How to Build a Dry River Bed

The main purpose of building a dry river bed is to improve drainage around the house and yard.

The one pictured was built to divert rain water away from the foundation of the house, but it also serves as a decorative feature in the landscape. Plantings will be added to give it a natural look.

Materials Needed for the Dry Riverbed

  • Rotary Tiller
  • Landscape Cloth
  • Landscape Pins
  • Pea Gravel
  • Medium Size Gravel
  • Large Gravel
  • Wheel Barrel
  • Shovel

Getting Started on the Dry Riverbed

To build a dry riverbed, either purchase or rent an electric or gas tiller. Purchasing one might be best, for those who do a lot of gardening. The one used on this bed was purchased at Home Depot for a little over a hundred dollars. It will easily do this job as well as flower bed and vegetable bed projects.

Although gravel may be purchased at home improvement stores like Home Depot or Lowes, it’s much cheaper to buy it at a landscape supply business that will deliver to your home. Also, some home owners may prefer river rock which has a round polished look. Keep in mind it will cost more.

Choose the spot for the dry riverbed. Either outline it with spray paint or the garden hose. For the one in these photos, the trail was blazed by the owners dogs. Give it some bends and turns to add interest.

Measure the length, width, and depth of the intended riverbed. Take these numbers to purchase the gravel. The person selling the gravel will be able to help estimate the amount needed.

Building the Dry Riverbed

Dig the riverbed half as deep as it is wide, i.e. 3′ x 1 1/2′ for instance. Make it any width desired, but keep in mind it should look natural.

Lay landscape cloth. Secure in place with landscape pins.This will keep the weeds from growing up in the riverbed. Now decide if this is going to be strictly for decorative purposes, or if there’s going to be a lot of water flowing through it for drainage purposes. If it’s going to be for heavy drainage purposes, laying a PVC line may be necessary and also laying cement on the landscape cloth and then pouring the gravel to secure it. Do some research on how to do this.

The gravel goes on in this order: pea gravel first, medium size gravel next, and large gravel last. Add plants and a few large rocks to make it look like a naturalized setting.

Building a dry riverbed is not hard, but it is work. It can easily be done by one person, but hiring a couple of teenagers to help with the heavy work is a good idea. This is an excellent way to prevent heavy rain from damaging the foundation of the house or flooding the basement. An added advantage is that the family dog can’t do any damage to this landscape feature. It’s also a great way to add some decorative appeal to the landscape.