Perfect Pool Plantings

And secrets to keeping them beautiful

Robert Clark

Water certainly has a cooling and calming effect during the hot, humid months of July and August in the Midlands. Having access to a beautiful swimming pool is a welcome respite to the heat. At one point this year, 319 houses with swimming pools were for sale in the downtown Columbia area. Judging from this statistic, swimming pools are a very popular addition to the residential landscape.

Plantings around a pool, whether in the ground or in containers, are important to the landscape plan. Many aspects should be considered when planting around the pool area, including landscape and pool maintenance. All landscape types need some degree of maintenance, and pools certainly require quite a bit of upkeep. When you are planning the plantings around a pool area, consider carefully what type of plants will provide the desired effect with the lowest level of maintenance.

For example, don’t plant deciduous trees too close to the pool or the pool deck, as the leaves, branches, and bark will be problematic in the fall and any windy periods. In fact, any tree or shrub should be planted at least 6 feet from the pool’s edge. Plant mainly evergreen trees and shrubs in the vicinity of the pool area.

Crape myrtles are beautiful trees that thrive in our heat; however, the blossoms are very delicate, and petals fall in the slightest breeze. During a strong, summer thunderstorm, copious amounts of petals will blow in the pool if planted in close proximity. While pools are equipped with filtering systems, numerous petals and leaves can put stress on any system. Good alternatives to crape myrtles are wax myrtles. They do not bloom but are evergreen and can be shaped into lovely, multi-trunked trees.

There are as many styles of pools available as there are styles of architecture. Just as in interior decorating, the containers should match the style and ambience of the pool, and the plant material should match the style and ambience of the containers. If you desire colorful plantings, plant in large, simple containers. Free-form shaped pools, such as kidney or oval, lend themselves to a more casual and loose planting style and containers with an earthy, organic appearance. Formal, rectangular or square-shaped pools are better suited to a tighter, more rigid type of planting. For this type of formal style, consider simple urns or large round containers with a rolled top. Nothing is better than the reliable design technique of a large round container in each corner of the pool for a total of four. For a modern, sleek swimming pool, look for containers with simple lines and little decoration. While glazed containers are not the best choice, in a contemporary environment, they can be pleasing.

Bigger is always better. Container plantings are more successful when planted in large containers. Small containers do not hold enough soil to keep plants moist for very long, and they can become root bound and decline fairly quickly. Always obtain the largest container your space and budget will allow. A few large container plantings are more pleasing to the eye and tend to grow more successfully than a larger number of smaller containers. Grouping containers can sometimes give the same effect as one large container, but make sure they are made of the same material and style.

Consider concrete containers because they seem to hold up better long term. It is also wise to raise any container on pot feet or plant risers, which will help with drainage and may prevent staining of the pool decking material. If the pool deck is constructed of wood, drainage is particularly important to keep the wood as dry as possible.

The first consideration is whether the container planting is to be relatively permanent or changed on a regular basis. Do you prefer having an evergreen in the center with colorful annuals around it, which will be changed seasonally?

Then, study the sun exposure. Does it get morning sun and afternoon shade, or, does it get constant sun exposure? Once these questions are answered, literally hundreds of plants are available from which to choose.

If you prefer having an evergreen in the center, try boxwood, holly, fantail palm, or viburnum. Fall blooming annuals, such as pansies and violas, can provide color in the fall. Spring and summer blooming annuals such as impatiens, begonias, verbena, or salvia add vivid color during the long, hot summer. These heat-loving annuals have the added benefit of attracting hummingbirds and butterflies, and watching them is a relaxing activity while lounging in or around the pool.

Container plantings dry out faster than plants growing in the ground. If the containers are made of a natural material such as terra cotta, not only do the roots absorb the moisture, but the container also absorbs some of the moisture and dries out in the heat of the sun. Irrigation is thus essential. If it is possible to run a drip irrigation system to each of the pots, keeping the plants watered and healthy will be a much easier task. Container plantings need to have consistent moisture.

One of the best ways to run the drip irrigation is up through one of the drainage holes. It is both less obtrusive if installed this way and less likely to be displaced. It is imperative to monitor the irrigation system in the hot summer months. As the plants grow larger, more drip lines may need to be added or moved to different locations in the container planting. Also, make sure that the drainage holes are working adequately. Plants do not thrive when they are sitting in water. In extremely hot, dry weather, it may be necessary to also water by hand.

Some pools have an internal vacuum system called a Polaris. This system keeps the bottom vacuumed and retains the leaves and debris in an attached net bag. If the Polaris is not balanced, or if it gets stuck, it can spray water all over. If the pool has chlorine or a saltwater system, spray from the Polaris can kill or damage the plantings in the containers. Keep an eye out for this problem.

Once or twice during the fall, spring, and summer, fertilize the container plantings with a light solution of water-soluble fertilizer, such as Miracle-Gro. It is best to apply this solution after a soaking rain when the temperature is below 85 degrees F. This usually means early morning or later in the evening in the summer and in the warmer hours midday during the winter months. Adding a slow-release fertilizer, such as Osmocote, when originally planting the container is also a helpful, horticultural practice.

Container plantings are such an asset to a pool landscape. They add interest, color, and variety to the pool deck. If the right plant is in the right container, the combination should enhance the pool area for years to come.

Gardening Chores for the July and August Gardener

Despite the high temperature, many chores keep the gardener busy during the height of summer:

• More zinnia seeds may be sown for a later drop of these bright and beautiful flowers.

• Plant a second crop of summer vegetables and herbs for a later harvest. Vegetables to consider are tomatoes, cucumber, and squash. Herbs to replenish are parsley, basil, and chives.

• Daylilies may be divided. If they did not bloom as usual, it may be that they are too deep or too crowded.

• Deadhead leggy annuals such as impatiens or begonias for fresh blossoms.

• Cut back established herbs such as mint and oregano for a flush of fresh leaves in two or three weeks.

• Prune all summer flowering shrubs after they bloom. Remove any dead or crossing branches.

• Fertilize annuals with a light solution of a water-soluble fertilizer such as
Miracle-Gro. Make sure to rinse off any fertilizer that spills on the leaves.

• Pinch back ‘Dragon Wing’ begonias if they get too tall and top heavy. You can place the pinched off pieces in water, and they will sprout roots. Plant in a light potting soil to have another crop of plants.

• Fertilize evergreens one last time before fall. Use a slow release fertilizer such as 16-4-8. Apply around the drip line of the plant and water in well.

• Redefine bed borders. Dig a trench edge, or add a brick sailor course or metal edging.

• It is extremely important to monitor all of the irrigation system if you have one. Make sure spray heads are spraying where they should and that drip lines are not clogged and are doing their job.

• Check outdoor lighting for burned-out bulbs or fixtures that need to be straightened.

• Evaluate your landscape. Have trees and shrubs grown so much that they shade out grass or blooming plants? Make notes so any changes can be made in the fall when it cools off.

• Weed. It is a never-ending job.

• Enjoy the pool area and your beautiful container plantings.


What’s in Bloom?

Abelia, althea, buddleia, crape myrtle, oleander, salvia, butterfly weed, cleome, cosmos, dahlia, daylily, daisy, hosta, impatiens, lantana, moonvine, Mexican petunia, petunia, phlox, plumbago, ‘Knock Out’ roses, sunflower, vinca, yarrow, and zinnia.

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