Beginner’s Guide to Landscaping Around the Pool

July 18, 2010


By Denis Flanagan

Once you have made the decision to add a pool or hot tub to your backyard, the next step is to complete the scene with a landscape that suits your needs and creates colour and interest, without requiring too much maintenance. After all, you want to have enough time to relax and enjoy your new backyard oasis. Here are some basic steps to follow when landscaping around your pool.

Determining your landscape design

All gardens should start with well thought out design. You can do your own research by visiting websites, reading books or taking some courses; another option is to hire a professional designer. If you choose the latter, make sure you check out the person’s references and feel comfortable with them, to ensure a good working relationship.

Some general points to consider when designing a landscape include:
• Your own personal taste. Do you prefer a formal setting or an informal one? Do you like ornate, complex designs or clean, simple lines? Take a cue from the design esthetic inside your house; it’s a good indication of what you will enjoy outside.
• Colours. Many people have favourite hues or colour combinations. Again, this can be picked up from your lifestyle, your home’s décor or even your own personal fashion statements. Colourful plant choices are plentiful and, of course, can change with the seasons.
• Maintenance. Consider how many hours a week you can dedicate to tending your garden, or whether you’re able to hire a company to help with upkeep. These decisions will go a long way towards determining the complexity of your landscaping plan.
• Budget. It’s a touchy question, but it must be asked in the early stages of the planning process. Are you doing all or some of the work yourself? Can the work be phased in over time? On average, your total landscaping budget should represent approximately 15 to 20 per cent of the value of your property; use this as a guideline when you set your spending limits.


Ensuring proper soil preparation

There is an old saying—for a $10 tree you need a $20 hole. If you don’t invest in the proper soil preparation, you are more than likely wasting your money on plant material.
The first step is to have your soil tested (you can ask around at your local garden centre for help on how to do this). Once you have determined your soil type, you can then supplement it with appropriate additives such as peat moss, manure, compost, granular fertilizer, etc.

Ideally, soil should be worked 380 to 457 mm (15 to 18 in.) deep for most plantings.

Choosing trees

Trees form the framework of a landscape plan and should be the first consideration in the planting process. For areas surrounding your pool and hot tub, you should choose trees whose growth you can easily control and that shed minimal debris.

Some of my favourites include paperbark, maple, copper beech and flowering dogwood.
If you are looking for a shade tree, consider lindens or locust; keep in mind, however, that these varieties need to be professionally pruned as they mature, which will incur extra costs in the future.

Evergreens play an important role in Canadian landscaping, too. White pines and hemlocks can give a very natural feel to an outdoor space, while cedars and yews can add a touch of formality, if that’s what the project calls for.

It’s especially important to consider evergreens if your hot tub or spa is used all year. Well-positioned trees can provide privacy, wind protection and an ideal shelter for visiting birds.

Selecting flowering shrubsCoreopsis_Lightning_Flash_1b copy[2]

One of the easiest categories of plants to care for is the flowering shrub. These plants are very adaptable to most spaces and with hundreds of varieties to choose from, you can add anything from groupings of dwarf shrubs, such as Little Princess spiraea, on one end of your garden to stately specimens like corkscrew hazel or magnolia on the other end.

Pruning is the critical thing to remember when caring for flowering shrubs. If they bloom in the spring, flowering shrubs should be thinned out just after they finish flowering; shrubs that flower in the late summer should be pruned quite harshly in March.
By carefully selecting shrubs you can have colour for every season, creating year-round interest in your garden.

Picking perennials

These are becoming the most talked about plants in gardening. Breeders have come up with hundreds of new varieties in recent years giving designers a wonderful palette to work from. Some show stoppers include:

For sunny areas

• ‘Lightning Flash’ Tickseed (Coreopsis tripteris)
This stunning plant grows nearly one metre (3 ft) tall with striking gold foliage. It thrives in heat and humidity; the yellow flowers are a bonus in late summer.
• ‘Summer Morning’ Delphinium (Delphinium grandiflorum)
This plant produces a multitude of light pink flowers throughout the summer.
• ‘Alabama Sunrise’ Foamy Bells (Heucherella)
This is a spectacular variety that changes colour with the seasons; in summer the leaves have red veins, which turn orange/pink in the fall.

For shaded areas

• ‘Chocolate Star’ Corydalis (Corydalis quantmeyerana)
An excellent low-growing ground cover with chocolate brown foliage in spring. This plant tolerates dry shade and makes a nice companion for hostas and ferns.
• Dwarf blue star (Amsonia Montana ‘Short Stack’)
A mounding variety with springtime sky-blue flowers suited for smaller gardens or the edge of borders.

One reason modern varieties of perennials have become so popular is that they require very little maintenance. They should be planted in well-drained soil and mulched with bark to protect the roots and control moisture levels. Stalks should be left standing during the winter, as this helps protect the crown of the plant and will provide a source of seeds for birds to feast on during the cold weather months. northernlightslavender02 copy[3]

Adding annual colour with garden containers

Adding blasts of colour to a garden setting is certainly worth the effort every spring. Wait until frost warnings have completed disappeared from the weather forecast, take your landscape plan to the garden centre and have some fun. For plant lovers, it’s like being a kid in a candy store.

Bold plantings can also give a tropical feeling to poolside areas. By keeping the plantings in containers, upkeep is minimal—which, of course, leaves more time for relaxation.
Here are a few tips to make sure you have stunning displays in pots or hanging baskets.

• Choose containers that fit in with the overall theme of the landscape. There are lots of materials to work with—everything from terra cotta and ceramics to metal and wood. Select materials that will complement your garden furniture and other accessories.
• Make sure containers have drainage holes and that the soil mix drains well. This will help you avoid root rot problems. Most ready-made container soil mixes will do the trick; it’s also a good idea to add a slow-release fertilizer to the soil before planting.
• Removing spent blooms (i.e. dead heading) throughout the summer will encourage new buds to develop. If possible, use a drip irrigation system; this is the best way to ensure consistent watering.

Every year, Landscape Ontario and The University of Guelph partner to plant trial gardens to test the performance of newly released varieties of annuals. The following are a couple that performed exceptionally well in last year’s gardens.

‘Solcito’ trailing zinnia

This is a new small-flowered zinnia that blooms throughout summer without the need for dead heading. It is great for containers and tolerates drought extremely well.

‘Northern Lights Lavender’ pentas

This new pentas tolerates both cool and warm growing conditions, making it ideal for summers with varying temperatures; Northern Lights will bloom all summer long if grown under sunny conditions, and its nectar will attract butterflies.

Growing your own food

The hottest trend in gardening today also happens to be the oldest trend in gardening—finding a spot to grow some of your own food. In poolside gardens, this can easily be done in containers or by training dwarf fruit trees onto walls or fences. The latter process is called espalier, a method of growing fruit practiced in Europe for centuries.

Whatever works for you—be it a pot of cherry tomatoes, a mini herb garden, an arbor for grapes or a hanging basket for strawberries—there is always a way you grow some fresh produce, involve the whole family and complete that total outdoor oasis.

Denis Flanagan, well known for his gardening shows on HGTV, promotes the joys and benefits of horticulture through the ‘Green for Life’ program at
Landscape[4] A horticulture graduate from Surrey, England, Flanagan has done projects for the British Royal Family, designed award-winning gardens for Canada Blooms, and has taught at Ontario’s Humber and Seneca Colleges.

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