Choosing plants to be used around swimming pools is a more complex task than just choosing plants that look tropical. Poolside plant choices should be determined by factors such as microclimate, pest tolerance and litter potential, as well as the safety and comfort of the pool users.
Avoid any plants with stickers, thorns or anything bristly or sharp. The pool deck is an active area and often host to playing children who do not want to be cut, poked or scratched. Pool-area plants also need to be hardy so that a poorly thrown pool toy doesn’t cause damage.
Keep plants that attract stinging or annoying insects away from the pool, and avoid plants prone to pests or disease. You don’t want to have to spray pesticides or herbicides around pool water.
For easy maintenance, choose plants that produce minimal litter or debris. Avoid deciduous plants whose leaves could drop or blow into your pool. Deciduous fruit trees do not belong anywhere near a pool, because they will drop not only their leaves but rotting fruit as well. Do not plant trees with invasive roots. Over time, these roots can lift up a pool deck.
Several evergreen trees can also create irritating liter. Coast live oak drops acorns, and many varieties of pine drop needles. This debris can also stain a concrete pool deck.
Many perennials can also be messy, so consider annuals in beds located close to the pool. Pick annuals that will hold their petals and leaves such as zinnias. Avoid messy bloomers such as petunias and geraniums.
Plants can serve many purposes in poolside landscaping. They can help soften the harsh lines of the pool and deck. Plants can also screen unsightly pool equipment, cover fences or create privacy screens.
Although the list of plants unsuitable around a swimming pool seems long, many good choices remain. To make a statement, choose dramatic plants. These plants can create even more drama if they are placed close enough to cast a reflection onto the pool. Plants with a dramatic look include agave, yucca, phormium and palms. Agaves need frost protection but can add a sculptural accent. Saga palm creates an attractive tropical effect without the litter of palm fronds. For shaded areas, Fatsia japonica (Japanese aralia) can create a bold look.
If showy flowers create too much litter, choose plants with colorful, bold leaves. Many phormiums (New Zealand flax) have large, narrow, fleshy leaves striped with pink, green or yellow. Especially colorful varieties include ‘Rainbow Warrior’, ‘Jester’, ‘Maori Chief’ and ‘Sundowner.’
A quintessential favorite that can be found near many California swimming pools is Agapanthus africanus (lily of the Nile). This South African native has many cultivars ranging in bloom color from white to blue to purple. There is also a dwarf variety called ‘Peter Pan’.
For small shrubs, plant low-litter varieties such as Pittosporum tobira ‘Wheeler’s Dwarf’, Nandina domestica ‘Gulf Stream’, Raphiolepsis indica ‘Ballerina’ or Viburnum davidii. For additional color, try perennials such as Hemerocallis (daylily), Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’ (wallflower), canna or Kniphofia (red hot poker). Additional annual choices include begonia and coleus.
The right plants can help you create an attractive, low-maintenance, litter-free environment around your swimming pool. For a more comprehensive listing, consult Sunset’s “Western Garden Book.”
Save Sunday, May 15, for “Down the Garden Path,” the Napa County Master Gardeners’ garden tour. The tour will showcase seven Up valley gardens owned and maintained by local Master Gardeners. For tickets and more information, visit cenapa.ucdavis.edu.
Mobile help desk
Bring your gardening questions to the Napa County Master Gardeners mobile help desk on Saturday, April 16, and Sunday, April 17, at Orchard Supply Hardware in Napa, and on Saturday, April 23, at Mid-City Nursery in American Canyon. Master Gardeners will be available to answer questions at these locations from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Join Napa County Master Gardeners for a Spanish-language workshop on “Containers and Raised Beds” on Saturday, April 16, from 2 to 4 p.m., at the University of California Cooperative Extension in Napa. Learn to maximize your limited space by growing ornamentals, herbs and vegetables in containers and raised bed. Register online: ucce.ucdavis.edu/ survey/survey.cfm?surveynumber=5921.
Open garden days
Napa County Master Gardeners welcome the public to their demonstration garden at Connolly Ranch on the first Thursday of every month, from April through October, from 10:30 a.m. to noon. Master Gardeners will answer questions. Connolly Ranch is at 3141 Browns Valley Road in Napa.
Napa County Master Gardeners (cenapa.ucdavis.edu) answer gardening questions in person or by phone, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to noon, at the UC Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Ave., Suite 4, Napa, 253-4221, or toll-free at 877-279-3065.