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do pergolas provide shade - everything you need to know

Do Pergolas Provide Shade? Everything You Need To Know

An outdoor pergola with roof can be a beautiful addition to any backyard or patio area. With an open lattice design and overhead beams, pergolas provide structure and interest to an outdoor space. But one big question homeowners often have is: do pergolas provide shade?

The answer is: absolutely! Pergolas can offer excellent sun protection and shade when properly designed and constructed. In this complete guide, we’ll explore everything you need to know about how pergolas create shade, from design factors to customization options. Read on to learn how you can maximize shade from a pergola to enjoy your patio or garden more comfortably.

pergola with retractable canopy and side wall with outdoor furniture

Key Takeaways on Pergola Shade

  • Pergolas let some sunlight come through their open roof. This gives a dappled, filtered shade underneath.

  • Bigger, taller pergolas block more sun, especially if they have solid roofing. So go for 10-12 foot posts for wider shade.

  • Putting your pergola next to your house or trees gives you more shade during the day.

  • You can add curtains, shades, or vines to control how much sun comes through.

What is a Pergola and Does Pergola Provide Shade?

A pergola is an outdoor garden structure that consists of vertical posts or pillars that support open beams above. The overhead lattice “roof” has openings that allow filtered sunlight to pass through. Pergolas are often used to create shaded sitting areas or to cover walkways in a landscape.

Unlike a solid roof, a pergola's open and slatted wood or vinyl-beamed ceiling allows sunlight to stream through in bands. This filtered light provides partial shade that blocks and diffuses the harshest overhead rays. The crisscrossed lattice pattern creates a dappled shade effect under the pergola, similar to the shade from a tree canopy.

The shade level provided by a pergola depends on several design factors, which we’ll explore in detail next. But in general, pergolas can block significant sunlight to create ample shade for relaxation and recreation. Their semi-open structure also allows fresh air flow, unlike a covered patio or gazebo.

Key Pergola Design Factors That Impact Shade Coverage

Not all pergolas are created equal when it comes to shade capabilities. Certain elements of the pergola’s size, orientation, roof materials, and other design factors can affect how much sun protection it provides. Here are some of the most important considerations:

Pergola Size

The overall footprint and proportions of the pergola impact the total shaded area created. Larger pergolas up to 20 x 20 feet or more can provide shade for entire patio seating areas, while smaller 8 × 8 pergolas may only shade a pathway or garden bed.

Bigger pergolas also allow the sun to filter through from more oblique overhead angles for broader shade coverage. A good rule of thumb is to make the pergola 15-30% larger than the area you want to shade to account for light filtering past the beams.

Pergola Height

Taller pergolas provide the advantage of casting a wider swath of shade throughout the day. At a minimum, pergola posts should be 8 feet tall. But for maximum shade, consider 10-12-foot tall posts to increase the shade canopy.

With a higher overhead lattice roof, sunlight hits the beams at a more extreme angle, limiting how far the beams’ shadows reach. The taller the pergola, the wider and longer the shade dimensions will be.

Pergola Orientation

Paying attention to compass direction when situating your pergola can optimize shade coverage. The most effective orientation is a north-south alignment, with the tallest part of the pergola on the north side.

This allows the pergola to block early morning low-angle eastern sunlight, high midday southern sun, and hot afternoon western rays. If an east-west alignment is your only option, make the east side taller to shade the harsh morning sun.

Roof Materials and Pattern

Wood, vinyl, aluminum, and other pergola roof materials have different light-filtering capabilities. For maximum shade, choose totally opaque roofing like polycarbonate panels. Dense, overlapping wood slats also perform better than more open latticework.

Conversely, wider beam spacing and more open patterns like square checkerboard designs provide dappled partial shade with more sunlight streaming through. Consider the sun protection needs under the pergola when selecting roof density and materials.

outdoor living today pergola with retractable canopy and outdoor furniture

Maximizing Shade from Your Pergola

While the above design factors affect inherent pergola shade, you can also add accessories and modify the structure to control sunlight penetration. Here are some popular ways to maximize or customize the amount of shade your pergola provides.

Sun Shading Accessories

For adjustable shade, add on external shade elements like curtains, shades, or removable canopy covers. This allows you to control sunlight as needed for different weather and seasonal conditions.

Some excellent pergola shade accessories include:

  • Retractable shade curtains - Made from canvas, mesh, or solar-blocking fabrics, retractable curtains can be drawn closed to block additional sunlight as desired.

  • Drop-down shades - Folding bamboo or slatted vinyl shades can be lowered from the pergola beams to allow filtered light through while blocking direct sunshine.

  • Removable shade canopies - Temporary shade cloths, plastic panels, or corrugated polycarbonate canopies can be mounted above the pergola roof for added shade during peak sun hours.

Vines, Plants, and Trees for Natural Shade

Growing greenery on and around your pergola is an attractive way to block more sun. Climbing vines and espaliered trees over the overhead structure provide living shade that filters sunlight through leaves and flowers.

Some top pergola shade plant choices include:

  • Grape vines - Hardy kiwi vines also work well. Their broad leaves diffusely filter sunshine.

  • Wisteria - A fast-growing vine with dense foliage concentrated at the top, perfect for overhead pergola coverage.

  • Clematis - Showy flowers and crawling growth habit provide ornamental and functional shade.

  • Trumpet vines - Large, lobed leaves block the sun while hummingbirds love the bright orange flowers.

Here is a comparison of these plants for your ease:

Plant Growth Rate Sun Tolerance Features
Grape Vines Fast Full sun - part shade Broad leaves - Edible fruit
Trumpet Vine Fast Full sun Large leaves - Showy flowers - Hummingbird attractor
Wisteria Fast Part shade Dense foliage - Fragrant flowers
Clematis Moderate Part shade - full shade Vibrant flowers - Vining growth

Strategic Pergola Placement and Orientation

Take advantage of existing structures and landscaping that may already provide midday or afternoon shade. Positioning your pergola on the east side of a home, tree line or trellis can allow it to shade the morning sun and then receive partial shade later in the day.

Likewise, orienting your pergola to best complement adjacent buildings, fences, gazebos, and other structures can maximize shade coverage throughout the changing angles of sunlight. Pay attention to sun patterns in your yard and situate your pergola accordingly.

white pergola with retractable canopy with outdoor furniture on a paver

Pergola Design Tips For Maximum Shade

  • Size your pergola 15-30% larger than the area you want to shade.
  • Taller is better - go for 10-12 foot posts for wider shade.
  • Align your pergola north-south for sun protection all day.
  • Choose opaque roofing like polycarbonate panels for full sun blockage.
  • Add shade accessories like curtains, shades, or removable canopies.
  • Grow climbing vines over the structure for natural living shade.

With proper planning, your pergola can be more than just a decorative garden accent - it can provide cooling, relaxing shade from the heat on your patio or deck for years to come. Also be sure to check out our buyer's guide for pergolas to help with material, size, and design choices.

Pergola Shade Compared to Other Patio Shading Options

Pergolas have some advantages and disadvantages compared to other outdoor shade solutions in terms of cost, permanence, aesthetics, and functionality. Here’s how they stack up against other popular choices:

More Permanent Shade Structure Than Umbrellas or Sails

Free-standing shade umbrellas and triangular shade sails need to be moved or retracted seasonally and don’t provide complete overhead coverage. Pergolas are permanent shade structures that can last for decades when properly maintained. Their complete overhead lattice design provides a wider span of filtered shade.

More Cost Effective Than Gazebos or Pavilions

Custom-built gazebos and pavilion structures that are fully roofed require significantly more investment than simple overhead pergola structures. Pergolas provide filtered shade at a fraction of the cost of solid roof structures.

More Visually Open and Blends Into Landscape Than Tents or Tarps

Shade tents, canopies, and tarps are temporary sun-blocking measures that can look cluttered in a backyard setting long term. The open overhead structure of pergolas preserves visibility and aesthetics for the surrounding landscape compared to opaque shading solutions.

Less Extreme Shade Than Fully Covered Patios

Covered patios and verandas provide complete sun blockage like an indoor room. Pergolas allow some dappled sunlight through for a more open outdoor experience. Depending on your needs, the partial shade of a pergola may be preferable to the dark environment under a solid roof.

Special Considerations for Partial Sunlight Conditions

While many homeowners prioritize maximizing shade, the dappled sunlight under a pergola has benefits in certain situations:

Promotes Growth of Shade Loving Plants

Many ornamental plants thrive with bright but indirect sunlight. Pergolas provide an ideal partial shade environment to nurture mosses, ferns, impatiens, begonias, and other shade-tolerant plants.

Prevents Mold and Mildew Problems

In damp climates, too much constant shade can lead to mold, mildew, and fungal issues on outdoor surfaces. Allowing some sunlight through prevents the permanent dampness that these organisms need.

Allows Customization of Sun Exposure

The adjustable shade options possible with pergolas let you moderate sun exposure for seasonal crop plants or vegetation with changing light needs. Pergolas’ partial shade helps balance necessary sun requirements for healthy plant growth.

pergola with orange retractable canopy and sidewall with outdoor furniture and firetable

Frequently Asked Questions

1: What is the point of having a pergola?

The main point of having a pergola is to provide shade and enhance the overall aesthetic appeal of your outdoor living area. Pergolas are popular because they can create a comfortable and welcoming space, perfect for relaxation and entertaining.

2: What are pergola kits?

Pergola kits with roof are pre-designed pergolas that include all the necessary materials and instructions for installation. They offer a convenient and cost-effective way to add a pergola to your outdoor space.

3: Do pergolas come with complete shade coverage?

No, pergolas typically provide partial shade and are designed to create a balance between sunlight and shade. However, you can add additional shade coverage by incorporating retractable canopies or using pergola covers.

4: Can pergolas provide rain protection?

While pergolas are primarily designed to provide shade, they can also offer some rain protection. By adding waterproof materials or installing retractable canopies, you can create a covered outdoor area that protects you from light rain showers.

5: Are pergolas good for UV protection?

Pergolas can provide limited UV protection by reducing direct sun exposure to your outdoor space. However, they are not as effective as fully enclosed structures in blocking harmful UV rays. It is still recommended to use sunscreen and take necessary precautions when spending time under a pergola.


A properly designed and constructed pergola can provide excellent sun protection to create a comfortable shaded oasis in your yard or garden. The most important factors for ample pergola shade include size, height, orientation, and roofing materials. Seeking expert guidance from a qualified landscape designer can help you optimize your pergola's shade capabilities.

With strategic placement and the use of shade accessories like curtains or climbing vines, you can fine-tune a pergola's dappled lighting. Shade from a pergola balances openness and protection from sunlight's harshest effects. More cost-effective than fully roofed structures, pergolas are an elegant shading solution to enhance the enjoyment of your outdoor living space.

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About The Author

Andy Wu - Resident Expert

Andy Wu - Resident Expert

Andy Wu is the resident backyard products expert and hails from Atlanta, Georgia. His passion for crafting outdoor retreats began in 2003.

As a fellow homeowner, he founded Backyard Oasis to provide top-quality furnishings and equipment, collaborating with leading manufacturers.

His main focus is on sheds and generators!

In his spare time he like to hike the tallest mountains in the world and travel with his family.

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