At first glance, a pergola doesn’t look like much. Sure, it may look like a nice piece of artwork in the yard, and it may have some plants growing on it, but still. Pergolas tend to strike people as lacking. With the holes in the top, what use does a pergola actually provide? It’s clear that it won’t protect you from rain or snow, but do pergolas provide shade?
Yes, pergolas do provide shade. The real question is how much shade a pergola can give you. The size and placement of a pergola’s beams will help determine just how much shade it will provide. Even the position of the sun and the orientation of the slats will make a difference in how much sunlight it blocks. If you do it right, you can have sun in the morning and shade in the afternoon, giving you the best of both worlds.
Plus, if you want more shade, you’ve got some options when it comes to these unique outdoor structures.
What is a Pergola?
A pergola consists of a latticework structure supported by (usually) four posts and typically made of wood. They’re commonly found in gardens, above sitting areas, and over walkways.
How Much Shade Can a Pergola Provide?
So, we know that pergolas provide shade, but we haven’t covered exactly how much. You can think of shade from a pergola like shade from a tree. The branches and leaves may not provide complete shade, but they definitely provide enough to keep you out of direct sunlight and help you stay cool.
Of course, large trees with lots of leaves and branches will provide more shade than small trees with very few branches or smaller leaves. The same can be said for pergolas. Like trees, they come in all different shapes and sizes. Smaller pergolas with thin, widely-spaced slats will provide less overall shade than larger pergolas with slats built close together.
The type of pergola you build will depend on how much shade you want, and if shade is your main concern in regards to the outdoor structure. For many people, shade is a secondary concern. Placement and slat orientation of your pergola will also determine how much shade you get and at what time of the day. We’ll cover both of these factors below.
Even if you do have a pergola that doesn’t block as much sun as you’d like, you can make some modifications to increase the shade.
How to Increase Your Pergola’s Shade
One of the nice things about having a pergola in your yard is that it can be modified to give you more or less shade, depending on your needs. In the autumn and springtime, you can leave the pergola as is, allowing more sunlight to shine through. In the summer, you can increase shade with a simple modification.
Vines and Plants
A popular way many pergolas owners naturally increase the shade their pergolas provide is by allowing climbing plants on the structure. This takes some time, as you must wait for the plants to grow to the top and over the latticework, but many people find that it’s worth it in the end.
Then, sitting under the pergola really is like sitting under a tree as the sun filters through the leaves and blossoms, and a slight breeze stirs the air. If you have a green thumb or a garden, a pergola might be right for you. If taking care of vines sounds like too much for you, don’t worry; you can choose a breed of climbing plant that requires little to no work. Below are some popular options.
An ideal choice for pergolas, grapevine does require some work in the form of pruning and training. If you choose a breed that will actually produce grapes, you’ll have to harvest them, which takes work. However, if you want the vine just for shade and a great-looking pergola, then you can get a breed that doesn’t produce grapes.
A good choice for those with a green thumb, wisteria is an aggressive plant that provides sweet-smelling lavender-colored flowers when it blooms. It does take a little time to become established, but once it does wisteria will require regular pruning. It’s also a good choice for those who want more sunlight under their pergola in the winter, as wisteria will go dormant with little or no winterizing required.
Ivy is one of the best choices for those who don’t wish to spend time pruning or maintaining their pergola plant. It’s evergreen, meaning it will stay green through the winter. It does require partial shade for ideal growing, so it’s not ideal for a pergola that’s in the sun all day long.
The smell of honeysuckle blooms at sunset is unbeatable, making this creeper a pergola favorite. There are a ton of different species, some of which are evergreen. If you do decide on an evergreen honeysuckle plant, you’ll have to do some pruning to keep it under control.
There are many different kinds of plants that you can use to enhance your pergola’s beauty and shade. You can check out a list here.
You can also hang potted plants from different areas of the pergola, which will help provide more shade, as well. Really the only limitations lie in your imagination, where you live, and how green your thumb is when it comes to what plants you can use on a pergola.
If you don’t want to go with vines on your pergola for shade, you can always get an outdoor fabric to put over the top. A fabric sunshade is great for providing extra shade when you want it, and you can always remove it when you don’t. Just make sure you purchase the correct size for your needs. For larger pergolas, you may need to purchase more than one or have a custom size made.
A sunshade over the top of your pergola is great when the sun is overhead, but what if it’s slanting in through an open side of the structure? The solution is simple: install pergola curtains. These can not only provide you with shade, but they can also give you privacy and a sense that you’re in your own private pergola paradise.
A very nice, but also a more expensive option for blocking shade is an automatic pergola. Sometimes called smart pergolas, these structures have slats that you can open or close with the push of a button.
Also available are motorized sun shades that can be installed over an existing pergola. You simply press a button and the shade expands or retracts, making it easy to get the perfect amount of shade.
Where to Position Your Pergola
Where in your yard you place the pergola should be determined by what you want to accomplish with it. For shade, the best place to position your pergola will be anywhere that doesn’t receive constant sunlight. This may be under a tree or up against the house so your home can provide shade for some of the day. Of course, too much shade can be a bad thing if you want vines to grow on the pergola, or if you envision hanging plants from the slats.
A pergola next to your house can also provide shade to nearby windows in certain circumstances, which is something to consider.
Consider what you want to do with the pergola, and then take note of the potential places in your yard. Observe how much sun these areas receive at different times during the day. Pretty soon you’ll have a good idea of the best position for your new pergola.
Which Direction Should Your Pergola Slats Run?
Since there are so many different pergola designs, it can be hard to determine which way the slats should face. Your typical options are north/south or east/west, but you can also do it at a slant (northeast/southwest). Since the tops of pergolas usually consist of latticework, the size of the slats will make the biggest difference in terms of shade.
Some pergolas have latticework slats that are the same size and equally placed. If this is the case, which way the slats face isn’t going to matter. You’ll be getting the same amount of shade no matter what.
Other pergolas have a combination of larger and smaller slats. The larger slats will provide more shade if they are placed in a specific orientation. What direction is best for you depends on where in the world you live.
For the most shade, try to place the larger slats perpendicular to the path that the sun travels. Since you’ll most likely want the most shade in the summer months, place them perpendicular to the summer sun’s path, rather than that of the winter sun.
Pergolas definitely provide shade, but not all pergolas are the same. If shade is what you’re looking for in a pergola, you’ll want to think about placement, slat size and orientation in relation to the sun’s path, and additions like hanging plants, vines, curtains, or sunshades. Whether you want a lot of shade, a little, or somewhere in between, a pergola with a few modifications and a bit of planning can help you accomplish that goal.