Refreshing a Swimming Pool Landscape

Updated — Originally Published May 3, 2011

Last spring, my wife and I came up with a beautiful landscape design to complement our in ground swimming pool, and we worked with a number of local contractors to help bring those ideas to life. But if you live anywhere near the Jersey Shore, you know that we then had one of the most brutal summers – followed by an equally harsh winter with huge amounts of snow. The intense heat (and minimal rain) of the summer was great for the beaches and tourists – but just terrible for landscaping. Furthermore, the weight of the multiple feet of snow on top of delicate shrubs for most of the winter was physically damaging as well. Mulch and loose stones were a mess from all the run-off.

But now that we’re well into the spring and heading toward the summer, it’s time to rejuvenate everything. I want this all to look exactly as it did when it was brand new last year:

New Pool Landscaping

The following summary of “to do” items isn’t really complicated work, but it is time-consuming and it’s definitely a problem if you suffer from allergies. So, read through – and this may give you some insights to help you move forward on your own, or it may incent you to hire a local contractor. Either way, though, the more information you have in advance, the better prepared you’ll be.

And, of course, this will apply to most any landscape at all – though I did this (so far) for the areas around my pool which we’ll open for the season this coming week…

Assess the Swimming Pool Landscape Damage

Start off by walking the entire landscape – and noting all the damage. Look for broken branches, shrubs that need to be reshaped, grasses and Hosta varieties that may need to be cut back, mulch areas that may be bare from rain/snow run-off, sloppy edges to lawn areas (if you have no explicit plastic/metal landscape edging in place) and small landscape stones that may need to be repositioned back to their original positions to make a nice crisp aesthetic presentation once again.

Also look for dead shrubs. Since my landscape was only a year old – I had a few. We lost two Boxwoods (pictured below), an Andromeda and a Hydrangea.

Not bad considering the terrible weather really.

Dead Boxwoods

Procure Your Nursery Materials – The Best Mulch?

Since this is going to be a big job, preparation is really important. The fact is, you’re going to get filthy and you don’t want to have to hop in your car while in the middle of all this because you forgot something. Get all your replacement shrubs in advance. Have extra high quality weed felt on hand. Get your mulch delivered. Have all of your tools and extension cords outside with you and organized before your start. I never do a job like this without a radio or an iPod as well – you need to have some fun, after all!

Regarding mulch delivery, this could take a couple of days if you need a lot, and it’s a good idea to be on-site when it’s delivered so you ensure the truck drops it exactly where you want. For me, I needed 5 cubic yards – which is not an amount you’re going to buy in bags at a hardware store. Also consider getting “dyed” mulch for the best aesthetic; the additional color usually lasts for a few months. I got 5 yards of black-dyed mulch. This is, however, much messier to work with – so be sure you have gloves. A small amount of this is shown in the pile below – probably a little less than 1 yard…

Black Dyed Mulch

Start with the Landscape Shrubs and Grasses

Replace the dead shrubs first. Be careful with the weed felt as you remove the dead ones – you don’t want to accidentally rip that out or tear it if you can avoid it. For tips on replacing shrubs/trees, you might want to check out our recent tree-planting article here: Tree Planting 101.

Now assess the remaining shrubs and landscape trees one-at-a-time. Remove any dead branches and if you want to do any shaping or pruning to achieve a certain look, now is the time. My goal is to keep things looking nice, neat and low – but everyone will have different objectives here. If you’re not sure how to prune a specific shrub or tree: research it.

You can do permanent damage if you prune something incorrectly.

If you have grasses or Hostas, these can be cut back to facilitate nice, fresh growth. I have a lot of these, as I think they make the pool area look particularly “beachy.”

The Hostas will naturally die right to the ground in the fall/winter and as they start coming up in the spring – it’s best if all the dead material has been removed. Below are shots of two of my Hosta varieties looking brand new; I had removed the dead material in the fall:

Hosta on Mulch

3 Hostas on Mulch

Regarding the grasses, you definitely don’t want to cut these down to the ground, but you can surely cut them back a bit if you want. Two varieties are below – and you should look at these photos closely.

In the first, I cut these about 5 inches up from the ground – and you can see they’re now half green and half brown. These were about 18-20” high before I cut them back.

Cutting Back Tall Pool Grass

For some of the smaller grass varieties, you may see new growth starting from the middle with the older growth dying around the edges. For these, I carefully trimmed off the dead material simply to facilitate more of the plant’s energy to the new growth – and also to make things look a little nicer. Having a bunch of dead grass blades sprawling all over my landscape stones didn’t look quite as nice as this does now. And in 1-2 weeks, that new growth you can see will take over completely.

Cutting Back Small Pool Grass

Clean Up the Landscape Edges and Weed Felt

You may find that your mulch areas have had so much run off that you’re staring at bare weed felt in some areas – I sure did. In some areas (near the edges), the weed felt was even sticking up above the ground. Not good. Furthermore, my edging is natural: there’s no plastic or metal retainer of any kind. And while this looks nice (I think), it requires a little more maintenance. You may need to take a straight shovel to some of these areas to clean up that edge. In the following photo (even though I’ve already added nice new mulch here and it looks pretty), it surely didn’t look nice when I started… that whole edge (grass-to-mulch) had to be refined.

I repositioned the weed felt carefully as well (at the edges) so that when I was ready to dump new mulch on top of it again, it would remain buried. If you want, you can even tack it down a bit – some landscapers do this.

Pool Lansdcape Corner Edge

Weeding the Entire Landscape Design

And now for the LEAST fun thing of all… you’re going to have to weed every square foot of your landscape by hand. It’s the beginning of the season, and I can offer you no comfort on this front. I find this is most tedious in the stone areas such as the one shown here:

Delaware River Stone Bed

The stones sit on top of weed felt, and if weeds have made it though they’re going to be tough to rip out. Plus, it’s a little clumsy to walk on top of the stones while doing this. Overall, I spent about 2 hours weeding all areas of this entire pool landscape.

Resetting the Landscape Stone Work

Now, finally – something a little more interesting and gratifying than weeding…

You can see throughout my landscape there are areas where the landscape stones meet the mulch. Over the winter these stones shifted in some places. It’s now time to go to each area where the stones meet the mulch (and also the grass) and reposition neatly where needed. You may think this is a little anal-retentive, but I think it’s well-worth the 30-minutes. If you need motivation, think back to how much money you paid for this landscape and how good you want it to look for the first party you’re going to have!

Took only about 10 minutes to make this stone circle look like an actual “circle” again:

Delaware River Stone Circle

And not even 5-minutes to get this walkway stone line nice and neat:

Walkway Stone & Mulch

Are the kids going to accidentally kick these stones when using the pool? Are they going to STAND in the stones from time-to-time no matter how many times we ask them not to? You know they are – and we’ll have to grin and bear to a degree. It’s part of being a good parent, right?

Mulching for the Pool Landscaping End-State

Adding the mulch is the “finishing touch,” but it’s not quick – and with the dyed-mulch, it’s particularly messy. Also, it’s really a good idea to wear a mask if you have allergy issues.

Put it down thick and spread it gently with a heavy metal rake in the large-area sections; I usually try to keep it about 2-3 inches thick. Be careful NOT to bury any sprinkler heads (mark them out in advance with landscape marking flags), and when you get close to those nice, neat stone borders you just straightened-up – get right down on your hands and knees and spread it by hand there so that the interface is beautifully crisp and clean. (If you try to do this with a rake, you’ll get mulch all over the rocks – you have to get down and dirty, here.)

Japanese Maple

Pool Landscaping

And Two Weeks Later

The pool is finally uncovered and cleaned – and we’re ready for another season.

Now, that’s what I’m talking about!

Pool Landscaping 2011

I think this looks pretty much like it did when it was brand new. What do you think?

If only it maintained itself, though…

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  1. Looks beautiful!! What kind of stone did you use and what size is it?? Thanks for sharing!

  2. pam brill says:

    I love your pool landscape! Actually, the whole yard is beautiful! We just had work done around our new pool but didn’t come out like I thought. I am using a lot of your yard as inspiration. I love all the different shrubs you used. Although I know most, would you mind naming them? Thanks so much and enjoy your beautiful pool! Hopefully we will be soon (we are in New York).

    • Hey Pam – Thanks so much, and I’m so flattered that you’ve found inspiration in our backyard design. This was my wife and I together – and it was a very intense endeavor!! In fact, if you want to see just how intense – check out this article right here and think of the phrase, “always darkest before the dawn!” ;-)

      As for the landscape trees, shrubs and grasses – there were clearly a LOT.

      Here’s my swag at an enumerated list, starting with the trees, back to front: Japanese Maple, Weeping Atlas Cedar, Crepe Myrtles (2) – and if you can, AVOID WHITE (I wish I had), Green Giant Arborvitaes (by the filter) and Hinoki Cypress (2) – right at the front by the entrance gate. As for shrubs – Boxwoods, Barberry (I assume the plural is “Barberries?”), Spireas, Golden Thread Cypress and Weigelas. (I absolutely LOVE my Weigelas.) For Hostas and Grasses – by far, the majority include Minuteman Hostas, Liriope and Maiden Grass (the beach grass). I may have missed a couple – bit this is the vast majority.

      If anyone has any additional pool landscaping suggestions – or even corrections to my list above (including proper spellings or “pluralization” tunes), please don’t hesitate to let us all know!

      Oh, and on a side note – our pool is a salt water pool. None of these landscape plants have ever had any issue with the salt water; I was quite worried about that at the beginning.
      Mark recently posted..Salt Water Pool Chlorinator Questions & Answers

  3. The landscaping around your pool looks so beautiful! It sure takes a lot of work to maintain the look, but I think it’s worth it. I love the different pathways leading to the pool and the gravel that’s surrounding the plants. Thanks for sharing, and I hope you have a wonderful pool season!

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