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Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Tropical Themed Landscapes Possible in the Desert

Q. I have a pool that is being built and we're at the final stages of it being done. We are trying to create a tropical theme around the pool and most tropical plants don't do well in the desert. Do you have any suggestions? 

A. There is no reason you cannot have a tropical or Hawaiian theme around your pool using either desert plants or plants that thrive in our climate. There are dozens of of desert plants that resemble tropical plants and even some plants that grow easily in both climates.
Let me give you a list of some plant materials. There are so many to pick from that will fit into this theme. This just came off of the top of my head.
Some of the tropical look has to do with planting density. This area should be densely planted and use at least plants from three different size categories. Use more size categories if it's a larger area.
Be careful of focal points. Don't have too many of them but use plant color or dramatic changes in plant texture to pull the eye to a focal point. The focal point can be a waterfall, water feature, spa area, entry/exit of from the pool, etc. designing an area should make use of continuity and rhythm through plant repetition this is usually done through plant texture or color.

There are a few landscape architects and designers who read my blog. I am neither. Perhaps they will chime in with some pointers as well.Don't be shy and please let readers know who you are and how to get a hold of you.

Mesquite. Any of the Mesquite trees look tropical.
California pepper
Acacia, some of the smaller Acacia
Windmill Palm, Mediterranean fan palm

Larger Shrubs
desert bird of paradise
Rose of Sharon (hibiscus)

Small Shrubs
Nandina or heavenly bamboo
Mock Orange¶
ornamental grasses

Carolina Jessamine
Star Jasmine
Bougainvillea (freezes back each year)

Myoporum, sometimes called Australian Racer
Star Jasmine
Hearts and Flowers
Hen and chicks
Gopher plant

Red Hot Poker
Canna lilies

Vinca or periwinkle



  1. No matter what, do not plant a mesquite tree near your pool. You will regret it immediately.

  2. You stated that Bougainvillea freezes back each year. What exactly do you mean by that? Last season we planted a bunch and they were not pleased with our cold winter this year, and despite frost blankets they are all looking very heavily frost damaged (along with the hibiscus). What (if anything) should I do (and when) to help these babies back to life? They are not doomed, are they?? (Last year the hibiscuses got replaced before giving a chance to come back, I was against it believing that given some time they would rebound; was I wrong?)

    1. There are times when bougainvillea are undamaged in the winter but that means it didnt freeze! The simplest thing to do is to treat them as perennials that are cut to the ground each year, the base of the plant protected from freezes and allowed to regrow in the spring. Once the roots are established they will grow back each year like gangbusters. Dont fertilize too much with nitrogen or you might end up with very delayed blooming when it grows back or none at all. Make sure they are planted with 50% compost at the time of planting mixed with the backfill surrounding the roots.