Gazebos, Pergolas & Arbors Buying Guide | Shade Structures


A garden structure can provide several benefits including being a great place to relax, a focal point in the landscape, creating a sense of height, offering relief from the sun’s heat and much more!  Below we discuss what types of structures are available so that you can determine which may be best for you.

Types of shade structures

Arbors and Pergolas

IMG_20160722_123349Arbors are freestanding structures that are usually placed at the entrance to a garden or over a walkway to separate two distinct areas of the garden. Pergolas are typically attached to the house, deck or patio but may also be free-standing.  They are usually built over an outdoor entertaining area to provide visual interest, shade and support for climbing plants.  Both are typically in the range of about 8 to 10 feet high.   If you are planning on covering the structure with plants, make sure you leave plenty of headroom to walk through comfortably when they are in bloom or dropping down.  Many are built of cedar but treated pine lumber as well as other materials are also used. They function with overhead rafters that provide dappled sunlight to filter through while keeping the direct sunlight off of your area.  This type also provides good air flow as well.


These tend to be destination structures often placed as a focal point somewhere in the garden.  They can be purchases in kits or custom built and consist of a posts or walls, beams, rafters, roof and a floor or foundation.  It is recommended to have a minimum diameter width of 8 feet and go larger from there.  Also the height should be a minimum of 8 feet.  In general, many are built of cedar but treated pine lumber is also popular as well as other types of building materials.

Gazebo Canopy or Cabanas

Consisting of a frame structure with fabric on the sides allow for good air movement while protecting you from the elements.  Gazebo canopies consist of of fabric built onto a metal frame are also available depending on your preference.  Some cabanas also feature roofing materials such as thatch, wood shingle or other materials.

Shade sails, retractable awnings and umbrellas

Shade sails, retractable awnings and patio umbrellas.  These provide shade that can be adjusted based on needs.  Each provide their own characteristics and qualities that make them valuable in both function and aesthetics.

The Floor

There are several material choices for flooring that you can incorporate when installing your structure and it is important to consider before you do the actual installation.  The structure can be installed on, next to or above decking, flagstone, tile, concrete pavers, brick, concrete slab, grass, mulch, rock or other surfaces depending on your preference.  Consider anchoring the structure down so that strong winds will not disrupt its placement.


Consider what destination you would like for your patio or deck and determine what level of shade you might need.  It is important to consider existing elements such as your house, trees or garage in determining how much shade they may already provide and at certain times of the day. In most cases, south-facing areas get the most sun exposure during the day.  West-facing areas tend to get mid-afternoon sun.

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By Ryan Shields

Ryan is the Senior Editor here at Outdoor Home and Garden. He has a degree in Horticulture and has worked in the field of Facilities Management for over 16 years.


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