What’s the Difference: Trellis vs Pergola vs Arbor?

Difference Between Pergola and Trellis

Trellises, pergolas, and arbors are decorative landscaping and gardening structures used to support climbing plants and provide shade. However, there are certain key differences that set them apart.

  • Pergolas are structures that create a versatile outdoor living space.
  • Typically latched onto flat surfaces, trellises are slim structures that best support vining plants.
  • Arbors are typically just decorative entryways that can also support climbing plants.

To get the in-depth scoop of what makes these three so unique, read our comprehensive guide! 

What Is A Trellis?

What Is A Trellis
Image: OZCO Building Production
MaterialWood
Metal
Vinyl
Bamboo
DesignA flat or three-dimensional structure with a lattice or grid-like pattern
Can be mounted vertically against a flat surface or freestanding
PurposeUsed to support climbing plants and vines that grow vertically
Outdoor decorative element to exterior walls and fences 
FunctionHelp facilitate upward plant growth
Doubles as a privacy screen
Acts as a partition

To put simply, a trellis is a decorative structure made out of horizontal and vertical slats that either form a grid or lattice-like design. 

While typically flat, trellises can also be three-dimensional depending on your needs. When flat, they’re typically mounted on or resting against a wall. Otherwise, it can be left freestanding.

Because of its pattern and orientation, trellises are great structural supports for vertically climbing, dense plants. By hanging upright, they’re given more space to grow without the threat of onground pests and poor ventilation. 
Image: Monticello Shop

Because of its pattern and orientation, trellises are great structural supports for vertically climbing, dense plants. By hanging upright, they’re given more space to grow without the threat of onground pests and poor ventilation. 

On top of that, trellises also serve as partitions, creating a visually appealing and natural boundary between spaces in your garden or two backyards.

5 Best Plants To Grow On A Trellis

5 Best Plants To Grow On A Trellis
Image: Balcony Garden Web

Trellises are functional and decorative structures that don’t take a lot of space up in your garden. Hence, they’re the perfect addition for space-conscious gardeners that want to elevate the appearance of their lot without sacrificing their planting area.

If you’re curious about what plants will grow well on trellises, then check these out!

1. Morning Glory

Morning Glory
Image: Sunset Magazine
Common NameMorning glories
Scientific NameIpomoea spp.
Plant TypeAnnual or perennial depending on variety
Soil TypeLoamy
Sandy
pH Level6.0 to 7.0
Sun RequirementsFull sun to partial shade
Water RequirementsMoist but not water-logged

Morning glories (Ipomoea spp.)are fast-growing annuals that will have your trellis covered in a jiffy! Versatile climbers, they naturally twine around your trellis and cover it entirely with their trumpet-shaped blossoms and lancet leaves.

To boot, they come in a variety of colors such as pink, purple, white, and red, to name a few. With that, you can choose whichever best suits your garden’s color scheme.

Easy to grow, they’re low-maintenance plants that don’t need frequent watering or fertilization. In fact, all they need is enough sunlight to keep them going.

2. Sweet Peas

Sweet Peas
Image: Country Living Magazine
Common NameSweet pea
Scientific NameLathyrus odoratus
Plant TypeAnnual 
Soil TypeLoamy
Sandy
pH Level7.0 to 7.5
Sun RequirementsFull sun to partial shade
Water RequirementsMoist but not water-logged

Sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus) are another go-to plant for those who love vibrant and fragrant flowers. In case you didn’t know, sweet peas are one of the most popular blooms found in flower arrangements.

They come in varying shades of purples, pinks, reds, and blues that will definitely make your garden pop. 

Keep in mind, though, that sweet peas are cool-season annuals. Hence, they prefer cooler temperatures and climates with mild winters.

3. Wisteria

Wisteria
Image: Skylark Garden Center
Common NameWisteria
Scientific NameWisteria spp.
Plant TypePerennial
Soil TypeLoamy
pH Level6.0 to 7.0
Sun RequirementsFull sun to partial shade
Water RequirementsMoist but not water-logged

Another vigorous climber is the wisteria (Wisteria spp.), which grows so densely that it needs regular pruning to keep its size and shape in control. Thus, it needs a well-built structure to help support most of its weight.

An easy-going plant, the wisteria loves full sun. Besides that, it’s drought-tolerant, so it grows well in areas that receive minimal rainfall.

Though, take note that growing wisterias require a lot of patience because they don’t start flowering until after a few years of growth. 

4. Eggplant

Eggplant
Image: Fields of Heather
Common NameEggplant
Scientific NameSolanum melongena
Plant TypeAnnual
Soil TypeLoamy
pH Level6.0 to 7.0
Sun RequirementsFull sun
Water RequirementsMoist but not waterlogged

For gardeners up for the challenge, you may want to consider growing eggplant (Solanum melongena). A warm-season vegetable, eggplants require full sun, are sensitive to the cold, and need consistently moist yet well-draining soil.

If that doesn’t sound high-maintenance enough, eggplants are typically bushy crops, which means that they can become top-heavy once their fruits begin to grow. Thus, regular pruning and monitoring is crucial.

Having said that, trellises can provide great support, keeping them growing upright and away from the ground.

5. Bougainvillea

5. Bougainvillea
Image: Homes To Love
Common NameBougainvilleas
Scientific NameBougainvillea spp.
Plant TypePerennial
Soil TypeLoamy
pH Level6.0 to 7.0
Sun RequirementsFull sun
Water RequirementsRegular watering during dry spells

Another kind of climbing plant that needs support is bougainvilleas (Bougainvillea spp.). Known for its prickly stem and papery bracts, they’re one of the easiest plants to keep alive.

They’re resilient to drought and thrive in full sun, so they’re best planted in areas that have warm weather all-throughout the year. Another plus is they’re generally pest and disease resistant, too. 

The only consideration to be mindful of is that bougainvilleas have blooming cycles, which means that they will undergo rest periods where they’ll have less flowers. 

What Is A Pergola?

What Is A Pergola
Image: Old World Garden Farms
MaterialWoodMetal Vinyl
DesignA large structure supported by several vertical columns and cross beams or rafters for additional support.
Usually has an open-roof design for sunlight, rain, and airflow penetration
PurposeServe as a shaded outdoor seating area
Focal point in gardens or outdoor spaces
Support climbing plants
FunctionCreate a shaded outdoor seating area

A pergola is typically considered an outdoor living space because it’s primarily used as an alfresco lounging space. Its architectural design is often what makes it the focal point of one’s garden landscape design.

While completely customizable, most pergolas have an open-roof design so they provide just a bit of shade. Nevertheless, they usually have a series of pillars and horizontal beams across the ceiling.

A pergola is typically considered an outdoor living space because it’s primarily used as an alfresco lounging space. Its architectural design is often what makes it the focal point of one’s garden landscape design
Image: Kloter Farms

Most also double as support for vining plants, with some completely covering the structure, creating a dense, green canopy. In fact, many gardeners let the overgrowth happen for aesthetic appeal. 

Having said that, pergolas that are adorned with lush greens make for great partitions as they provide a sufficient sense of enclosure and privacy.

5 Best Plants To Grow On A Pergola

5 Best Plants To Grow On A Pergola
Image: ShadeFX

If you have a pergola and don’t know what plant to train to climb or drape over it, look no further as your search is over. We’ve prepared a list of some of the most popular plants to grow on your pergola!

1. Honeysuckle

Honeysuckle
Image: Britannica
Common NameHoneysuckle
Scientific NameLonicera
Plant TypePerennial
Soil TypeLoamy
pH Level6.0 to 7.0
Sun RequirementsFull sun to partial shade
Water RequirementsMoist and well-drained

Honeysuckle (Lonicera) plants are great for gardeners who want to give their pollinators delicious treats! 

They’re unique flowers that have different blooming seasons depending on the variety. If you want blooms all year ‘round, then you can plant several different honeysuckle varieties. 

Be careful, though, as they can become invasive in some areas. Thus, it’s important to select a non-invasive species and one that’s native to your area.

2. Jasmine

Jasmine
Image: Petal Republic
Common NameJasmine
Scientific NameJasminum spp.
Plant TypePerennial
Soil TypeLoamy
pH Level6.0 to 7.0
Sun RequirementsFull sun to partial shade
Water RequirementsMoist and well-drained

Commonly grown as ornamental plants, Jasmine (Jasminum spp.) is primarily grown for its fragrant white flowers. It has a trailing growth habit that will latch on to any surface, giving you an aromatic outdoor space.

Having said that, Jasmine needs regular pruning to keep it looking spiffy, especially because of its shrubby appearance. Consistent upkeep also encourages flowering.

Most Jasmine varieties enjoy full sun to partial shade and regular watering, especially during dry spells. Other than that, they’re relatively low-maintenance plants that don’t even need much fertilizing.

3. Moonflower

Moonflower
Image: Pinterest
Common NameMoonflower or Moonvine
Scientific NameIpomoea alba
Plant TypeAnnual
Soil TypeLoamy
pH Level6.0 to 7.0
Sun RequirementsFull sun
Water RequirementsMoist and well-drained

If you’re into the overgrown look, then we’re sure you’ll love Moonflowers (Ipomoea alba) or Moonvines will be right up your alley! They have large, lancet-shaped leaves and aromatic, white flowers.

They’re easy to grow, to boot! All they need is full sun, regular watering, and well-drained soil along with a suitable support structure and they’re all set.

Though, we do have to warn you that if you’re not dedicated to pruning, Moonflowers can engulf your pergola in no time. 

4. Grapevine

Grapevine
Image: Ugaoo
Common NameGrapes
Scientific NameVitis Vinifera
Plant TypePerennial
Soil TypeLoamy
pH Level6.0 to 7.0
Sun RequirementsFull sun
Water RequirementsMoist and well-drained

If growing grapes on a pergola piqued your interest, then you’re definitely thinking outside of the box! This is a charming and functional way to grow grapes without the hassle of getting your own vineyard.

Grapes will create a beautiful canopy full of clusters of grapes along the pillars of your pergola. With this in your garden, we’re sure this will become your #1 conversation starter.

Just make sure that your pergola is strong enough to support the weight of your fruit laden vines. 

5. Passion Flower

Passion Flower
Image: Spring Hill Nurseries
Common NamePassion Flower
Scientific NamePassiflora spp.
Plant TypeAnnual or perennial depending on variety
Soil TypeLoamy
pH Level6.0 to 7.0
Sun RequirementsFull sun
Water RequirementsMoist and well-drained

A definite conversation-starter, the passion flower is a great addition to any pergola for a bright pop of color. With at least 6 to 8 hours of full sun daily, they grow large blooms with stringy tendrils.

Depending on the variety, they can either be annuals or perennials. Hence, you can select whichever best suits your area’s environmental conditions. 

Nevertheless, most passion flower varieties prefer loamy, fertile soil that is kept moist consistently, especially during the growing season.

What Is An Arbor?

What Is An Arbor
Image: Houzz
MaterialWood
Metal
Vinyl
DesignTypically designed in a U-shape to form a tunnel-like structure
Usually only consists of several vertical posts attached by an overhead framework
PurposeTo serve as an entrance or gateway
Used as a decorative garden feature
Provide light shade for plants nearby or beneath for seating
FunctionDecorative entryway
Aid in vertical plant growth

Available in a variety of different styles and sizes, arbors are usually tailored to fit the garden’s landscape design as one of its main focal points. 

Despite being rather small with just two vertical posts and an overhead framework, arbors are made unique with decorative features such as embellishments, carvings, or even scrollwork.

arbors are made unique with decorative features such as embellishments, carvings, or even scrollwork
Image: Sunset Magazine

Frequently used as ornamental entryways, arbors welcome visitors into different parts of the garden. Aside from that, it also provides partial shade for nearby plants.

Some even use their arbors, despite their open roof, as a lounge area with seating beneath. Adorned with plants, this provides a relaxing natural oasis for gardeners who’ve toiled all day under the sun.

5 Best Plants To Grow On An Arbor

Best Plants To Grow On An Arbor
Image: Penn Dutch Structures

There’s no better way to welcome visitors than with a beautifully adorned arbor, right? So if you’ve already got your arbor set up, all that’s left for you to prepare are your plants.

Read on for our suggestions! 

1. Creeping Jenny

Creeping Jenny
Image: Nature Hills Nursery
Common NameCreeping Jenny
Moneywort
Scientific NameLysimachia nummularia
Plant TypePerennial
Soil TypeLoamy
pH Level6.0 to 7.0
Sun RequirementsFull sun to partial shade
Water RequirementsMoist and well-drained

A popular choice for many gardeners because of its uniquely-shaped leaves and golden-yellow color, Creeping Jenny is striking against dark-colored arbors made from wood or metal.

As it drapes downward, it creates a full and lush effect, bringing a ton of life to even the most bare of arbors. However, it’s vital to ensure that your structure is capable of supporting the weight of this fast-growing perennial.

Having said that, regular monitoring and pruning is all that’s needed to prevent any problems. 

2. Clematis

Clematis
Image: Cate’s Garden
Common NameClematis
Scientific NameClematis spp.
Plant TypePerennial
Soil TypeLoamy
pH Level6.0 to 7.0
Sun RequirementsFull sun to partial shade
Water RequirementsMoist but not water-logged

If showy flowers are your thing, then we’re sure that you’ll love the stunning violet-colored blooms of the Clematis plant around your arbor. 

Because of its diverse flowers, you have a variety of species to choose from to best suit your climate conditions. Though as perennials, Clematis aren’t in bloom all-year ‘round. 

A rewarding plant to have, Clematis is relatively easy to maintain. To keep your blooms looking their best, Clematis needs regular fertilizing, preferably with a slow-release fertilizer just as new growth starts.

3. Nasturtium

Nasturtium
Image: University of Minnesota Extension
Common NameNasturtium
Scientific NameTropaeolum spp.
Plant TypeAnnual
Soil TypeLoamy
pH Level6.1 to 7.8
Sun RequirementsFull sun but tolerates light shade
Water RequirementsWell-drained but not waterlogged

A popular plant for beginners, Nasturtium is a great vining plant to grow on arbors because they thrive in all types of soil. But if you want an abundance of flowers, they’re best planted in areas that receive full sun.

Their vining nature makes for a stunning cascade of brightly orange-yellow flowers that hang down from the arbor, adding a warm burst of color.

To boot, they’re self-seeding and germinate quickly, so it won’t take long before you can enjoy more of these bubbly-looking plants all over your garden.

4. Climbing Roses

Climbing Roses
Image: Pinterest 
Common NameClimbing Rose
Scientific NameRosa setigera
Plant TypePerennial
Soil TypeLoamy
pH Level6.0 to 6.5
Sun RequirementsFull sun
Water RequirementsMoist and well-draining

For a picturesque display right out of a movie, planting climbing roses by your arbor will give you the most romantic focal point. We do have to warn you, though, that they can be a challenge to grow. 

Hence, we recommend starting out with less demanding cultivars such as Zephirine Drouhin, New Dawn, and Blaze, which can thrive in nearly any condition.

Just as its name suggests, climbing roses need a sturdy support structure to latch onto. Since they grow vertically, they need to be trained to follow your arbor which needs to be strong enough to hold up the weight.

5. Hops

Hops
Image: Pinterest
Common NameHops
Scientific NameHumulus lupulus
Plant TypePerennial
Soil TypeSandy loam
pH Level6.0 to 7.0
Sun RequirementsFull sun
Water RequirementsMoist but not waterlogged

If showy flowers aren’t your thing, we’re sure you’ll love Hops because of its clusters of heart-shaped, papery foliage. By fall, its cone-shaped flowers will begin to make an appearance, but don’t worry as these blend extremely well against its leaves.

Vigorous climbers, growing alongside an arbor is essential for upright growth. It’ll need pruning every now and then to control its size, but don’t worry as it’s nothing too demanding.

As perennials, they’ll go dormant during the winter months. At this time, we suggest trimming away at the dead and diseased foliage, so that your Hops plant is all set to grow healthily in the spring.

HFAQs on Pergolas, Trellis and Arbors

How do I care for my pergola, trellis, or arbor?


Maintaining these structures requires regular maintenance such as cleaning and inspecting for any structural problems. After some time, repairs will be necessary wherein painting, staining (for wood), and replacing some parts will be required.

How long do pergolas, trellises, and arbors last?


Depending on the materials used, maintenance practices, and environmental conditions, your structures can last anywhere from 15 to 20 years or more.

Is a permit needed to grow pergolas, trellises, and arbors?


Permit requirements will vary by location, so it’s vital that you double-check with your local government to see whether a permit is needed for the kind of structure you’re building.

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