Chapter 8: Arbor and Pergola Backyard Landscaping

Pergolas and arbors are quaint additions that add character to any lawn. These outdoor ornaments are built from wood and may look complicated to construct, but can be accomplished easily with the right tools and attitude.

When built correctly, arbors and pergolas become akin to an extra room outside the home — a private and perfect little oasis to relax and enjoy your backyard landscaping, all under a decorative design staple.

  

Arbor and Pergola Materials

The hardscaping materials required for your arbor and pergola will largely be determined by the number of final details you wish to put in. However, the primary materials for building a pergola or arbor are as follows:

  • Pressure-treated boards and beams, the skeleton of these classic backyard hardscapes.
  • Galvanized screws, for configuration. 
  • Beam ties, to connect rafters and central beams during construction.
  • Angle brackets, to support and reinforce the standing strength of your arbor or pergola. 
  • Concrete mix, for a lasting structural foundation.
  • Paint or stain, if desired. 

Tools for Building an Arbor or Pergola

Contrary to what their finished design might have you thinking, arbors and pergolas do not require a vast list of specialty tools and equipment:

  • Layout and measuring: Industrial measuring tape, chalk or paint marking box, levelers, construction twine, carpenter’s square, speed squares.    
  • Construction: Drill and bits, bulge head screwdriver and hex head screwdriver, pliers and clamps, circular saw, reciprocating saw, hammers, nails, nailers, snips.
  • General tools: Ladder, hammers, table saw, nail gun and compressor, router, hand sanders, caulking gun, jigsaw.

What to Know Before Building an Arbor or Pergola

Installing a pergola in your backyard adds distinct character and warmth to space. Remember to keep these points in mind to make installation and construction that much smoother. 

  1. Pick the right site. Flat, level surfaces requiring minimum excavation and manipulation are ideal. Don’t make things harder on yourself.
  2. Have form match function. The size and designs of these unique backyard hardscape additions should come down to what you intend to use them for — be that a merely decorative garden archway or an awning-like, complete coverage of an outdoor dining area.
  3. Wood types and treatments. Know what wood type will hold up to your area’s weather conditions. Consult with experts to get input on cuts, colors and treatments to make boards and beams last.
  4. Pick a proper coating. Always finish your arbor or pergola with a protective coating. They’ll be spending their lives outdoors, after all.
  5. Don’t overcomplicate things. Arbors and pergolas are like puzzles. Once you have all the pieces spread out before you, the goal is to put them together.

Arbor or Pergola Tips and Tricks

So many homeowners cite these hardscape features as attractive additions they wish they could build in their yards. We’re here to reiterate — you absolutely can!

To make the entire process of constructing your arbor or pergola the easiest it can be, consider the following insider tips.

  1. Use a custom pergola kit. Yes, these exist. And while you’ll pay a bit more upfront for a completed, pre-cut kit rather than selecting and trimming boards yourself, you will save time and likely ease your mind.
  2. Detailing. Elegantly trim rafters by curving or shaping their edges. This adds fantastic — and often overlooked — character to these already charming outdoor additions.
  3. Add decorations or lighting. From hanging flowers and sprawling vines to paint coatings and carved, decorative trim — all these details make arbors and pergolas knock-out yard features.