Poolside relief: Plants soften the landscape

Lawrence residents Paulette Schwerdt and Stacey Wendland use a countless assortment of planting containers to diminish the hard surface surrounding the pool.

Lawrence residents Paulette Schwerdt and Stacey Wendland use a countless assortment of planting containers to diminish the hard surface surrounding the pool.

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Lawrence residents Paulette Schwerdt and Stacey Wendland use a countless assortment of planting containers to diminish the hard surface surrounding the pool.

If you asked me a few weeks ago what to plant around your swimming pool, I would have said to skip it altogether. Chlorine that easily splashes from pools is toxic to plants. Soil, mulch and leaves from the garden easily clog pool filters and dirty the water.

Lawrence residents Paulette Schwerdt and Stacey Wendland have given me a new perspective to poolside gardening, though. The couple use a countless assortment of planting containers to diminish the hard surface surrounding the pool.

By using flower pots, Schwerdt and Wendland can contain most of the mess of gardening. The pots elevate the plants, keeping them at lower risk for chlorine burn, and can also be easily moved out of harm’s way.

Schwerdt says she and Wendland look for plants that will also brighten up the area, so annual flowers that bloom all season or have bright foliage are their first choice.

“I really like strawflowers and marigolds, and of course sweet potato vine comes in so many different flavors now. Superbells and lantana are nice.”

Schwerdt and Wendland also use brightly colored pots in colors that accent the flower display.

“I do different themes in different corners,” Schwerdt says. “Oranges and yellows here, purples over there.”

Color boundaries are flexible, though, if the combination looks good. In one corner, yellow strawflower, purple bacopa and purple superbells draw attention in a deep-blue pot. In another area, pink petunias bloom with pink and yellow lantana and “Tricolor” sweet potato vine.

When combining plants in containers, Schwerdt says she tries to select a plant that drapes, one that is upright, and one that is more rounded or bushy for each pot. She takes a list of specific plants that she wants when she goes shopping to avoid purchasing too many or too few.

Some common combinations in Schwerdt and Wendland’s garden are lantana with geraniums and sweet potato vine, celosia with geraniums and superbells, and marigolds with bacopa and lantana.

In the only shaded area, Schwerdt and Wendland use lots of impatiens, some tropical plants that come inside during the winter, and tropical hibiscus that overwinter in the garage.

One plant Schwerdt recommends avoiding for such a hot area is licorice plant. She says she likes it, but it just can’t take the reflective heat from the pool area.

Since Schwerdt and Wendland fill so many containers, they start with small plants from the garden center. Small plants take a little longer to fill the containers, thus requiring a little patience. Schwerdt recommends spending the money for bigger plants if only planting a few pots.

There is a little spring and fall maintenance to the container plantings. After the first freeze each fall, Schwerdt and Wendland pull all the containers into the garage and dump the plants and potting soil. The pots are then stacked on shelves where they are protected from freezing and thawing temperatures outside.

Spring means re-filling all of the containers with potting soil, moving them back out to the patio, and of course, planting. Since Schwerdt and Wendland use annual flowers (which cannot tolerate freezing temperatures), planting occurs in early to mid-May.

Although I generally recommend not filling the bottom of a pot with gravel or any other material, Schwerdt has found a way to reduce the amount of potting soil needed that I think is acceptable. She and Wendland cut circles of pegboard (ready-made drainage holes) to go into pots midway to two-thirds of the way down. The pegboard makes a false bottom in the tapered pots.

If using pegboard or another material to reduce the depth of a pot, use caution to leave plenty of room for plant roots to grow. These materials also raise the water table in the container, adding to the risk of problems with soil saturation and roots that stay wet too long. Larger annuals and deep-rooted annuals need the entire pot for rooting.

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