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pergola vs trellis - key differences

Pergola vs Trellis: Key Differences Between These Outdoor Structures

Outdoor living spaces are becoming increasingly popular as more homeowners look to extend their living area to the outdoors. Two popular outdoor structures used in landscape design are the outdoor pergola and the trellis. But what exactly is the difference between a pergola and a trellis?

While the terms pergola and trellis are sometimes used interchangeably, they are distinct garden structures with unique design features and purposes. This in-depth guide will examine the key differences between pergolas and trellises to help you determine which option is best for your outdoor space.

pergola and trellis with outdoor furnitures and plants

Key Takeaways

  • Pergolas and trellises serve different primary purposes - pergolas provide shade while trellises support climbing plants.

  • Pergolas have a substantial permanent structure while trellises are lightweight and movable.

  • Pergolas are larger, more expensive landscape investments compared to inexpensive trellises.

  • Trellises showcase flowering vines and plants beautifully as they climb upwards.

What is a Pergola?

A pergola is a freestanding outdoor structure that consists of vertical posts or columns supporting an open latticework roof of beams and rafters. Pergolas are typically either square or rectangular in shape.

The open-slatted roof allows filtered sunlight to pass through while still providing shade and protection from the sun. Pergolas are often used to create an outdoor living space, like an “outdoor room” in a garden or yard. They can cover a seating area, patio, deck, or walkway.

Some key design features of pergolas include:

  • Freestanding structure - Unlike a trellis, a pergola is not attached to a building. The posts anchor it into the ground.

  • Open slatted roof - The lattice pattern roof allows dappled sunlight to filter through. The roof is open and does not provide complete shade.

  • Square/rectangular shape - Pergolas have a distinct architectural shape, usually with four posts and rafters forming a square or rectangle.

  • Large size - A pergola is a substantial structure, often ranging from 10 to 20 feet in size. The roof is typically 8-12 feet high.

  • Provides partial shade - The open lattice roof cuts down sunlight but does not block it completely. A pergola provides relief from the sun while still allowing plants below it to receive sunlight.

  • Creates an outdoor living space - One of the main uses of a pergola is to provide a shaded spot for outdoor dining, seating, or relaxation.

Some benefits of pergolas include providing shade, enhancing the architecture and design of your yard, and creating a defined outdoor living area. A potential downside is that they are more expensive and permanent landscape features compared to trellises.

What is a Trellis?

A trellis is a garden structure made of latticework or crisscrossed wood, metal, or plastic that is used as a support for climbing plants like vines, roses, and honeysuckles.

Trellises can either be freestanding structures leaning against a wall for support or designed to be attached directly to the side of a building or fence. They come in many sizes and designs but are generally lightweight and have an open framework.

Some key design features of trellises include:

  • Latticework or crisscross design - Trellises have an open lattice pattern that allows plants to climb up through them. The patterns can be made from wood strips, metal, plastic, or other materials.

  • Made of various materials - Trellises are constructed using wood, metal, plastic, wire mesh, or other materials. Wood or cedar is common.

  • Freestanding or attached - Trellises can stand alone, be attached to walls, fences, or other structures, or span horizontally between two posts.

  • Lightweight structure - Trellises have a lightweight, open framework compared to the heavier, sturdier structure of a pergola.

  • Smaller size - Trellises are typically 3-8 feet tall and 2-5 feet wide. Size depends on the intended use.

  • Support for climbing plants - The main purpose of a trellis is to support vines, flowers, or other climbing plants. Plants can climb up through the lattice or crisscross design.

The openness of a trellis allows plants to grow through while being contained and guided upwards. Benefits of trellises include lower cost than pergolas and versatility in supporting climbing plants in gardens. A downside is that they offer less sturdiness and durability compared to a pergola.

white pergola with trellis and outdoor furniture with fireplace

Key Differences Between Pergolas and Trellises

While pergolas and trellises share some similarities, there are several notable differences between these two garden structures:

Purpose and Use

  • Pergolas are used primarily for creating shaded outdoor living areas. They define an outdoor “room” and provide a little relief from the sun.
  • Trellises are used mainly for supporting climbing plants and vegetation. They help contain and direct plant growth upwards.

Structure and Design

  • Pergolas have a fixed, freestanding, and substantial structure with sturdy posts, beams, and rafters.
  • Trellises have a lightweight lattice design and are more delicate than the solid pergola structure.


  • Pergolas are large structures ranging from 10 to 20 feet in size. They provide ample overhead shade coverage.
  • Trellises are smaller structures, typically 3 to 8 feet in size to accommodate plants.

Shade Provided

  • The open pergola roof filters sunlight but provides shade for an outdoor living space.
  • A trellis does not offer a shade canopy since its lattice allows sunlight to pass through.


  • Pergolas are freestanding structures, while trellises can be leaning or attached to walls.


  • Pergolas are fixed, permanent structures built into the ground. They are not easily moved.
  • Trellises can often be temporary, movable structures that are not permanently anchored.


  • Constructing and installing a pergola is a more significant investment than a lightweight trellis.

Plants Supported

  • Trellises support climbing vine plants, flowers, and greenery.
  • Pergolas do not directly support plants but can have vines grown over them.
Feature Pergola Trellis
Main Purpose Provide shade and define an outdoor living space Support climbing plants and vegetation
Structure Substantial, sturdy, and permanent Delicate, lightweight, and movable
Plants Not supported Supported
Size Large, around 10-20 ft Small, around 3-8 ft
Shade Provided Partial shade and sun protection Minimal to no shade
Cost $5000-15000 $100

wood pergola and white trellis with outdoor furniture

Key Considerations When Choosing a Pergola vs. Trellis

When deciding whether to install a pergola or trellis in your outdoor space, there are several factors to weigh:


Pergolas are more expensive to construct than trellises. A professionally built modern cedar pergola can cost $5,000 to $15,000 depending on size and features. Trellises made of wood or metal are significantly less costly, starting under $100.

Intended Use

If you mainly need shade and want to define an outdoor living area, a pergola is likely the better choice. For supporting climbing plants and flowers, a trellis is ideal. Using both structures together is also a great option.


Since they are anchored into the ground, pergolas are permanent, long-lasting structures that can’t easily be moved. Trellises are lighter and movable depending on how they are installed.


Pergolas make a bolder architectural statement and have a greater visual presence with their larger size. Trellises have a lighter visual impact but add natural beauty with greenery.


Trellises may need more frequent repairs or replacement than a solidly built pergola. Vines growing on a trellis also require pruning and maintenance.

Climate Conditions

In wet climates, pergolas provide better rain protection and coverage than trellises. In dry, sunny areas, the shade from a pergola can be a welcome retreat.

Yard Size and Layout

A large covered pergola makes them better suited for larger garden areas, while trellises can fit nicely in smaller spaces.

Design Ideas for Incorporating Pergolas and Trellises

There are endless possibilities when it comes to creatively incorporating pergolas and trellises in your landscape design. Here are some ideas to inspire you:

Shaded Seating Area

Build a pergola over an outdoor seating space to enjoy meals or relax in the shade. Add a trellis along the side for visual interest and screen views.

Defined Garden Rooms

Use pergolas to delineate separate “outdoor rooms” within your yard, such as a dining space and living room area. Link them together with trellis passageways or walkways.

Covered Entryway

Welcome guests by constructing a cedar wood pergola over your entry walkway. Grow climbing jasmine or roses up columns for a romantic look.

Backyard Retreat

Design a secluded backyard getaway under the cool shade of an open pergola. Surround it with trellises covered in lush clematis and honeysuckle vines.

Patio Privacy

Install a long trellis panel along your patio’s edge to block views and provide a vertical plant screen for more privacy.

Poolside Relaxation

Flank a pool area with two pergola structures connected by an open-air trellis walkway for an inviting, resort-like setting.

Garden Accents

Incorporate smaller trellises throughout garden beds and borders to display beautiful climbing plants and add height variation.

Refer to our buyers guide pergola for even more pergola design inspiration, pictures, and ideas.

Pergola and Trellis Design Options

Beyond the basic designs, there are many pergola and trellis options to suit your style, space, and needs:

Pergola Variations

  • Attached vs. freestanding
  • Square, rectangle, circular, or custom shapes
  • Rustic, contemporary, modern, or traditional styles
  • Open, covered, or retractable canopy roofs
  • Added design features like integrated benches, hanging swings, or lights

Trellis Variations

  • Freestanding vs. wall-mounted styles
  • Wood, metal, plastic, wire, rope, or other materials
  • Horizontal, vertical, lean-to, or self-standing shapes
  • Simple criss-cross or elaborate latticework patterns
  • Incorporated into fences, screens, or arbor
pergola with one side on an elevated brick foundation and white trellis with plants


    1. What is an overhead trellis called?

    An overhead trellis is a structure that allows climbing plants to grow vertically on a framework of crisscrossed beams. This type of garden feature is most commonly known as a pergola when built over a patio or deck to provide shade. Trellises may also be called arbors when constructed as small passageways covered in foliage.

    2. Can a trellis be used interchangeably with a pergola?

    Although the terms pergola and trellis are sometimes used interchangeably, there are some differences between the two. A trellis is another type of garden structure that is typically used as a support for climbing plants.

    3. What is the difference between a pergola and an arch?

    While a pergola is an outdoor structure with an open roof and supporting beams, an arch is a curved structure typically used as a decorative element in landscape design.

    4. Is an arbor the same as a pergola?

    An arbor and a pergola are similar in many ways, but there are some key differences between the two. A pergola is an architectural element that provides shade and can be used to create an outdoor living space, whereas an arbor is typically a smaller structure that is often placed at the side of a building for decorative purposes.

    5. Is a pergola only used in outdoor settings?

    Yes, a pergola is primarily used in outdoor settings to create an "outdoor room" or "outdoor living space." It is a popular garden structure in landscape design.

    Enhance Your Outdoor Living Space

    Whether you choose to install a pergola for shade or a trellis to showcase beautiful climbing plants, both structures are excellent options for expanding and enhancing your home’s outdoor living areas. With proper planning and construction, pergolas and trellises can add beauty, comfort, and functionality to your landscape for years to come.
    Previous article How to Attach a Pergola to a House with Gutters - Step-by-Step Guide
    Next article Do Pergolas Provide Shade? Everything You Need To Know

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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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