Bamboo in the poolside landscape – a good idea?

Bamboo in the poolside landscape – a good idea?

How to create a landscape around the pool that will be both beautiful as well as suitable for the specific conditions in the pool area?

Many homeowners lean toward a lush look with pops of color around the swimming pool, which often translates to tropical plants. And bamboo is one of the cornerstones of achieving that exotic and tropical feel. 

Landscaping around a swimming pool can really make your pool area look stunning, but plants and trees need to be chosen carefully. 

Trees with lots of ‘leaf litter’, excessive pollen, berries or budding debris can cause extra work for you and your pool filter.

You’ll also need to assess whether the areas planted will get splashed with chlorinated water from swimmers or pool sweeping equipment sometimes. Some plants can tolerate that, others – not so much. 

Often, plants in the pool area have a dual purpose – making the area beautiful as well as working as a natural way to seamlessly hide ugly pool equipment or hiding you from the eyes of the neighbors whose windows are giving them a view over your pool area. 

A typical scenario – your neighbors have a 2 story house and their living room window and exterior staircase that looks directly over your pool area. Even if you have a good relationship with them, it can feel awkward hanging around and in the pool in swimsuits when you know they can see everything that’s going on.

This is a situation where many people consider planting bamboo as a quick-growing natural screen. 

But is it a good idea? It really depends – how close to the pool you need the screen, how often you are willing to have it cleaned, and how confident you are in the strength and quality of the pool walls and water systems. 

Characteristics of pool friendly plants

Many pool guys would say “the best plant near a pool – no plants at all”. But having no plants is just too boring and can feel a bit clinical. 

There are plants that are more suitable to grow around the pool than others. 

A  plant can be officially classified as “pool friendly” if it has several characteristics that will let the plant thrive by the pool as well as be easy to care for. 

Pool friendly plants:

  • can thrive in an environment with wind and salt exposure
  • grow well in a semi-shaded area or a full sun area
  • are highly tolerant of exposure to chlorine and other pool chemicals ( this is crucial for the plants in the area immediately surrounding your pool)
  • are low maintenance
  • require little or no pruning
  • have high drought tolerance 
  • salt-tolerant in case of water splashing

In contrast, plants that are not an optimal choice for planting near a pool have undesirable characteristics like big root systems that can disrupt the integrity of your pool, lots of leaves that can litter the water, and lots of insects attracting flowers. 

Bamboo near the pool – pros and cons

Pros

Great privacy screen

Bamboo is great for privacy screens or evergreen hedges because it grows fast and tall, it’s alive, produces oxygen and sequesters carbon, and to top it off, it adds natural beauty to your pool area.

Lush color year round

The great thing about bamboo is that it is evergreen. While deciduous trees are not necessarily bad for the poolside as they only shed leaves in autumn they can leave the pool area to appear bare and sad during winter. A lush evergreen bamboo will never leave your poolside boring. 

Cons

Leaf litter 

The number one issue when it comes to plants by the poolside is litter.

More debris in the pool equals a higher risk of it damaging your equipment and more time spent fishing leaves and clutter out of the pool. 

Bamboo near a pool can mean you get small leaves blowing daily into the water. Bamboo is an evergreen plant which means it sheds some leaves all year round. Though the leaf shedding gets more intense in spring when the plant grows more new foliage after winter while simultaneously dropping the older leaves. 

Leaf litter is more of an issue in windy places where any plant matter is blown all over the place. 

Because bamboo is evergreen it requires year-round maintenance as opposed to just one clean-up session like with deciduous plants. 

Spreading root system

Some plants have aggressive root systems that can damage pool walls or vinyl liners when planted too close to inground pools. Bamboo is one of these plants, in a way. 

Running bamboo has a root/rhizome system that spreads quickly and can easily penetrate any cracks it finds. However, there are also clumping bamboo species that do not spread aggressively. 

How to avoid typical bamboo problems 

The function of the pool and your climate will dictate what can and can’t be planted with a view to maintenance and user-friendliness.  

If possible consult with a professional pool designer or landscaper – they are experienced with a variety of plants and know what combinations work well. Professionals can ensure a beautiful and functional landscape design for your individual circumstances. 

If you choose to not involve specialists, there are some tips to take into account if you choose to plant bamboo near the swimming pool. 

Leaf litter

To avoid wind blowing leaves and other plant material in the pool, you can use leaf catcher or a solar cover

Spreading roots

There are several things that can help you avoid the bamboo root system damaging the pool area.

First of all, choose a suitable species – a clumping bamboo that does not spread quickly will not cause any damage.

If you choose running bamboo – you must be more careful. Plan for regular root maintenance (at least once a year, preferably twice) to avoid it spreading in undesirable directions. Especially be careful to not let it in your neighbors’ yard. 

Bamboo roots usually don’t damage pool walls as they are shallow, but anyway, for extra peace of mind, you can install a heavy plastic or steel barrier along the pool wall. Alternatively, install a 3 sided box to encourage root growth away from the pool. 

Another super flexible option – put it in containers! That way you don’t have to worry about roots spreading and you can move the containers as needed.

Typically you can grow bamboo in containers for about 2 years before you need to divide and replant them. 

Which bamboo species to plant around the pool

Depending on the location of the pool, your plant choice will depend on things like the environment, how much privacy you desire, wind factor, or ground coverage needs.

Ornamental grasses like bamboo can be low maintenance and visually striking near pools. 

Paul Takchi of Exotic Nurseries has said that Bambusa textilis ‘Gracilis’  also known as Slender Weaver bamboo is an ideal plant for those narrow garden areas around the pool. The bamboo is hardy and the lush green foliage makes it a great choice for those who need a little privacy from their neighbors.

Featured image by Sarah Lou, Flickr, CC BY 2.0