When designing your next swimming pool or spa, don’t do half the job, remember to make plans for the plants too. Whether you want to soften the hard surfaces, provide privacy or create a standalone focal point, plants surrounding a pool must be given careful consideration.
Plants are living organisms that thrive and grow depending upon many variable factors. Some factors that may influence a plants general growing success and growth habit include microclimate, water and nutrient availability, drainage, underlying soil types and aspect. Add in the additional constraints of planting near a swimming pool such as inundation from pool water, pool chemicals, trampling from pool users, etc. and you realize it’s amazing any plants survive this environment at all!
As such, there are so many variables, it is important that the plant inclusions herein be viewed as a guide only and if you are in the process of designing and planting out a clients garden, especially in the proximity of a swimming pool, it is important to consult with a qualified person that can help you with design, layout and plant selections for your client’s specific situation.
When planting adjacent to a swimming pool the design needs to be very closely considered to ensure success due to the number of variable factors. If the variable factors that determine a plants success are not addressed in detail a potentially stunning garden design can quickly fail.
I have found that the main reasons of failure for planting around a swimming pool are due to first, not enough attention being given to the situation in which the plants will be growing and second, lack of consideration of how the space around a pool is to be used by the owners.
The trick is to find plants that won’t hurt children, that children can’t hurt, can withstand the pool's microclimate, are easy to maintain, look great and will grow. Some of the tricks I have found to designing successful planting around a pool include:
•The plant selection, ensuring that the plants considered are not too fragile or precious to use in association with children and next to a pool. A lot of the native grasses such as Lomandra ‘selected cultivars’ (native grass) and Dianella ‘selected cultivars’ (Dianella grass) work great in most planting styles and will survive rough handling by children.
•A swimming pool creates a microclimatic situation. A heated pool protected from prevailing winds can raise humidity levels, and intense sunlight reflected from pool water and poolside paving can burn adjacent landscaping. The environment plants are being planted into around a pool is harsh to say the least. Phormiums (flax) are great for planting in contemporary, tropical and native style planting designs, but be careful as they don’t like lots of water.
•Proximity of plants to the pool. There are very few plants that will grow and thrive if planted immediately adjacent to a swimming pool and are consistently splashed. If possible a hob or raised planter should be installed to restrict water flowing into the surrounding garden areas.
•Drainage. Ensure that the gardens around the pool have good drainage to stop the build-up of water and chemicals. This can be achieved by installing effective agricultural drainage lines to remove water, or if the drainage cannot be improved, select plants that can handle brackish water such as Juncus usitatus (sedge reed).
•Irrigation. Installing irrigation washes the pool chemicals from the leaves and surrounding soils and stops a build up of chemicals. Salt, if left on plant leaves, can cause spotting, a burning of the leaf tissue and if left to build up in the soil will kill most plants.
•Generally softer tissue plants like impatiens balsamii (busy lizzy) absorb water quickly and are therefore not successful if planted around pools. Pool-area plants also need to be hardy so that a child’s poorly thrown pool toy doesn’t cause damage, so plants that are brittle like Buxus japonica (Japanese Box) may not be suitable for inclusion.
•Select plants for the safety and comfort of the pool users. Ensure that plants selected for use around a pool will not cut or scratch bare skin. Avoid plants with stickers, thorns or anything sharp. The pool entertaining areas are active spaces and often host to playing children. Agave attentuata (Lions Tail) is a very popular plant at the moment but has sharp ends to the leaves that may cause harm.
•Look for plants that do not leave a great deal of debris that can clog up your pool skimmer and filtration. Avoid plants with berries and fruit trees (and especially deciduous ones) as they will drop not only their leaves but rotting fruit as well. Some pool cleaners can cope with berries and fruit but most can’t and there is also the potential of staining to the pool interior. Syzygium luehmannii (Lilly Pilly) is a beautiful screen hedge but has numerous large red berries.
•Do not plant trees with invasive roots. It is unlikely that roots will invade plumbing but over time, roots can physically lift up a pool deck and crack plumbing. Schefflera actinophylla (Umbrella tree) is one plant that should be avoided for this reason.
•Avoid plants that attract stinging or other annoying insects. Children often suffer from allergies so best to avoid these plants. An example of a plant in this category are the Hebes, bees love them!
•Avoid plants prone to pests or disease. You don’t want to have to spray pesticides or herbicides around pool water where contact with the skin or ingestion can occur.
The general planting styles of formal, native, tropical and contemporary can all be achieved around a swimming pool using mixes of the following plants; Care should be taken that attention is given to the situation in which the plant will be growing and secondly, the proximity of the plant to use and people.