How to Landscape Around an Above-Ground Pool

above ground pool in a backyard

Above-ground pools are a popular outdoor recreational space for families. But these sparkling blue backyard features can feel disconnected from the rest of your landscape. That’s where the proper landscaping comes in. We’ll show you how to spiffy up your above-ground pool area and make it an integral part of your backyard oasis.

Plan for fences first

Good fences make good neighbors and good pool owners. A pool fence is the first thing to consider before you plan an above-ground swimming pool. The International Swimming Pool and Spa Code establishes minimum standards for swimming pools, hot tubs, and aquatic facilities, including fencing standards for residential pools.

Even though the pool wall acts as a barrier for shorter swimmers, experts agree that it’s not enough. Install a fence or barrier on top of the pool wall and secure the entrance with a removable or gated ladder.

Your city, county, and state will specify exactly how these standards will be applied in your region. Check with your local officials to get the building and fencing standards that apply to you.

Make safety your No. 1 priority, and you’ll have years of fun and peace of mind ahead.

Build a walkway

Above-ground pools are not surrounded by concrete as in-ground pools are, so add a walkway instead. No one wants to drag dirt and grass into a freshly cleaned pool. Put down simple stepping stones or build something more elaborate, such as a paver walkway, to keep your feet and your pool clean.

Choose plants wisely

Like the right blazer, the right plants can give your poolscape a polished, pulled-together look. Before you landscape your pool surround, consider these things:

How much sun do you have?

Most above-ground pools are situated in a full-sun area. If so, choose plants that thrive in a full-sun location. If the area gets partial shade during the day, choose partial shade plants instead.

Consider the root structure of the plant

Plants with extensive root systems can grow underneath the pool liner and cause a bumpy landing for your feet. Here are a few tips to avoid this problem:

  • Avoid planting trees near the pool, and avoid placing a pool within reach of existing tree roots. If you are planting a tree, know how wide the roots grow and plant it even farther away to be extra cautious.
  • Plant shrubs with caution. Know how deep and wide the roots grow. Also, know how difficult they are to remove, should you want to do a landscaping remodel. Finally, consider whether your bushes need to be trimmed periodically.
  • For a low-maintenance alternative, go root-free and use mulch or rocks. See “How to install a simple, above-ground pool perimeter” below.

Planting for a saltwater pool

If you have a saltwater pool, ensure your nearby plant life can handle a bit of salt spray. Some plants are extremely sensitive and won’t tolerate any salt while others are real beach bums. 

If you live in a coastal or northern state, check out your state’s Cooperative Extension resources online. Salt-tolerant landscaping is a hot topic in coastal areas along beaches and in the northern states where salt is used to clear ice from roadways. 

Palm trees and coastal grasses are often salt-tolerant, easy to care for, and popular around pools. 

Pro Tip: Find what plants work well for other saltwater pool owners in the area and do likewise.

Will pool chlorine harm my plants?

According to Colorado State University Extension, chlorinated water has no long-term impact on soil microorganism populations. So, it is unlikely that a few over-splashes of pool water will harm plants around a chlorine above-ground pool. 

Which plants are best around an above-ground pool?

Evergreen: Evergreen plants are ideal to plant next to an above-ground pool (or any pool) because they have little if any leaf litter. No one wants the extra chore of skimming leaves out of the pool if it can be avoided. Nix the deciduous plants and choose mostly evergreens for your poolscape plantings.

Grasses: Large grasses, such as Feather Reed Grass, are popular additions to poolsides. If planted en masse, they provide privacy and a lovely swaying effect when the wind blows. Some ornamental grasses need to be cut back annually, so plan for that in your landscaping budget.

Container plants: Some homeowners choose to use mulch or rocks against the sides of the pool and add potted plants further away from the pool (along a walkway, or on the deck, for example). 

Well-placed pots provide an opportunity to add sprays of color with bloom-bursting annuals or flowering perennials. As a bonus, you won’t have to worry about leaves or roots against the pool. If you live in a colder climate, you can even bring them inside for the winter.

Privacy: If you want a little more privacy in your pool area, plan to deck out your yard with hedges, a privacy fence, layered plantings, or implement other backyard privacy strategies.

Other considerations: 

  • Avoid plants with spines and thorns next to the pool wall. 
  • If you don’t like the lower-cost aesthetic of your backyard pool, cover it with siding to improve its appearance. Bamboo privacy screens and wood slats are DIY alternatives to the plastic look of many walls. Alternatively, a full-surround deck will provide the same effect.

Other landscape design ideas for above-ground pools

Paver stones are another popular way to surround an above-ground pool. Paver stones help keep weeds at bay and create a polished look around the pool. You can even use the pavers as a walkway and connect them around the pool for a pulled-together look.

Many above-ground pool homeowners apply mulch or rocks against the pool wall and leave it at that. If you install bushes, many will need to be trimmed, and some (not all) grasses will need annual trimming as well. Then there are the roots and mature size of the plant to consider. 

If you want to start simple to begin with, here’s one way to do so:

How to install a simple, above-ground pool perimeter:

  • Apply landscaping fabric around the perimeter 
  • Install a border or edging against the pool wall to keep rocks, mulch, or debris from reaching underneath the pool wall 
  • Place mulch or rocks on top of the landscape fabric
  • Add a border or edging on the outside edge (boulders, rubber edging, steel, wood, bricks, etc.)

If you choose to go this route, don’t forego colorful blooms or tall, majestic grasses within the vicinity of your pool. Just keep them further away from the wall to keep your maintenance simpler and hassle-free.

Treat for insects

Pests may be an issue for some homeowners. If you know you have a termite issue, have your termite pest pro treat around the pool. Or, if you have an annual termite inspection, ask your pest pro whether termite treatment around the pool is something you need.

Ant treatments can be DIY. Whether or not you have ants in the yard, apply a preventative treatment. Ants can chew holes in the underside of the liner and cause water to leak out of the pool. 

Take your favorite ant prevention treatment and apply along the bottom wall of the pool as often as the label recommends. Don’t skip the portion of the pool wall under the deck, and be sure to apply consistently throughout the warm season, as ants will become dormant during the winter. 

Pro Tip: If you’re not the DIY pest control type, ask your local exterminator to take care of this instead.

Dive into decks

If you want something a little fancier, ask your pool installer if they build above-ground pool decks, as well. Decks around your in-ground pool, as with any other deck, can range from the simple to the sublime. Decks can be partial or surround the entire pool. It’s up to your taste and your budget.

Other benefits of above-ground pool decks:

  • Decks also act as covers for your pool pump, miscellaneous pool equipment, and pool toys, protecting them from the elements and making the pool look nicer as well.
  • Decks increase your outdoor living space, giving you more room to relax and entertain.
  • If you want to get super fancy, build a gazebo for shade. Some homeowners build a pergola across part of the pool, which you could adorn with climbing vines or other shading plants.

Make a splash with seating

One reason to consider a deck around your pool is that it offers the chance to add seating. Decks add space for chairs or sun umbrellas so those who want to swim and those who don’t can enjoy time together around the pool.

Add lights to extend the day

If you enjoy floating in the pool and watching the stars, you’ll probably need some lighting. At the very least, install lighting along the walkway and along the stair railing to provide safety measures. Adding lights around the perimeter, whether shorter solar lights or tall, elegant tiki torches, will give swimmers even more light to enjoy.

If you want something more elaborate, install pool lights along the interior pool walls or buy lights that float in the pool to light up the water as you swim. These are available on Amazon or through your favorite pool supply store.

Don’t forget about the many color options as well. Red, white, and blue would be perfect for a Fourth of July swim party.  

If you’re too busy enjoying the fleeting summer season, let one of our local lawn care pros keep up your lawn. They’ll mow, edge, and make sure the grass clippings don’t end up in your above-ground pool.

Main Photo Credit: Chris Grazioli | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Sarah Bahr

Sarah is a writer who has previously worked in the lawn care industry. In her spare time, she likes to garden, raise chickens, and mow the grass with her battery-powered lawn mower.