Pool landscaping presents several unique challenges. You want to choose plants with non-aggressive root systems that won't invade the pool walls, and that produce a low-level of plant debris so they won't dirty the water. Plants shouldn't have spiny foliage that you can brush against or step on when near the pool. It's also a good idea to choose plants with low-water needs and a high tolerance for the heat and sunlight usually found in a pool area. For a pool in Florida, the plants also need to thrive in a warm climate that covers U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 8 through 10.
Generally, small trees should be planted 10 feet away from the pool, mid-size trees 20 feet away and large trees 30 feet away. Palm trees are the exception, since they do not have aggressive root systems. Even the larger palm trees can be planted just 10 feet away from a pool.
Dwarf Palmetto (Sabal minor, USDA zones 7b through 11). This Florida native prefers part shade and moist soils. Dwarf palmetto does produce fruit, but only grows 4 to 8 feet wide, so planting it 10 feet away from the pool should keep berries from dropping into the water. It grows 2 to 7 feet tall.
Windmill Palm (Trachycarpus fortunei, USDA zones 8 through 11). This palm tree grows 10 to 20 feet tall and presents no significant litter problem. It prefers part shade, and so it is good for pool areas with surrounding buildings or trees that shade the pool, though it will also grow in sun.
Shrubs can provide the backbone of a poolside landscape or complement larger trees. Choosing drought-resistant shrubs helps the environment and makes it easier to maintain the landscape. It also protects hardscape elements like pool equipment and decking from water damage that can occur with high levels of irrigation. Examples of drought-tolerant shrubs that are easy to train and keep in check around a pool area include:
Plumbago (Plumbago ariculata, USDA zones 8 through 11). This sprawling shrub will grow 5 to 6 feet wide if unsupported. Plumbago can also be trained along a poolside fence for a more upright growth habit. It likes well-drained soil and grows best in full to part sun. Plumbago reaches 4 to 6 feet tall.
Firebush (Hamelia patens, USDA zones 9b through 11). A Florida native, firebush can grow up to 15 feet tall, but is easily pruned to smaller sizes. It prefers full to part sun and well-drained soil. The blooms attract hummingbirds and butterflies.
For planting close to the pool, select plants that don't drop a high amount of leaves, flowers or fruits. Several perennials fit this description, and many are also drought-tolerant. It's also a good idea to look for plants with flowers that are pollinated by insects or animals, since wind-pollinated flowers are more messy and likely to trigger allergies. Look for flowers that attract creatures other than bees, to minimize the risk of stings.
Variegated flax lily (Dianella tasmanica variegata, USDA zone 8 through 11). This plant has neat, iris-like foliage that reaches 1 to 3 feet tall. It grows best in well-drained soil and full sun. Flax lily can tolerate shade, but it is more resistant to scale insects when grown in full sun.
Devil’s backbone (Pedilanthus tithymaloides, USDA zones 9 through 11). Devil's backbone is a succulent that grows best in full sun or part shade. It prefers well drained soil, and reaches 2 to 3 feet tall. Blooms are pollinated by hummingbirds.
For pools that are screened, container plants are the best way to get plants close to the pool. Other landscape plants can be placed outside the screen, which will keep any leaves and other plant debris out of the pool water. For pools with fences, hanging containers are a good choice. A wide range of plants can be grown in containers, including small trees and succulents.
Annual flowers are also a popular choice for containers. A few examples are petunias (Petunia x hybrida), summer snapdragon (Angelonia angustifolia) and lantana (Lantana camara). When creating a container of mixed flowers, select plants with similar light and water needs. To encourage repeat blooming and prevent spent blooms from falling into the pool, deadhead regularly.
- University of Florida: Special Planting Situations
- The University of Arizona Coopertive Extension: Plants for Poolside Landscapes
- Plant Maps: Florida Interactive USDA Zone Map
- The Florida-Friendly Landscaping: Guide to Plant Selection & Landscape Design
- University of Florida IFAS Extension: Sabal Minor
- University of Florida IFAS Extension: Trachycarpus Fortunei
- University of Florida IFAS Extension: Top 5 Drought-Resistant Shrubs
- University of Florida IFAS Extension: Top 5 Drought-Resistant Perennials
- UGA Extension: Gardening in Containers Using Tropical Plants
- University of Illinois Extension: Colorful Annual Containers
- Photo Credit Andrea Hill/iStock/Getty Images
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