yourself replanting them again if you don’t like the way they look.

planting rockery plants into shallow alpine planter

Once I’m happy with how they are positioned, I then carefully plant them, being careful not to plant them any deeper than they were in their original pots.

Alpine rockery planter positioned in the centre of my patio table

Finally, I like to add a layer of horticultural grit to the surface of the soil to give it that alpine rockery jazz as well as help to retain moisture. That’s it, all that’s left to do is give it a watering.

I also have a guide on how to build a rockery garden here and you can learn how to care for alpine rockery plants here

If you are interested in propagating rockery plants then check my guide out here

Welcome to my site, my name is John and I have been lucky enough to work in horticultural nurseries for over 15 years in the UK. As the founder and editor as well as researcher, I have a City & Guilds Horticultural Qualifications which I proudly display on our About us page. I now work full time on this website where I review the very best gardening products and tools and write reliable gardening guides. Behind this site is an actual real person who has worked and has experience with the types of products we review as well as years of knowledge on the topics we cover from actual experience. You can reach out to me at

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