Having a pool in Orlando makes sense: With so much warm weather and sunshine, you can enjoy swimming almost year-round. But no pool is complete without a landscaped environment to complement it. The environment around a pool is different from other parts of your yard and requires special considerations. Choosing the right ornamental plants, trees, and shrubs for your pool area will save time, money, and effort in the long term.

We’ve homed in on the most important factors for landscaping around your pool and broken them down into an easy-to-follow guide.

Designing Your Poolside Landscape

Before you even consider choosing plants or hardscape materials, you’ll want to nail down a design plan. You can create your own plan using online research, garden design courses, and books. You can also hire a professional designer or landscaper. Do some homework beforehand to make sure they are licensed and positively reviewed.

Before you begin a design, consider the following:

  • Style preference: Do you lean towards formal or more naturalistic landscapes? Simple, clean lines or more complexity and layers? Look at garden designs online and make a list of your favorites to get a feel for your style.
  • Color palette: Everyone has a preference for certain colors and color combinations. There are more than enough plants to accommodate you, so narrow it down to the colors you like best and use that to guide your plant selections.
  • Maintenance: Some folks love puttering around in the garden. Others want to do as little as possible to have their landscape look great. Whether you’re a DIY type or plan to hire someone, decide ahead of time what level of maintenance you want for your poolside landscape.
  • Budget: You can get a perfectly good landscape on a limited budget. Come up with a firm number before you start shopping around for contractors and plants.

Selecting Plants

Aside from stylistic preferences, plants have other characteristics that make them well or poorly suited for the pool area. Use these tips to help select the right plants for your project:

‘Tidy’ plants

Avoid any plants that drop a lot of leaves, for obvious reasons. Messy plants overtax filtration systems and end up costing a lot of time in maintenance. Trees such as melaleucas and many deciduous trees are inappropriate for swimming pool areas.

Steer clear of aggressive roots

While you may love the look of bamboo or Schefflera, they have invasive root systems that can wreak havoc on water pipes and hardscapes.

Avoid ‘mean’ plants

Plants with spines and thorns are fine — if out of the way in landscape beds where there’s no pedestrian traffic. But they have no place in landscaping around a pool. You also want to be careful about plants and flowers that attract bees and other biting, stinging insects.

Plan for shade

Whether you choose to construct a poolside pergola or plant palms, you should engineer a bit of shade into your poolside landscape. Even the most ardent sun-lover needs a little break from the harsh UV rays.

Plant for tolerance to chlorine or salt

For chlorinated pools, choose plants with large, leathery leaves that are resistant to chlorine damage. Alphas, cordylines, erigeron daisies, golden cane palms, murrayas, and star jasmine are perfect. Saltwater pool landscapes should include coastal species that are salt-tolerant. Consider including foxtail agave, bromeliads, cycads, flax lillies and palms.

Design for success

No matter what styles or colors you choose for a poolside landscape, there are a few measures you can take to ensure your landscape will last.

Use native species

Terra Freeman
Terra Freeman

Florida is fortunate to support an incredible range of exotic and ornamental native species. Terra Freeman, an extension agent with UF/IFAS (University of Florida / Institute of Food and Agricultural Services), reminds us it’s important to buy native plants from a reputable nursery, rather than digging them up from natural areas. “We need to preserve, not take away from, those natural areas,” she says.

Besides being well suited to the local climate, native plants can help to provide a bit of habitat for native fauna. “Native flora has co-evolved alongside native fauna,” says Freeman, adding that the symbiotic relationship they enjoy has helped both to survive. She suggests planting masses of each native plant you include in your landscape and using a range of natives to offer seasonal interest throughout the year.

Maintain plant health

One of the best things you can do to make sure your landscape lasts for many years is to pay attention to your plants and take action if something seems off. Palm trees are a prime example. Lethal bronzing disease threatens palms across the state. But you can protect your palms with a little preventive maintenance. Most plants will show signs of distress long before it’s too late to save them. By spending time observing your landscape, you can catch disease and insect infestations before they pose a major issue.

Having a beautiful landscape around your pool adds to your own little private oasis. If you take time to design it well and keep it tended, your little Shangri-La will keep you basking in poolside bliss for many years to come.

Terra Freeman is an Urban and Commercial Horticultural Agent for the University of Florida/IFAS Extension St. Johns County. In addition to leading the St, Johns County Master Gardener Program, she specializes in small scale agricultural production and has a background in sustainable landscape design.