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Coping Skills



Your clients are thrilled with your pool design – with one exception. It may be set up to withstand a 9.0 earthquake, but with all that decking and concrete, it resembles a bomb shelter. Apparently while you were working with the client’s desire for seismic durability in mind, you lost sight of their additional desire for soft, rolling meadows.

I exaggerate here to make a point: Too many watershapers are reluctant to minimize coping or design pools without broad expanses of decking that can make backyards look like parking structures.

You may do it because you’ve been told that chlorine will kill any plants near the pool, or you’re afraid that the plants will get trampled by hordes of teenagers using the yard. Whatever the reasoning, the result is that too many pools seem to be designed with too much hardscape surrounding them. This usually turns what could be visually spectacular into a concrete jungle.

If you’re a watershaper who constructs mainly ultra-contemporary designs with lots of structure and minimal plantings, you can exclude yourself from this discussion and read on just for the fun of it. The rest of you – listen up!


So what are you supposed to do if your clients tell you they want as little hardscape as possible? There are many ways to approach this request. Here are some of your choices:

• Minimal coping with lawn up to the coping. Most contractors I’ve worked with like to see a minimum of 15 inches of coping and decking. I recommend going no more than 24 inches if you want the coping and any decking to be inconspicuous. Then you can plant lawn right up to the hardscape.

• Stone set in the soil next to the coping. As an alternative to grass, try setting stone in the soil surrounding the coping to add what seems like more coping or decking. This option works well for clients who are on the fence about having plants or lawn that close to their pools. You also can fill spaces between the stones with ground cover or sod for a varied, softer look.

• More decking with cutouts. If the clients are the ones insisting on maximum hardscape, do them a favor and suggest cutouts in the hardscape for planting. Breaking up the hardscape visually with spots of plants near and surrounding the pool can go a long way toward softening up a harsh look.

No matter which route you decide to go, I don’t recommend putting gravel or decomposed granite near the pool. The potential for tracking them into the pool is too great. Decomposed granite (which has the consistency of sand when not compacted) would likely clog a pool filter and doesn’t feel great on the bottom of the pool. The point here is to avoid any materials that may be easily transported by feet into the pool.

There are other reasons you might want to talk your clients into minimal coping and hardscape. Here are the best ones:

• Heat reduction. Many of your pool-buying clients live in areas where the temperatures get quite high during the summer. Some pool owners in these areas are even reluctant to use their pools during the daytime hours in the summer because they burn their feet on the deck and just can’t stand the heat. Some resort to hosing down the deck to cool it, but that doesn’t always work.

Concrete and stone absorb the heat. By eliminating much of the hardscape, you reduce much of the heat, because there is nothing absorbing it. This makes it more inviting to walk around the pool and be out in the yard. I’ve heard some people say their yards were 20 degrees cooler after they reduced the size of their decks and planted sod right up to the coping.

• A softer look. Plants always soften the look of concrete, stone, or even wood. Although many people like the look of a lot of hardscape, for those who don’t, allowing as much planting space in the yard as possible will most likely achieve the softer look they want.

• Versatile design. Once you’ve installed hardscape, you limit your options for planting. If clients aren’t sure what they want, keep the coping and hardscape minimal and plant the rest of the yard. You can always add decks and other hardscape later, but removing it, as we all know, can be quite expensive. Saving your clients money in this way, especially when they aren’t sure about the final look they want, will boost their confidence in you.

• Easier treading. Who wouldn’t rather walk on soft grass than hard stone? If your clients have kids running around their pool, playing games, they’d probably rather have them fall on a lawn than on concrete. In that vein, having a lawn next to the pool may even reduce your clients’ liability.


OK, I can tell that some of you are still not completely convinced this hardscape-reduction plan is a good idea. So let me dispel a couple of common myths about this approach by way of convincing you of its wisdom:

Myth: Chlorine will kill the lawn. Reality: It will not kill the lawn.

The amount of pool water that will get on a poolside lawn, even if it’s right up next to the pool, is not enough to harm it. If it’s warm enough to splash around in the pool, it’s probably also warm enough that the lawn will be watered every day. So any chlorinated water that gets splashed on the lawn will get diluted and washed away soon enough to prevent any damage.

Even if the watering comes only every other day, it still isn’t a problem. In reality, a dog poses a greater threat to a lawn than the pool water does!

Myth: Wide coping is essential. Reality: You can do what you want.

Some watershapers insist you must have at least three feet of coping and decking. Although I’m not familiar with all the building codes throughout the country, my experience tells me that, aside from structural limitations, there is no reason you can’t reduce the coping to a minimum.


Once you have convinced your client that minimal coping is a good idea, you need to decide what to plant.

In Southern California, Marathon 2 sod works quite well next to pools. It’s hardy and stays green year ’round. You can experiment with other types of sod or ground cover, but I recommend experimenting with small patches of anything other than a sturdy sod to begin with. Different plants react differently to high traffic. And who would want to install a whole expanse of Scotch Moss all around a pool, only to find out that it gets destroyed by a single drop of chlorine-tinged water?

In past columns, I’ve discussed some of my “dos” and “don’ts” when it comes to roses and tropical plants near swimming pools. Speaking for myself, I’ll try anything once, but I recommend for those of you trying things for the first time that you consult the Sunset Guide for your area. As I’ve mentioned before, it has an excellent section on plants that work well near swimming pools.

If you need some more help deciding what to do, you can e-mail me for advice.

Stephanie Rose wrote her Natural Companions column for WaterShapes for eight years and also served as editor of LandShapes magazine. She may be reached at [email protected].

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