Poolside Plants

a photo of Blue Maurguerite in a poolside container planting

By Barbara Perry Lawton

(This article was first published in The Gateway Gardener June 2007 issue)
a photo of Blue Maurguerite in a poolside container planting

Container planted with colorful flowering annuals make great poolside plants

Pools are loads of fun during our warm—yes, hot summer days. Water games involving lots of splashing are sure to keep children happy. But those hot splashy conditions can make it hard to find plants that are both attractive and tolerant of the poolside conditions. Try to put poolside planters a few feet away from the major splashing sites.

Bees and Flowering Plants

Many pool owners want to find poolside plants that will not attract bees. There is a misconception that bees are dangerous. In truth, bees are gentle creatures that are simply searching for nectar and pollen to feed themselves and their young. They are aggressive when protecting their hives, not when foraging on flowers.

Too often, people confuse bees with yellow jackets, the wasps that are attracted to food and drink beginning in mid to late summer. Yellow jackets will sting when disturbed and, unlike honey bees, can sting repeatedly.

Those who really don’t want any bees around should plant such things as daylilies, dianthus, geraniums, marigolds and strawflowers. Further, bees don’t feed on ruffled double flowers—they can’t find their way into the nectar and pollen parts. Bees don’t feed on long-tubed red flowers such as some of the penstemons—hummingbirds pollinate them.

I am very fond of portulaca, also known as moss rose. The succulent plants often reseed themselves every year. They offer brilliantly colored flowers throughout the growing season. Moss rose hugs the ground, rarely reaching above a few inches. Yes, they will attract bees, but then I’m rather fond of bee watching, too.

Foliage Plants

Foliage plants, of course, will not attract bees. You can’t beat the wonderful coleus plants that come in all colors, color combinations and sizes from tiny up to a foot or more in height. If they begin to set flower buds, as some may later in the season, simply shear off the buds.

Ornamental grasses are good choices for poolside plantings. Miscanthus and Pennisetum are two genera that offer some great cultivars. They come in many sizes and types. Plant some of the smaller ones in with coleus for a handsome effect. The ornamental grasses have the added asset of being attractive through the cold months when the pool may be rather bleak. Avoid bamboos and pampas grass—they are notorious litterbugs.

If you have poolside areas that are shady, especially during hot afternoons, consider hostas. They offer many shades of green and multi-colored green-yellow-white types and grow from a few inches to three feet tall, depending on the cultivar. They seem especially immune to splashing.

Poolside Lighting and Sound

An evening by the pool can be a great bonus at the end of a long working day. Solar lights that collect energy all day long and are radiant throughout the night will give your pool area a magic aura. Each solar light fixture comes with its own photocell to turn it on at dusk and off at dawn. Install a solar light fixture by simply pushing its sharpened stake into the ground. The newer ones will even charge on cloudy days. They are completely weatherproof and thus suitable for year-round use.

New on the scene are solar lights that float on the water and solar lights that can be hung on hangers or hooks. These come in a variety of colors. Now you can create a rainbow of light in and around your pool. The newest models are said to last for thousands of hours, up to 100,000 hours in some cases.

Note that there now are light/speaker systems as well as simple speaker systems that can bring music to your poolside center. Combine these with the modern outdoor stoves and you will have an entertainment center that can’t be beat. (Be kind to your neighbors and do not overdo the decibels of outside speaker systems!)

A Few Final Words

Beware of using chemical fertilizers around pools—far better to use something organic. Some of commercial potting mixes have built-in slow-release fertilizers. Read the labels. Those will not need any additional fertilizer during the growing season. Too many people over fertilize their plants. Fertilizer that gets into pool water may cause algae bloom that is encouraged by the phosphorus.

Barbara Perry Lawton is a writer, author, speaker and photographer. She has served as manager of publications for Missouri Botanical Garden and as weekly garden columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The author of a number of gardening and natural history books, and contributor to many periodicals, she has earned regional and national honors for her writing and photography. Barbara is also a Master Gardener and volunteers at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, MO.