The key to smart poolside garden design is to find strong plants that can withstand your pool's microclimate, are easy to maintain, and still look good. The plants you choose to surround your pool should be carefully researched before any buying or digging happens. A heated pool can raise humidity levels, and intense sunlight can fry nearby landscaping. Also, keep in mind that plants will likely get splashed with chlorine and other pool and spa chemicals.
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If you desire a tropical look for your pool area and live in a mild, frost-free climate, banana trees (Musa) instantly create the mood you may be looking for. Bananas are fast-growing herbaceous perennials or trees with tropical-looking long, broad leaves. Plant them in a spot safe from winds because those great-looking leaves can get ripped-up easily if not near a wall, fence, or protected by neighboring plants.
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Put on your hula skirt and tuck a heavenly hibiscus behind your ear: it is luau time. If you are able to grow Hawaii's state flower in your zone, then go for it—you have many species to choose from, with dreamy names like "White Wings," "Crown of Bohemia," "Kona Princess," and "Flamenco Flame."
While hibiscus traditionally is not used in floral arrangements, there is a trick to using one in an arrangement or alone in a vase for a few hours in the evening. Pick one during the day while it is in full bloom, then put it in the refrigerator. It will stay fresh and open in a vase for a short time period, like at a dinner party.
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Bird of Paradise
If you are thinking of going the tropical-oasis route, a bird of paradise (Strelitzia reginae) will get you there quickly. It looks similar to a banana plant, has an upright growth habit, and 2-foot-long leaves. Like the banana, Strelitzia reginae needs shelter from strong winds or its leaves can rip.
Bird of paradise is an excellent choice for poolscaping—it does not shed and is strong enough to tolerate splashing (in moderation, of course).
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Ornamental grasses are excellent choices for poolside landscaping. They are easy to care for, not too messy, grow quickly, blend nicely with other plants, and create a striking form, day or night. This particular ornamental grass is Miscanthus sinensis "Strictus," commonly called zebra grass or sometimes called porcupine grass. Its horizontal stripes give it an exotic look that goes well with tropical landscaping.Continue to 5 of 18 below.
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In the right conditions, Cyperus papyrus (Egyptian papyrus, papyrus sedge or papyrus grass) can create a mood—lush, tropical, and exotic. Papyrus likes water and can live in bogs and shallow ponds. It also does fairly well in a clay soil that has been amended—the clay helps it retain dampness, which it loves. Pair it with tall and skinny Equisetum "Horsetail," which also likes water and has an exotic feel.
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The name alone could have you ordering one of these heavenly looking plants sight unseen. Brugmansia, commonly known as angel's trumpet, also has a heavenly scent, making it a stunning pool-area shrub or tree. In cool-summer climates, like near the coast, Brugmansia can be planted in full or partial sun.
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Some of these Mexican natives feel to the touch like a cross between felt and velvet. What is not to love? Echeverias are succulent perennials that come in lovely greens, pinks, reds and yellows. These plants are wonderful for rock gardens and are drought tolerant. They would also be a nice addition to planters near your pool or spa, mixed in with other succulents, and some ornamental grasses for an attractive, low-maintenance display. In the right zones (mostly southwestern) they can be grown as shrubs, reaching a height of up to 2 feet (60 cm) with 4-inch-long leaves.
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Its common name—kangaroo paw—gives a big hint as to where this popular perennial hails from: Australia. Anigozanthos flavida and its hybrids are a slim and graceful looking plant, but it is the flowers that are the real appeal to kangaroo paws. Striking and curved like kangaroo paws, the perennials comes in many varieties and lovely colors, including:
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- "Bush Gold": lemon yellow
- "Bush Lantern": bright yellow
- "Bush Pearl": bubblegum pink
- "Bush Baby": a blend of red, orange and yellow
- "Bush Emerald": green flowers with yellow and orange
- "Bush Ranger": clear red blooms
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Martha Washington Geraniums
Mention geraniums as a striking poolside plant and you might get a blank stare or a big yawn. But for vibrant, beautiful color that lasts from spring to fall—bascially the time you will be using your pool—nothing beats the hybrids called Martha Washington or Lady Washington geraniums.
The geraniums sold in most big-box stores and garden centers are actually Pelargoniums. If you happen to see some of the more unusual Martha Washington colors—all variegated—go ahead and buy it. That variety is usually only available for about six weeks or so in late spring. Since it grows quickly, there is no point in buying a quart-size container or larger. The 4-inch ones are all you need and are easier to plant in the ground.
Marthas, aka regal pelargoniums, sometimes look like exotic tropical flowers and orchids. They can be found in shades of pink, magenta, fuschia, red, white, violet and lavender. Like many flower hybrids, Lady Washington pelargoniums have great cultivar names:
- "Raspberry Swirl"
- "Elegance Lavender"
- "Elegance Purple Bi-Color"
- "First Blush"
- "Cherry Orchard"
- "Bold Candy"
- "All My Love"
- "Hazel Masterpiece"
- "Lilac Elaine"
- "Oriental Delight"
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These orange tropical beauties are proteas and look like a cross between orange pincushion (Leucospermum) "Hawaiian Sunburst" and Banksia intergrifolia. Banksias hail originally from Australia. Proteas are usually stiff and prickly to the touch but also hardy and long-lasting.
Add other tropicals—like hibiscus, cannas, and low-growing palms—with proteas for a tropical paradise.
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Ornamental Sweet Potato Vine
Sweet potato vines (Ipomoea batatas) come in many beautiful colors and variegations, but this bright chartreuse "Marguerite" (also called "Margarita" or "Margarite") is one of the most striking and hardy. Hailing from tropical and subtropical locales, I. batatas are fast-growing, easy-to-care-for trailing vines that are suited for hanging containers, planters, walls, trellises, and as a ground cover. If you are into light green or chartreuse and plum or purple foliage combinations, "Marguerite" is a standout.
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Not to be confused with blue agave or Agave tequilana, an important cash crop for the Mexican state of Jalisco for making tequila. Agave attenuata is also a native of Mexico and grows well in the southwestern United States. It requires little water and performs well near the ocean or a swimming pool. Attenuata is also easy to propagate from cuttings or pups—a few large plants can multiply and become quite prolific in just a few years.Continue to 13 of 18 below.
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This New Zealand native is sometimes sold under the name Veronica. The shrubbier hebes are exotic, striking plants that enhance poolside border landscaping. They prefer mild-winter zones and need regular water with good drainage.
For some varieties, the flowering season extends from early summer until the first frost. Dead-head flowers regularly for constant bloom. Hebes require shade in warmer climates.
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Succulents are some of the least-understood plants, but in the western United States, they have been enjoying a surge in popularity. These green beauties are Aeonium. Succulents come in all sizes and shapes and are the rising stars of drought-tolerant landscaping because they store water in their fleshy leaves, stems, and roots. Technically, the more-familiar cactus are succulents, although they require a desert habitat and have prickly spines. Not so with succulents, which do not all have spines.
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In some regions, jade (Crassula ovata) is a popular houseplant; in others, it can grow almost like a weed and is extremely unfussy. It just needs a little watering now and then. Like all succulents, its foliage is packed with water; when it shrivels, you know it is asking for a drink. Jade is attractive, sturdy, and a hands-down trouble-free plant for your pool area landscaping.
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In the tropical regions from which they come, staghorn ferns (Platycerium superbum) can be found growing on trees. If you do not live in the tropics but are able to grow it in your zone, Staghorns do great mounted on wood slabs or bark, hanging baskets, or attached to trees. If you have a garden wall or pool house that gets filtered sunlight, this might be the scene-stealing plant for your pool area.Continue to 17 of 18 below.
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This vigorous perennial is a European native that has been naturalized in eastern North America. Creeping Jenny acclimates quite well in many settings, including woodlands and partial shade gardens, or even the dry climate of southern California, (pictured). Lysimachia is a beautiful chartreuse color and grows well as a ground cover, climbing trellises, or spilling out of containers near the pool. Jenny can become a bit invasive, but since it is so pretty, color-loving gardeners are foregiving.
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While scheffleras are natives to Australia, New Caledonia, southern Asia, Hawaii, and Taiwan, they have also adapted well to other regions, especially California and Florida. Smaller varieties are sold in nurseries and by florists as indoor plants in most regions.