The backyard pool has come a long way from the days of the kidney-shaped pool of water with tacky blue-and-green tiles, a white plaster bottom and a drab concrete “skirt.” Today’s trend in pool design is to make the pool one with the yard. And in cases where the pool is already in the ground, redo it with a pebble bottom and slate or natural rock trim and tie in the surrounding landscape with the new natural look of the redone pool.
Choosing the right tree for backyard pool landscape plans can be tricky. Many trees have big root systems that could invade the pool or surrounding walkway, while at the same time dropping leaves–or, worse, flowers or seed pods into the water.
Palm trees work best if you want trees close to the pool, but they don’t grow in all climates. If they do, you’re in luck–but stick with palms with wispy looks rather than dense crowns, such as queens and kings. The denser canary variety also develops huge clusters of dates–another potential pool disaster.
Flower beds add a colorful touch to any backyard pool landscape plan. The beds can run into the pool walkway, or try little planter “islands” built into your walkway right up to the side of the pool. But, again, beware.
You don’t want messy flowers with lots of droppings, or sensitive plants that might not do so well if they’re constantly getting splashed with pool water or trampled by an occasional errant foot. Stay away from impatiens, petunias and geraniums.
Instead, try crotons, succulents or blooming spreaders such as lantanas, a good, hardy bet that can easily fill a plant bed with a sea of color.
Strategically placed rocks are a great backyard pool landscaping idea, particularly if you’ve “gone natural” with the look of your pool and incorporated natural rock or stone into the trim. Rocks also can shelter low-maintenance “rock garden” succulents like senecio serpens, kalanchoe thyrsiflora, purple aeonium, aeonium sunburst, golden sedum or echeveria geranium.
By all means, get a pool light or two. SAM lights, which change color every few seconds, are an ideal choice. And don’t forget low-voltage Malibu-style lights around the pool or, for a more tropical feel, gas or oil torches.
Decks and walkways
For the walkway around the pool and the deck, neutral is the way to go. You want to be as unobtrusive as you can get, so that the pool and its rock trim really stand out. Pick a neutral beige or light brown and go with acid-washed or stamped concrete.
Don’t make the mistake of using the same rock or stone tiles as you used in your pool for the walkways. That could be seen as overkill.
Landscape Ideas for Small Backyards With Pools
While landscaping a small backyard is a challenge in and of itself, throwing a pool in the mix adds a major extra consideration — but looking at the pool as a source of inspiration rather than design difficulty may help you create landscaping you love.
Whether your small, pool-enhanced backyard is located in Los Angeles or the Vermont backcountry, choose colors, plants and accent pieces that create a nurturing, luxurious backyard oasis.
Surround your pool with traditional English-garden plants, such as roses and ivy, in order to create the impression of a secret garden with an idyllic pool in it. Place the plants in stone pots or in niches of a stone wall. Allow the plants to become slightly overgrown and wild-looking if you want to cultivate an abandoned-garden appearance. Spike the area with crumbling, mossy statuary.
Enclose your pool with a lush riot of tropical greenery punctuated with colorful flowers like hibiscus, conjuring a dreamy jungle lagoon — minus the man-eating alligators. One landscaping advantage of a small backyard is that you can fill it to the brim with plants with much less effort than it would take to pack a large backyard full.
A densely landscaped garden will make the pool feel private. Add tropical accents like hammocks and Balinese umbrellas to complete the instant-vacation effect.
Outfit your small backyard with stone gravel sprinkled with potted cacti, creating the visual impression of the pool as an oasis or mirage in the desert. This approach to small backyard landscaping is particularly suitable if you live in a hot, dry climate because it will minimize the amount of water you need to dedicate to backyard lawn maintenance. It also minimizes landscape maintenance time.
Plant ground cover and trees native to your region if you want to make your backyard feel like a pocket-size wilderness refuge. Add a butterfly garden to bring colorful critters to your poolside. Extend the enchanted-forest effect by hanging or propping up a large mirror in an ornate frame, evoking a pre-Raphaelite painting and tricking the eye to make the backyard look larger.
Ideas for Backyard Landscapes With a Pool
Beach- or tropical-themed landscaping suits backyards with pools, featuring no prickles or thorns to threaten exposed flesh, drought-resistant, low-maintenance planting to avoid soil runoff when watering, and minimal gardening duties to allow quality pool time.
Summer-flowering plants provide color when pool usage is at its highest, and fragrant blooms enhance poolside parties and quiet, relaxing afternoon swims. Soften your pool’s hard lines with containers of plants near the edge
Palms ooze tropical or beach style and provide year-round color and structure in backyard pool landscapes. Mediterranean fan palm (Chamaerops humilis) tolerates heat and reflected light, forming clumps of trunks 10 to 15 feet tall and wide, topped by crowns of blue-green foliage. At evening social gatherings it looks attractive when lit from below.
Single-trunk windmill palm (Trachycarpus fortunei) is also very tolerant of poolside conditions, and grows 25 to 30 feet tall with an 8- to 10-foot-wide crown. Both palms are among the hardiest of their kind and suitable for U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 8 through 11.
Often neglected in landscaping, fragrance adds another dimension to backyard pool atmosphere. Evergreen choisya ternata “Sundance” (Mexican orange blossom) bears scented white late-spring and late-summer flowers.
Growing 3 to 6 feet tall and wide, this shrub tolerates full-sun sites and dry soil and is hardy in USDA zones 8 through 10. “Blue Hill” meadow sage (Salvia x sylvestris “Blue Hill”) is another sun- and drought-tolerant fragrant bloomer, bearing blue summer flowers. Suitable for USDA zones 4 through 9, it reaches 18 inches tall and wide.
Low-maintenance ground cover plants bearing colorful flowers save time on weeding and add to tropical or beach style. “Colorado Gold” treasure flower (Gazania linearis “Colorado Gold”), hardy in USDA zones 4 through 8, tolerates full-sun sites and produces bright yellow flowers from late spring through summer.
Sutherland hardy iceplant (Delosperma sutherlandii) bears purplish-pink summer flowers and is suitable for USDA zones 6 through 10. Both plants need only occasional watering once established and little other care. Plant between shrubs and perennials, and cover bare ground with a 3-inch-deep mulch, such as shredded bark, until covered by growth.
Containers of flowering perennials add a decorative touch to pool edges. African lilies (Agapanthus spp.) suit container growing in hot, bright sites, which promotes their flowering. Clumps of evergreen leaves surround 2- to 3-foot stems, topped by blue, violet or white late summer flowers 6 to 12 inches wide.
African lilies are suitable for USDA zones 8 through 11. Daisy-like, bright yellow tickseed (Coreopsis grandiflora) flowers provide a brilliant contrast. Tolerant of heat, light and drought, tickseed suits container growing and flowers June through September. Growing 1 1/2 to 4 feet tall, it is suitable for USDA zones 5 through 10.