Ahh—sinking into the cool water of a swimming pool on a hot summer day is heavenly. Diving into a tangle of slimy leaves and bugs? Not so much.
Welcome to pool ownership, which finds many folks hard at work skimming surface debris and sweeping decks to banish acorns and twigs before barbecue guests arrive.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. The types of trees, shrubs, and flowers you pick to surround your pool can spell the difference between a summer packed with pool cleaning, or one where you can recline in an inflatable swan in peace.
To that end, we’ve highlighted the best (and worst) poolside foliage to help you beautify your swimming area while keeping maintenance to a minimum.
The worst ‘high-litter’ trees to have around a pool
Yup, this term is just what it sounds like—a tree that drops leaves, needles, pine cones, and berrylike fruits all the time. One in particular is the eucalyptus, which is notorious for making a mess near pools, decks, and patios.
“With this tree, even if it’s at a distance from the pool, you’ll be cleaning it every day,” says Oscar Ortega, maintenance care manager at FormLA Landscaping. In fact, FormLA worked with clients who actually gave up and removed their pool rather than continue facing the onslaught of a neighbor’s eucalyptus droppings.
Susan Brandt, the gardening pro at Blooming Secrets, warns against crepe myrtle and flowering cherry trees, as both drop flowers that are prone to clogging filters.
“And skip honeysuckle trees since both the vines and shrubs can become invasive and litter the yard with spent blooms,” she says.
Better picks, Brandt suggests, are the Australian willow or the catalina cherry (shown above), a California native that’s lovely to behold and produces low litter. Or consider palm trees for their tropical vibe, lovely shade, and minimal leaf drop.
Measure the crown—and roots
When you consider planting a sapling or two around your pool, “think about how large the crown will be when it’s fully grown and know that the roots will reach at least that far—and in a drought, they’ll extend even more,” says Cassy Aoyagi, president of FormLA.
Avoid aspens and the American elm tree, says Brandt, as their large root systems may impact your pool’s structure.
If you have space in your yard, a California live oak (above) or a sycamore may be fine. For small yards, try a western rosebud tree or blue Palo Verde.
Avoid prickly plants
Bare feet are the name of the game in summer—so when you’re poolside, this means that your shrub choice shouldn’t drop anything thorny (and, of course, no cactus—ever). The FormLA team always looks to install native plants in its garden designs, but shy away from bristles that could hurt swimmers’ toes.
One example is Fremontadendron (above), which sports large bright blossoms but also prickly exteriors. Instead, check out shrubs like western columbine or coyote mint for its gorgeous purple blossoms and heady scent.
Not a fan of creepy critters near your pool water? You’ll want to pass on peonies.
“They tend to attract bugs, especially ants,” says Brandt.
Keep your water type in mind
The kind of pool you own is also a factor, says Aoyagi.
Beach-native bushes are accustomed to constant salinity, making them ideal picks to surround a saltwater pool.
“But highly chlorinated splashing on certain foliage creates an inhospitable environment,” she adds.
The turf grass (above) is another smart option, as it can be kept short or allowed to drape longer; plus, it can withstand any poolside play from family and friends.
Try herbs or fruit trees
Ahh, lavender! The delicious scent evokes Provence, and it’s easy to grow and tend.
“Not only are herbs pleasing to the the eye, but lavender by the pool can feel like a trip to the spa—and it’s low-maintenance,” says Brandt.
Consider containers to decorate
Save time on weeding and deadheading as well as money on larger shrubs and trees by focusing on a minimalist approach, says Brandt.
“A few carefully placed container pots can look just as nice as a lush poolside garden,” she notes.
Another bonus with containers by the pool: They can be moved around, depending on the season or occasion.
“And if you plant dozens, you might spring for containers with a drip system set on a timer,” she says.
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