You decided to save some money and opted for an above-ground pool instead of a built-in. And the kids had just as much fun swimming in it. But now that you look at it, the above-ground pool looks a bit sad, a big steel pail of fading summer memories.

Jan Johnsen
Water is “magical,” says landscape designer Jan Johnsen.

“Water is the magical ingredient in a garden,” says Jan Johnsen, author of “Gardentopia: Design Basics for Creating Beautiful Outdoor Spaces” and a principal of the established design/build firm, Johnsen Landscapes & Pools, in Westchester County, N.Y. “It can calm us or stimulate us, depending on its form.”

How can you make your above-ground swimming pool and a more appealing part of your landscape all year long? Let’s look at some creative design ideas.

Before Setting Up the Pool

Before you set up your above-ground pool, track the sun’s progress across your yard, and set up the pool where it gets the most sun, says Johnsen. “Many people locate their pool without thinking about that. They put it up in spring before the leaves come out on the trees around it. Then the leaves come, and they say, ‘OMG, we’re in the shade.’ Just make sure you know the sun and shade patterns when you locate that pool.”

One other important point: Make sure you choose a level spot for your pool. When you fill the pool with water, the pressure on an unleveled pool can cause the walls to give way. That can be dangerous for anyone in or around the pool area. You can DIY this part, or call in a landscaper to help with the leveling process.

If you already have an above-ground pool set up, you still have options.

Above-Ground Pool Decks

Above-ground pool deck
A fence, steps and stained wood enhance this above-ground pool deck.

In sun or shade, a deck may be the right answer. “Many people choose to put wood decking around the perimeter of the pool, so they can walk around the pool itself,” says Johnsen. The deck is freestanding and does not add stability to the pool. For most above-ground pools, the decks are built directly under the top lip or ridge of the pool — 3 to 6 feet up from the ground. Such a deck requires solid foundations, supports and bracing.

Building a wooden deck around the entire perimeter of an above-ground pool can make it look more settled and part of the landscape, like an in-ground pool. The deck can share the spotlight with the raised pool by building out the area to entertain guests or add seating. If your pool design is round, create a deck that forms a rectangle or diamond to add a contrasting shape. Even small yards can handle a deck of some kind around a pool.

Check with local departments for any necessary building permits and safety codes such as deck width minimums and pool fences. Think safety: Anticipate slipping possibilities and the slope as well as the gaps between the boards when planning your deck. Add padding, nonslip surfaces and extra border as necessary. Keep the area below free of debris and anything with a hard or sharp edge.

But you are not limited to a wood deck. You can surround an above-ground pool with landscaping blocks, or build a retaining wall of stone to frame the pool’s outside panels.

Landscaping: Think Buffer

Incorporating landscaping and plants around the above-ground pool can hide the pool entirely from view, or make it a reflective part of a larger picture. Keep in mind that frequent splashes of chemically treated pool water could harm some plants. “If you don’t have a wood decking around the top of the pool, and there’s just simply a pool sitting on the ground, then you need to leave a buffer,” says Johnsen.

Think about how your pool is used and how much splashing occurs to decide how much space you will need. Cover the buffer space with gravel, river rock, decomposed granite, mulch or other porous surfaces to allow water to run off without encouraging weeds. Use pavers and edging to mark walking areas through the landscaping. Think about how you do your pool maintenance: Do you store pool care supplies nearby or under the deck? Make sure you have a clear path to that area, without stepping on new plant life or shrubs.

At ground level, says Johnsen, “Add a lattice to the underside of the deck supports. Use weather-resistant material rather than wood — Azek decking material is nice. When you have that as a very nice wall then you can grow things up the lattice, such as honeysuckle, trumpet vine, or even climbing hydrangea. I have done climbing hydrangea climbing up the lattice and it looks gorgeous.”

Add Tall-Growing Plants

Next, plant tall-growing plants to decorate or mask the sides of the pool, and plant perennials or annuals according to height. Low-maintenance plants are always a plus, allowing you to spend more time in the pool! Avoid tall deciduous trees or trees that have cones or seeds to keep your pool debris-free. “You can have fun in the foreground and plant some summer blooming perennials and deer-resistant plants,” says Johnsen. She also suggests planting woundwort, also known as betony. The Perennial Plant Association named it the 2019 Plant of the Year, stating it is “As trouble-free and dependable as it is eye-catching.” It is deer-resistant, long-blooming, and a favorite of pollinator insects. “The leaves are fascinating. They’re scalloped like you took a scallop scissors and cut the leaf,” says Johnsen.

The pool reflects light, and the area around the pool will generate extra heat. When planning your above-ground pool landscaping, choose plants that are sun and heat-loving, as well as drought-tolerant plants. Leave room between plants in the flower beds for the circulation of air.

Easy-Care Plants to Consider

Here are a few easy-care plants:

Agave (Agave)

Aloe (Aloe barbadensis)

Butterfly bush or Buddlea (Buddleia davidii)

Desert broom (Baccharis sarothroides)

Emerald arbovitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Emerald’)

Green giant arbovitae (Thuja plicata ‘Green Giant’)

Goldmound spirea ( Spirea japonica ‘Goldmound’)

Honeysuckle (Lonicera spp.)

Hydrangea (Hydrangea petiolaris)

Karl Foerster ornamental grass (Calamagrostis × acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’)

Knockout rose (Rosa x ‘Radrazz’). There are several varieties of this plant, with colors ranging from white to deep red.

Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia)

Sago palm tree (Cycas revoluta)

Trumpet vine (Campsis radicans)

Woundwort (Stachys officianalis ‘Hummelo’)

Yucca (yucca aloifolia – L.)

Zebra grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’)

Pots of Color

You can also manage your landscape design by planting in containers of different sizes. Locate the pots in areas where you need to camouflage not-so-appealing pool walls, ladders, or pool pumps. Container plants will require more watering, but can offer an explosion of color over the summer.

Blue hill salvia (Salvia nemerosa ‘Blauhugel’)

Euphorbia (Euphorbiaceae)

Golden creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’)

Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis)

Lantana (Lantana camara)

Lobelia (Lobelia spp)

Sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima)

Pool Lighting Ideas

In many parts of the country, lingering heat will make that pool mighty tempting well into the evening. A circle of underwater lights around the interior of the entire pool will make it even more inviting for nighttime lounging. There’s no need to run wires: Today’s pool lights can be battery- or solar-powered.

Careful landscaping makes your poolside time more appealing. And when summer is over and your swim fins are hung up for the year, your backyard pool serves as a pleasant reminder of good times to come.

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