• Swimming Pool Landscaping Ideas - Design, Plants and More

    Brandon Cornett

    By Brandon Cornett, Editor
    © 2013 All rights reserved

    For many homeowners, a swimming pool is a "must have" item for the backyard. I happen to be one of those homeowners. But when it comes to landscaping ideas for the pool area, many of these same homeowners come up short.

    What plants should I use? Where should I place them? What types of plants should I avoid? The questions go on and on.

    Over the years, I've learned a lot about pool landscaping through trial and error. So in this article, I'll share with you all of the ideas and techniques I've used over the years for landscaping my backyard pool areas. Hopefully you'll find something useful in all of this, and perhaps even come up with some ideas of your own.

    Considerations When Landscaping a Pool

    On its own, landscape design is fairly straightforward. But when you add in a swimming pool, there is much more to consider. Here are some of the things you need to keep in mind, as you draw up the landscaping plans for your backyard oasis:

    • Water damage -- Do you have a saltwater pool? If so, you should consider the fact that most plants can be harmed by saltwater flooding their roots on a regular basis. The same goes for regular chlorine pools, to a certain extent. As you draw out the design for your landscaping, try to place the plants in a way that minimizes their exposure to pool runoff. Another solution to this problem is to use elevated plant beds. Otherwise, you may find yourself replacing your plants on a regular basis.
    • Plants that attract bees -- You've gotta love bees. They help plants pollinate and propagate, and they give us honey. They are marvels of nature. But you probably don't want them buzzing around your pool at all hours of the day. As you work on the landscape design for your pool, you need to research the insect factor. For example: zinnias and foxglove are both attractive, but they are known to be a magnet for bees. That's okay is you're making honey, but it's not so great for an outdoor barbeque. Choose plants wisely when landscaping the area around your pool. 
    • Plants that shed -- Try to avoid using plants and trees that are known to be heavy shedders. All plants drop leaves, petals, buds and other 'parts' once in a while. But some shed a lot more than others. As you develop the landscaping design around your pool, spend some time researching the shedding aspect of each plant. Avoid those that make a big mess, or at least place them further from the pool itself.
    • Plants that stay green -- Unless you live in say, Phoenix, there will be certain times of the year when it's too cold to take a dip. But your pool can still be a nice landscaping feature in your yard. With this in mind, try to integrate some plants that stay green for most of the year, or all year. Many shrubs fall into this category. Azalea, boxwood, lavender and holly are good examples. Research the different types of evergreen shrubs that can tolerate your regional climate. Consider incorporating some of these into your pool landscaping idea.
    • Above vs. below ground -- Do you have an in-ground or an above-ground pool? This is another key consideration when it comes to your landscape design, plant ideas and placement. For example, an above-ground pool gives you fewer options for putting plants into the ground. You'll either have to (A) choose trees and shrubs with a certain amount of height, or (B) construct an elevated deck around the pool with planters and/or hanging pots. You'll have more landscaping choices and options with an in-ground pool, because the edge is flush with the earth. For instance, you could easily install plant beds inside the contours of a freeform pool, or along one or more sides of a geometric pool.

    Landscape design is all about choosing the right types of plants, based on the location and the desired effect. As you think about the area around your swimming pool (and, for that matter, your yard in general), consider the points I've raised above. Make smart choices based on plenty of research, and you'll be better off in the long run.

    Choosing Plants for Your Pool Project

    As for plant choices, you need to figure out what types of shrubs, flowers and trees fare well in your particular climate. Many people think 'tropical' when it comes to landscaping a pool area. But if you live in the Midatlantic region or northward, tropical plants probably wouldn't make it through the winter. The ice and frost would kill them off. This is just one example of choosing the right plants for your climate. I cannot list all of the possible choices in this article, because it varies significantly from one part of the country to the next.

    Here are the steps I recommend, when choosing plants for your pool landscape design:

    1. Figure out which USDA hardiness zone you live in.
    2. Next, make a list of plants that do well in your zone.
    3. For instance, you could do a Google search for 'shrubs for USDA zone 7.'
    4. Do the same for trees, flowers, or anything else you want to use in your design.
    5. When you're done, you'll have a list of plants that can survive the winters and summers where you live.

    Of course, you'll also be limited by what is available at landscape supply yards in your area. But at least you'll know which of those species have the best chance of survival.

    Idea #1 - Adding Patio & Deck Space

    One of the things you should consider early on, before you get deep into your landscaping efforts, is the idea of deck and patio space. When we built our pool, we had a grassy area behind it that backed up to a greenbelt area. Weed control was a serious problem in this area, because it was so close to the 'wilds' of the greenbelt. We also wanted more deck space around the back of our pool for accessibility reasons.

    Patio Deck Area

    The solution we chose was to rock in the area completely. In the picture above, the red line shows the new section of stone. This expanded the patio / deck area of the pool while also taking care of our weed-control problems (a retaining wall separated our yard from the greenbelt). If we had installed landscaping plants all behind the swimming pool, we would have had maintenance issues forever. So we added patio space and built in some planter beds. Many people forget to consider hardscapes when planning the landscape design for their pools, but it's certainly something to think about.

    Idea #2 - Tropical Landscaping Approach

    Now before you plunge headlong into this landscaping strategy, you need to think about the big picture of your pool area. What kind of overall 'look and feel' are you after? With our pool, we were going for a native southwestern type of look, mostly because we lived in Texas and those types of plants did well there. But if you live in an area with a higher moisture level (like Florida), you could get away with more techniques ... such as the tropical look.

    Tropical Landscaping

    In fact, in certain parts of the country, this is the only pool landscaping design that makes sense. In the pictures above and below, for example, the tropical 'vibe' is already present in nature. So the homeowner simply had to bring it into the pool area with some well-placed palms and native bushes. It wouldn't make sense going for a southwestern theme here.

    Tropical Landscaping

    Idea #3 - Letting Nature Do the Work

    If your pool is situated near an impressive view (a lake, a forest, etc.), you might want to take the minimalist approach to landscaping the area around it. In the picture below, the swimming pool is situated near a beautiful backdrop of trees. So the homeowner has chosen to let nature do the work, and has merely planted a row of bushes along the retaining wall.

    Forest Backdrop

    Landscaping is all about drawing the eye toward something of interest. If you have a beautiful view of a lake, forest, or some other natural feature, then that's where the eye will go!

    Idea #4 - The Idyllic Garden Approach

    There's no single name for this type of landscaping, but it's often referred to as 'Eden like.' With this approach, the goal is to make your yard and swimming pool area peaceful and idyllic, like your own little Garden of Eden. In the picture below, the homeowner has combined some attractive hedges with climbing vines on a pole or trellis. Note the absence of brightly colored flowers that is common with this 'soft and green' approach.

    Your Own Eden

    Keep water requirements in mind when considering this idea for your pool area. These types of shrubs and vines often have moderate to high water requirements. So if you live in Arizona, for example, you might want to steer clear of this and use a southwestern or desert oasis theme instead.

    Plant Choice, Revisited

    The types of plants you choose will largely determine your level of success when landscaping your pool area. If you choose 'fragile' plants and put them too close to the pool, the chlorine or saltwater will damage them. If you choose plants that cannot tolerate the winters or summers in your area, you'll end up replacing them often. It can be a frustrating and time-consuming situation, not to mention the money you'll end up wasting. So it's best to avoid it altogether.

    If you use a landscape design firm, many of these problems can be avoided from the start. If you take the DIY / do-it-yourself approach, you'll have to do quite a bit of plant research. My advice is to buy a landscaping book written for your area. This is an excellent resource to have on hand, because all of the plant recommendations will be specific to your area.

    I also recommend that you get quotes from a few landscape services in your area. Almost all of these companies offer no-obligation quotes. So you don't necessarily have to use the company. But you might be surprised to find that a professional installation is within your budget. Use the link below to get free quotes through ServiceMagic.

    Let Logic Be Your Guide

    The style of your home and your swimming pool, combined with your climate, will largely dictate your landscaping options. You want to choose a style that complements your home, plays off of the native vegetation, and works well with your climate. I hope the ideas presented above give you something to start with. Good luck!