What Is An Arbor? Understanding Its Role in Your Garden 

Importance of Arbor in Gardening

When looking for garden landscape inspiration, we’re sure you’ve come across several images showcasing an arbor. You may have even asked yourself, “What’s an arbor?” and “What is an arbor for?”. 

We’ve got the answers to your questions right here! Let’s dive into what arbors are used for, the different plants you can grow on it, and more.

What Is An Arbor?

What Is An Arbor
Image: Forever Redwood

An arbor is an entryway typically with two or four vertical posts made of wood, metal, or other materials. It can either be a freestanding structure, fixed to a wall or fence, or even over a bench or gate.

Depending on the style, it may have an entire roof or just a couple of horizontal beams that make up an open framework. 

Since all arbors are made uniquely, gardeners have a ton of creative freedom when choosing the type of material used, size, and even placement.

Having said that, its purpose entirely depends on you, too. Some let their plants grow freely, making their arbor blend more seamlessly with the landscape, while others use it as shade for outdoor seating areas.

Different Uses For Arbors

Different Uses For Arbors
Image: Sunset Magazine

If you’re planning to put an arbor in your garden, you’re probably thinking of what to use it for. Luckily, there are a ton of different fun and functional ways you can use them.

In fact, its versatility is what makes it such a great addition to your garden in the first place! Anyway, we’ll let you decide for yourself, so read on! 

1. Support For Vining Plants

Support For Vining Plants
Image: Houzz

Because of its framework, an arbor’s horizontal beams and vertical poles provide sturdy structural support for vining plants to latch onto as they climb upward. 

As you already know, keeping them off the ground helps them get more sunlight and ventilation as its vines aren’t sprawled on the ground.

Since arbors are fully customizable, you can have virtually any kind of climbing plant, from veggies to flowers. Thus, you can grow whichever best suits your environmental conditions and visual preferences.

2. Shade For Seating Areas

Shade For Seating Areas
Image: Walpole Outdoors

Even without any plants beside it, arbors are still useful as they offer light shade for nearby seating areas. It’s still worth highlighting that an arbor covered in lush greens provides a lot more shade than a bare one.

Nevertheless, an arbor on its own works well to create a semi-sheltered outdoor space. In fact, you can even add a bench or a couple of lawn chairs to help make your time spent there more comfortable and relaxing.

Depending on how much shade you want, you can play around with several different arbor designs – adding breams, poles, and even lattice sheets. 

3. Focal Point

Focal Point
Image: Landscaping Network

With aesthetics in mind, arbors are typically added to gardens to be one of, if not the, main focal point. In fact, they increase the value of homes as it enhances the overall appearance of your garden.

To become the centerpiece of your garden, your arbor must match the overall style and theme of your surrounding landscape. Then, it needs to be thoughtfully placed in a spot where it makes your space the most visually appealing.

For added touches, you can pick out several vining plants with beautiful foliage, flowers, or even fruits and train it to climb the structure properly for a fuller look. If you want to go all out, you can even add accent lighting to make it more charming in the evening.

4. Gateway

Gateway
Image: Garden of Luma

What better way to welcome visitors to your garden paradise than with an arbor at the main entrance? 

Adorned with thriving plants, it creates an enchanting gateway that guides guests into your garden. To enhance your arbor, you can even install a functional gate. 

Alternatively, you can also position your arbor between two sections of your garden. This will mark the transition to a new area of your space.

5. Overhead Canopy

Overhead Canopy
Image: Designing Idea

Searching for ways for your arbor to provide more shade without ruining the aesthetic appeal? Here’s a solution for you: create a canopy by lengthening your arbor and covering it with lush and dense vining plants.

While this will definitely take a while depending on how long your arbor is, it creates a natural roof that will protect whatever’s below it from the harsh sun. 

If you can’t wait that long, you can install weather-resistant canopy fabric instead. Don’t worry about the look as they come in different colors, patterns, and shade levels for you to choose from.

6. Privacy Screen

Privacy Screen
Image: Sunset Magazine

Another popular use for arbors is to create several more private areas in the garden. Since it can be covered with lattice sheets or dense foliage, it also doubles as a privacy screen.

You can position these in various parts of your garden such as between your lot and your neighbor’s. If one arbor isn’t enough, you can put together a row of several to create a long privacy wall.

7. Backdrop for Special Occasions

Backdrop for Special Occasions
Image: eduard on Adobe Stock

Did you know that arbors are sometimes also referred to as wedding or ceremony arches because they’re frequently used in weddings. In particular, they’re most popularly used as an entryway or picturesque backdrop.

Having said that, these arbors aren’t typically covered in vining plants. Instead, they’re adorned with beautiful flowers and decorations that fit the wedding’s theme.

More than just a decorative element, wedding arbors also symbolize the unity of a couple representing the passage onto a new phase in life.

8. Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy
Image: Sarah Raven

An unconventional yet brilliant way to use arbors is for aromatherapy. All you need to do is plant climbing aromatic plants such as honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum), evergreen clematis (Clematis armandii), and jasmine (Jasminum officinale).

You can train these plants to grow abundantly around your arbor, making your garden smell amazing. Hence, they’re best placed close to benches, patios, and walkways.

What To Look For In An Arbor

What To Look For In An Arbor
Image: The Garden Glove

While there isn’t any rule against taking home the first arbor that you see at your local gardening center, it’s definitely not the wisest choice. 

To ensure it blends well with your garden’s landscape and region’s environmental conditions, you’ll need to take into consideration the arbor’s size, material, and design. 

Read on to learn why! 

Materials Used

Materials Used
Image: Buffalo-Niagara Gardening

When building or choosing an arbor, it’s vital that it’s made from a material that fits your budget, style, and can withstand the elements.

To help you decide, here are the most popular materials used to builds arbors:

1. Wood

Wood
Image: Better Homes & Gardens

One of the most accessible materials out there, wood is a popular choice for those inclined towards a natural and textured look. 

To protect its rustic charm, it’s vital that your wood is conditioned and sealed to prevent damage from water and soil. 

Otherwise, your untreated wood won’t last very long. Though, it’s important to note that among all the material options wood is the least durable and long-lasting.

2. Plastic or Vinyl

Plastic or Vinyl
Image: Wayfair

Arguably the most lightweight of all, plastic or vinyl is one of the most durable options as it doesn’t rot or rust. A drawback, though, is that it’ll eventually weaken and crack after prolonged sun exposure. 

It’s worth highlighting, too, that it cannot withstand a heavy load, so you’ll need to be cautious of the weight of any climbing plants that are on it.

On the bright side, it requires very little maintenance. Hence, you don’t need to worry about cleaning it often.

3. Iron

Iron
Image: Salem Iron Works

If you plan on using your arbor to hold up heavy plants, then one made out of iron will definitely work best. Wrought iron is most commonly chosen for its decorative qualities while steel is the better option for its strength and durability.

Nevertheless, both are pretty strong as long as they’re welded seamlessly and assembled properly. You just need to maintain it to prevent rusting over time.

Reapply protective coating as needed and redo sealants to prevent water damage. If you’ve been experiencing harsh weather conditions, we suggest storing your arbor to avoid corrosion.

Size

Size
Image: HGTV

If you can have your arbor custom-built, that’d give you the freedom to build it however big or small you want it. To boot, it’ll be the perfect size for your space because, again, it’s specially made.

However, most gardeners simply settle for whatever’s available in-store, which is an array of different widths, heights, and lengths. Thus, it’s important that you pick out the right one that’s the most proportionate to the size of your garden.

An arbor that’s too small will look like a misplaced toy in such a large space while an arber too big will make your garden cramped.

Design

Design
Image: Ultimate Alfresco

Your arbor needs to be thoughtfully designed in order to complement the surrounding landscape well and enhance the overall look of your garden. Otherwise, it’ll look out of place.

Another factor to consider when choosing the design of your arbor is the architectural style of your home. You’ll want to coordinate these two designs to harmonize better.

Lastly, your arbor’s design will also ultimately depend on its intended purpose. If it’s solely a focal point, then you don’t need to think about adding cross bars or lattices for climbing plants.

1. Flat Top Arbor

Flat Top Arbor
Image: Cedar Wood Furniture

As its name suggests, a flat top arbor has, well, a flat top (duh!). This arbor style is typically used for when gardeners want to add a bit of shade beneath for lounging areas or shade-loving plants. 

Having said that, you can add material on the roof such as beams or panels depending on the amount of shade you want. 

If you want to avoid water collecting on the top when it rains, we suggest making the roof slightly slanted. 

2. Arched Top Arbor

Arched Top Arbor
Image: Elyria Fence

While similar to the flat top arbor, they’re not exactly siblings but cousins. The arched arbor has a rounded roof, giving it a taller entrance. 

You can also use arched arbors to create shade by customizing how the roof looks. This way, it’s also functional.

It’s worth noting that if you prefer to use wood for your arbor, it could be tricky to get it to bend this way. Thus, you may want to consider using a more flexible material.

3. Gated Arbor

Gated Arbor
Image: FreshPatio

For a little more security, you can add a gate to your arbor. Since it isn’t open, it’ll keep deer, bears, and other animals away from your property.

Alternatively, you can simply use it as a doorway to another part of your garden such as a vegetable patch or seating area.

Functionality aside, having a dainty gate adds a bit of charm to your arbor, giving it a more dreamy and enchanting look.

4. Lattice or Trellis Arbor

Lattice or Trellis Arbor
Image: Vinyl Fence Wholesaler

For gardeners tight on space, then adding lattice or trellises along both sides of your arbor makes it easier for climbing plants to grow vertically.

By keeping them off the ground, they’re less likely to develop diseases. It’s also easier to harvest their yields this way.

Plants To Grow On Arbors

Plants To Grow On Arbors
Image: Augustine Nursery

To make your arbor more enchanting, we highly suggest covering it in lush greenery and blooms. Not only does this add more dimension and depth to your garden, it also helps give climbing plants a place to grow vertically.

If you’ve been looking for some ideas for plants to grow on your arbor, the hunt is over! We’ve listed a couple along with their growth requirements for ‘ya.

1. Dutchman’s Pipes

Dutchman’s Pipes
Image: North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox
Common Name(s)Aristolochia macrophylla
Scientific NameCommon Dutchman’s Pipe
Growth HabitVining
Growth RateFast
Size20 to 30 feet 
Plant TypePerennial
Sun RequirementsFull sun to partial shade
Soil pH5.0 to 7.0
Soil TypeNeutral, acidic

Famous for its pipe-shaped flowers and heart-shaped leaves, the Dutchman’s Pipe is an ideal vining plant to grow on an arbor because of its dense foliage. This will give you enough coverage for a shaded outdoor area or a privacy wall.

Flowers only begin to appear around mid to late spring, though, and are usually covered by the thick leaves. When spotted, they’re quite hairy with purplish lobes.

Dutchman’s Pipe grows quite fast, extending to 20 to 30 feet tall
Image: Port St. Lucie Botanical Garden

We have to warn you, though, that Dutchman’s Pipe grows quite fast, extending to 20 to 30 feet tall. Hence, regular maintenance and upkeep is necessary to keep it in check.

Other than that, it’s a relatively low-maintenance plant, so all you need is rich and moist soil with good drainage along with at least 6 hours of sunlight daily.

Some more good news is that Dutchman’s Pipe isn’t too picky about the pH level as it can tolerate both neutral and acidic soil compositions. It isn’t susceptible to diseases either, so it’s unlikely that you’ll encounter any.

2. Hydrangea

Hydrangea
Image: The National Gardening Association
Common Name(s)Hydrangea
Scientific NameHydrangea spp.
Growth HabitVining
Growth RateFast
Size2 to 20 feet tall
Plant TypePerennial
Sun RequirementsFull sun to partial shade
Soil pH5.5 to 6.5
Soil TypeNeutral, acidic

For flower-loving gardeners, we’re 100% sure you’ll fall in love with hydrangeas growing on your arbor. These vining plants have showy, rounded flower heads that grow anywhere from 4 to 12 inches in diameter depending on the variety.

What makes them so much fun to grow is that their blooms come in a variety of colors such as white, blue, purple, green, and red. Thus, you can plant whichever cultivar best complements your garden’s color scheme.

Don’t be intimidated by their look, though, as hydrangeas are quite easy to care for. They tolerate virtually any kind of soil type as long as it’s rich, fertile, and moist.
Image: House Beautiful

Don’t be intimidated by their look, though, as hydrangeas are quite easy to care for. They tolerate virtually any kind of soil type as long as it’s rich, fertile, and moist.

What you’ll need to pay attention to is the watering as hydrangeas require consistent moisture, especially during dry spells and growing seasons.

If your hydrangeas are sitting in full sun, especially on summer days, it’ll need an extra drink of water a few times a week. Otherwise, you could notice reduced flower production and curling leaves.

3. Wisteria

Wisteria
Common Name(s)Wisteria
Scientific NameWisteria spp.
Growth HabitVining
Growth RateFast
Size10 to 30 feet
Plant TypePerennial
Sun RequirementsFull sun to partial shade
Soil pH6.0 to 7.0
Soil TypeSlightly acidic, neutral

A definite show-stopper, the fragrant wisteria is a vigorous climber that’ll have your arbor engulfed in its lush, iconic flowers and vining foliage. Thus, it’s vital that you tame it regularly to maintain its size and shape.

Nevertheless, the wisteria is well-loved because of its ability to completely elevate the look of your garden. When properly cared for, its trellises can create a stunning canopy of purple, pink, and white flowers.

Image: Flower Magazine

Do note that because it’s a perennial, it only produces flowers in the springtime, though it occasionally flowers in the summertime, too. 

As for maintenance, wisteria is relatively easy to grow and can even withstand dry periods and grow in sandy soils. Having said that, it loves the sun and needs a lot of it throughout the day.

5. Clematis

Clematis
Image: Ohio Tropics
Common Name(s)Clematis, Leather Flower
Scientific NameClematis spp.
Growth HabitVining
Growth RateFast
Size20 to 30 feet
Plant TypePerennial
Sun RequirementsFull sun to partial shade
Soil pH6.0 to 7.0
Soil TypeSlightly alkaline soil

For an arbor with blooms that’ll be a definite conversation starter, we suggest growing clematis. Because it has a ton of cultivars, you can grow dainty blooms to flowers bigger than your hand. 

It’s important to choose the right kind of clematis for your arbor as some are capable of twining around narrow coils while others have thick stems that can cling onto thick poles.

To get clematis to develop beautiful blossoms, they’ll need a lot of organic material, especially during the growing season.
Image: The Old Farmer’s Almanac

To get clematis to develop beautiful blossoms, they’ll need a lot of organic material, especially during the growing season. On top of that, you’ll need fertile soil that retains moisture and nutrients well because clematis plants are heavy feeders.

Don’t worry, though, because once you’ve got the ball rolling there’s no way but up from there. Since clematis plants live a relatively long lifespan, it’ll only take several months before it’s well-established and thriving on its own.

FAQs

How wide is an arbor?


Arbors need to be wide enough for a person to walk through comfortably without worrying about getting caught around the vines growing along it. 
Having said that, arbors are usually at least 3 feet wide and 9 feet tall. They come in various shapes and sizes to fit your needs.

Where do I put an arbor?


Popular spots to put an arbor are along a walkway, path, opening, and in seating areas. Arbors can be placed virtually anywhere in your garden and serve as both functional and focal points.

How much does an arbor cost?


The cost of an arbor will depend on its size, materials, design, and whether or not you’re purchasing one ready-made or building it yourself. At your local gardening store, you may find them to be anywhere from $50 to $1,000.

Can I install a canopy on my arbor?


Installing a canopy on your arbor is 100% doable. Many add one to give more protection to whatever’s underneath, whether it be people or plants. 

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