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Three Ways to Beat the Backyard Sun

cedar pergola with patioWhen the temperature starts to rise, people are lured to their backyards to enjoy the sun and fresh air. However, if a backyard does not have adequate shade, it can quickly become a miserable place on the hottest days of summer. A well-balanced backyard environment provides both sunny areas for catching the sun’s rays and shady retreats for escaping the worst of the heat.

Backyard shade can come in many forms, from a large table umbrella to a pocket of trees or shrubs. For yards that lack mature trees, there are several simple and relatively inexpensive structures homeowners can build over a deck, patio or part of a garden to help block out the sun. The most common and easy to install include arbors, pergolas and patio covers.

Cedar and Vinyl Arbors

An arbor is a small, open-sided shelter that can stand alone or be attached to another structure. Most vinyl or cedar arbors are arch-shaped and are constructed of lattice or some other type of framework that lets light through. Homeowners can control the amount of shade an arbor provides by planting climbing vines at the base.

Common uses for vinyl or cedar arbors include:

  • Freestanding shade. Because it can stand alone, a cedar or vinyl arbor can go any place in your yard where you’d like to add some shade. Many people like to anchor an arbor in the corner of a garden or nestle one against some lush landscaping. What you do with the space underneath is up to you – you can place a small bench, a couple of chairs or an interesting feature such as a water fountain under your cedar arbor.
  • Cool walkway. Arbors are often placed over gateways to provide a shady and welcoming entrance to a yard or garden. When framing a gateway, it’s a good idea to choose a material that will blend well with your fence; choose a cedar arbor if you have a wood fence and a vinyl arbor to match a vinyl fence.

Once you have a vinyl or cedar arbor, the next step is to plant around it for the level of shade you want. Clematis is a popular choice for arbors, as it grows quickly in the sun and offers light to moderate shade, depending on the variety. Honeysuckle tends to provide moderate shade, while grapevines and wisteria offer a dense, cool shade. Whatever plants you choose, make sure your cedar or vinyl arbor is strong enough to support them; wisteria, for example, can be incredibly strong and heavy.


Pergolas are similar to arbors, but they’re usually larger, more permanent structures. They can provide a shaded walkway with the use of pillars, crossbeams and an open lattice. They can be freestanding or attached to another building. Consider adding a pergola if you have a considerable amount of space available.

Vinyl and cedar pergola kits are readily available for homeowners who enjoy completing projects on their own. Pergola kits provide a cost-effective way to add shade to a backyard. Although pergolas come in all sizes, pergola kits are usually for making smaller pergolas. Larger pergolas, which cost more money to build, may require the assistance of a contractor.

Common uses for pergolas include:

  • Spanning a deck or patio. A pergola can transform your deck or patio into a semi-covered oasis. You can stretch a pergola all the way across your deck, or you can cover only part of your deck and leave the rest sunny.
  • Creating a separate patio or living space. If you have a large backyard, you may want to create a substantial shaded area away from the house in addition to your deck or patio. A pergola is an effective way to define these detached outdoor living spaces. You can add pavement or patio stones underneath a freestanding pergola, or leave the ground bare and set up some chairs for a shady place to entertain.

As with arbors, homeowners can control the amount of shade pergolas provide by planting climbing vines at the base. Because pergolas are often more heavy-duty structures than arbors, they can support some of the heavier plants, such as wisteria. If your pergola is attached to your house or located close to another structure, however, be careful what you choose to plant. A strong climber run amok can threaten the stability of your fence or deck.

Patio Covers

For complete shade as well as protection from the rain, a solid patio cover is a third option. Solid patio covers typically involve extending the roofline of your home to cover your patio or deck. Because it’s a more involved project, building a patio cover usually entails hiring a contractor and is more expensive than building an arbor or pergola. However, many homeowners choose to build patio covers because of the full protection from the elements they provide.

Attractive backyard shade options are available in all different forms, materials and price ranges. When you want to create backyard shade in your home, choose one that will make your patio feel like an outdoor living space.

~Flora Richards-Gustafson, 2010

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