Summer Pool Project

This has been one of our ongoing projects in the yard, improving year by year as we added structure and found out what worked well and what didn’t.

We started with an Easy Set pool, one of those with the inflatable ring around the top. We just sat it on the ground on the tarp that came with it and filled it up. The pool wound up being more than slightly lopsided, but got us through the season. We did have one “incident” in which Tom rode his raft out of the pool on a wave of water and wound up still on the raft outside the pool. I’m not admitting guilt, but I may have been bashing his raft and helped it go over the side. And I may have been laughing so hard when it did that he nearly washed down the hill because the pool was still dumping water on him. But there were no witnesses; so really, it’s just his word against mine.

Which reminds me, if you have one of those pools with the inflatable ring around the top, be careful about squashing the ring below the water-line. The force of and weight of all that water is enough to push the ring down even further and drain half your pool in a matter or seconds.

Because of the prior year’s excitement, we decided the next year that the ground needed some leveling and that perhaps a privacy screen was in order as well. (We live on a very busy major highway) I used our garden tiller to remove at least a foot of earth from the back side of the pool area. The removed earth I re-used on the other side of the house to build raised flower beds.

Tom built a frame of treated lumber and attached to it an upright frame for lattice screens. These were a nice start for a privacy fence, but the lattice being the slightly flimsy kind- didn’t stay up very well and I spent the next two years re-attaching it to the frame. Finally I grew tired of struggling to keep it on and bought three wisteria plants to plant along the outside edge of it. These have now wound themselves through the trellis to such a degree, I’m confident that it’s going nowhere. It would likely hold up to storm winds better than the siding on our house. The wisteria will need to be trimmed often to keep its growth under control, (it’s a VERY aggressive vine) but it solved my problem of the lattice falling off and added another layer to the privacy screen.

Our inflatable ring pool became inflicted with a slow air leak that we never could find, so we finally replaced it with a tube framed one instead. It was about the same price and is MUCH more stable; also little danger of someone going over the side on a float and winding up in the woods. Before we set up this new pool for the season, we ordered a truckload of sand for the bottom frame. I spent several hours with a fine leaf rake, removing every tiny rock I could find, and then filled the frame with sand to around 3-4 inches. For the most part, the sand has held for the past two years. It will probably need a touch up fill next season. I have to weed it periodically; a nice layer of weed barrier under the sand might have saved me some of this; however cost was a real concern when we started this project. This year I used an old bench for a plant stand and brought some of my indoor plants outside to set around the pool. I have a yucca, some elephant ears (newly planted), my spider plant and Christmas cactus (which is currently full of blooms and adds a nice touch of color). I like the plants in pots this way, they are easy to rearrange and I can move them out of the way when I need to weed or mow. For now, I’m calling this project complete.

In the future I may add some more landscaping around the outside of the frame or a walkway from the back steps to the sand frame. Or I may add a second smaller frame off the first and build our daughter a sandbox to play in. Maybe a rope border, sunken treasure chest…


Cold Hardiness and Microclimates

A cold hardiness zone is the maximum temperature range that a plant can survive in during the winter months. North American Zones range from Zone 1 (being the coldest), below -50F in Fairbanks, Alaska and some Northwest Territories of Canada to Zone 11 (the warmest), above 40F in Honolulu, Hawaii or Mazatlan, Mexico. To find your zone on the map, you can look here: USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map

I live in Central Missouri, the bulk of which falls under cold hardiness zone 5b, which is -10F to -15F. Some nursery tags will picture a little temperate map showing your zone, others will simply list the cold hardiness temperature under a list of growing conditions. Perennial plants within this range should be able to return each year after a period of dormancy. Plants outside of this range will have to be planted as Annuals, meaning you’ll need to replace them each year.

Although Central Missouri is in Zone 5b, my specific area is in a small pocket of 6a to 6b. On gardening shows, they’re referred to as microclimates.  I’m not sure if maybe this is an effect of the large lake here, but it means that I can often get away with growing plants that surrounding areas cannot. We have varying micro-climates in our yard as well.

For years I had grown a row of Elephant Ears along the front of our house (Zone 10 plant minimum), never bothering to dig them up in the fall and store them inside to over-winter as was recommended. I covered them with leftover plastic bags that my fall mulch came in and then left the fallen leaves to cover the plastic until late spring early summer. For nearly 7 years, they came back every June, in spite of everything I’d read to the contrary.

Excuse me… my daughter is in my houseplants eating dirt…

Ok, where was I? Oh yes, Elephant Ears. I experimented with some more out in the yard itself; these did not return the following year as the ones next to the house did. My guess is that the house itself radiates enough heat right up next to the foundation that it was enough warmth to keep the other bulbs alive, though dormant through the winter months. So even though most of my yard may be Zone 5-6, this one particular 2ft x 6ft area is more like Zone 8-10.

Of course you have to take care of how far you push your luck. I bought a Crepe Myrtle last year that said it would be fine in Zone 6, and then we had several particularly cold days in January that caused it to die back to the ground. I lost the entire top of the plant that wasn’t covered by dirt and mulch. If I don’t want a repeat performance during another severe winter, I’ll now have to move it to a large pot and over-winter it in the house along with my house plants. Since its roots will always be bound by the confines of a pot, it’s unlikely it will become the large, lush tree like those I admired growing in yards during our visit to the Carolinas and Georgia several years ago.
The best way I’ve found to figure out what works and what doesn’t in regards to cold hardiness is to just experiment. I recommend starting with something small, like a couple inexpensive bulbs, or maybe some perennials that you’ve found on sale and wouldn’t be too upset if you lose them. Once the plant has performed well consistently for several years, it’s probably a safe bet to assume the temperature will remain fairly constant there from year to year.