Many folks dream of a pool of their own.
A pool in your own yard is certainly a treat. It is wonderful to be able to relax by or in the water, daydream, gaze idly at the oasis around you.
So that the oasis dream does not become a nightmare of maintenance issues, you need a little planning to plant the proper plants for long-term enjoyment.
Plan with an eye for low maintenance. Select plants that are relatively free of leaf drop and other debris. The only plants that are entirely free of debris are the ones made of silk, so expect some maintenance.
That said, you also want to plan for dramatic plants. A pool is a very strong accent in the landscape. This calls for some bold plants to help enhance the setting.
Pick plants that can take the extra heat and reflected light that a pool creates. While water cools, the reflected light can be a killer for some plants. Also, the concrete cool decking around a pool is hard for some plants to deal with.
Plan for the splash factor. Drainage to move splash water away from planted areas is fairly important for most plants. Chlorine burns many species.
All this is not as hard as it sounds. We live in the desert. In the wilderness around us are any number of plants already able to take reflected light bouncing off canyon walls. Plants that don't shed very much because they are thrifty with their resources. Bold, dramatic plants that look charming beside the pool.
Ornamental grasses and grass-like plants are excellent around pools. They are low maintenance, virtually litter free, plus versatile and beautiful. The key item provided by grasses, something most important in our otherwise fairly rigid desert landscapes, is the addition of sound and feeling of motion with even a mild breeze.
Grasses also add changing color to the landscape, sending up stalks of delicate flowers which can turn into colorful seed heads. Grasses can be used as accents, specimen plants, borders, groups, or as transitional plantings. Ornamental grasses will help make the whole landscape look more full and lush, and seem like it was done by a professional.
Palm trees are almost de rigor for a poolside. Many palm species become very large however, so select carefully. You also do not one that gets so tall that all you see is a "telephone pole" in your yard. For modern smaller yards, and for pleasing close-up viewing, the Mediterranean fan palm (Chamaerops humilis) grows to around 8 to 12 feet wide and tall, with multiple trunks, and more pups forming around the base.
Fill in around the base of trees, boulders and shrubs with low-water groundcovers that can take the poolside environment. Germander and rosemary provide lovely green year round. For flowers, select from yellow dot (Wedelia trilobata), damianita (Chrysactinia mexicana), bulbine (Bulbine sp.), Saltillo primrose (Oenotheria stubbei), bush morning glory (Convovulus cneorum), trailing dalea (Dalea greggii), or golden dalea (Dalea capitata). Note that some common landscape plants are not on this list. Plant them somewhere that is not poolside.
Last of all, some negatives. Avoid bristly or thorny plants around pool areas to minimize chance of injury. Avoid messy and dangerous oleander, bougainvillea, pyracantha, juniper, agave, most yucca species, and spiny cacti near pools.
Avoid large shade trees too near the pool. Locate them downwind, and 25 to 35 feet from the edge of the pool. Remember that aggressive tree roots can create problems with pool equipment lines or even the pool itself. Citrus trees can also be messy, with flowers, fruit and leaves dropping at various times of the year. Ideally site them far enough from the pool that they are not a problem.
With good plans and the right plants, your poolside oasis can truly be a place to relax in, and a dream to care for — for years to come.