Types of Arbors (Dozens Of Styles and Materials)


Adding an arbor to your yard is a great way to improve the appearance of a garden entrance.  However, there are lots of options when it comes to the style and material for an arbor.

The materials available for an arbor include:

  • Aluminum
  • Bamboo
  • Cedar
  • Iron
  • Plastic
  • Redwood
  • Steel
  • Wood

The designs available for an arbor include:

  • Arch
  • Circular (Round)
  • Extra Wide
  • Flat Top
  • Gated
  • Lattice

Of course, with so many options, there are lots of possibilities, so you are certain to find something that suits you.

In this article, we’ll get into more detail about the materials and designs that are available for garden arbors.

Let’s get started.

Types of Arbors

There are two big decisions to make when it comes to an arbor for your garden:

  • Material – this will determine an arbor’s durability and appearance
  • Design – this will determine an arbor’s shape and uses

We’ll begin by taking a look at some of the materials you can use for an arbor.

arch arbor
You can line up two or more arbors side-by-side to get an impressive landscape feature for your garden.

Materials For An Arbor

You can use metal, wood, or plastic for an arbor.  Each of these materials has its advantages and drawbacks, so let’s look at each one in turn.

Aluminum Arbor

An aluminum arbor, or aluminum fence arbor, is an attractive option for your yard or garden.  Aluminum is a metal, so it won’t rot like wood and is sturdier than vinyl.

An aluminum arbor is sturdy and long-lasting, making it the perfect addition to the entrance of your garden.  This type of arbor will also match an existing aluminum fence on your property.

An aluminum arbor that is properly treated and painted will be maintenance-free.  This type of “maintenance-free” aluminum is powder coated, which prevents chipping, peeling, and cracking.

You can find aluminum arbors with either a gloss (smooth, bright, and reflective) or textured (rough) finish.  The available colors include black, white, bronze, green, or other custom colors.

The pieces of an aluminum arbor are welded together at the joints.  The metal itself may be made from recycled aluminum.

aluminum welding
Pieces of an aluminum arbor are welded together at the joints.

Bamboo Arbor

A bamboo arbor is a good choice for an interesting and natural-looking feature for your garden.  It is lighter than metal for easy installation.

Bamboo is similar to wood, but it is technically not a type of wood.  It is really a type of grass that can grow very tall in a short time.

bamboo
Bamboo is a tall grass that becomes tougher over time and is strong enough for construction.

The hardness of a bamboo cane depends on the species and when it was harvested.  However, it is generally harder than oak.

Although bamboo is not wood, it can still rot like wood, especially when exposed to the outdoors.  Bamboo arbors are often finished with natural oil to provide extra protection against the elements.

The bottom part of a bamboo arbor is exposed to more splashing water and dirt, so it will decay faster.  Bamboo is also prone to cracking over time after enough exposure to sun and moisture.

Usually, the pieces of a bamboo arbor are hammered together using dowels and adhesive (glue), rather than screws or nails.  You can paint bamboo, but you would lose the natural appearance of the material.

Cedar Arbor

A cedar arbor has natural beauty with its wood texture and color.  “Heartwood” cedar will last longer than other types of wood, since it will resist damage from weather and pests.

A cedar arbor may be treated with a stain to increase its durability even more.  As with most wood, the parts of the arbor closest to ground level will bear most of the damage from water and soil.

Most cedar arbors that you order will need some assembly.  However, the pieces in a kit are usually cut, sanded, and predrilled.

Assembly will require hardware (screw or nails), which may be zinc plated to resist rust or tarnish.  You may also need to secure the stakes with concrete to keep the arbor in place.

Iron Arbor

An iron arbor gives an imposing appearance and is sturdy enough to hold up the weight of heavy vines.  Iron is a heavier metal than aluminum, so support stakes will need to go deep into the ground.

iron arbor
An iron arbor lends an imposing appearance and can hold up more plant weight than plastic.

Iron will not rot like wood, and it is much sturdier than vinyl.  However, iron will rust over time, especially when exposed to water and air outdoors. 

This problem is often solved by dipping iron in a zinc powder coating.  An iron arbor that is properly treated and painted will remain rust-free for years.

You might opt for either a cast iron arbor or a wrought iron arbor.  The difference is subtle.

Remember that cast iron has been melted and poured into a mold to give it its shape.  Wrought iron has been heated and worked with tools to shape it.

Plastic Arbor (Vinyl Arbor)

A plastic arbor can be made in one piece in a variety of different colors.  Plastic is lighter than wood and metal, making installation easy.

plastic arbor
A plastic arbor is lightweight and easy to install, but it cannot hold up as much plant weight as metal or wood.

Plastic does not rot like wood or rust like iron.  However, it may crack in sunlight over time.

Plastic may also bend or break under a heavy load, since it cannot support as much weight as iron or wood.  However, plastic requires very little maintenance, so it is a good option for hands-off landscape decoration.

One of the most common materials for a plastic arbor is vinyl (PVC, or polyvinyl chloride).  PVC may release dioxins over time, so it may not be the best choice for a vegetable garden.

Redwood Arbor

A redwood arbor offers a natural appearance that is similar to that of cedar.  “Heartwood” redwood will last longer than other types of wood, since it will resist damage from weather and pests.

redwoods
Redwood trees provide wood that is highly resistant to damage from weather and pests.

Redwood is denser than cedar, and is tougher in general.  Red wood is also more resistant to weather damage over time than cedar.

There are stains that will further increase the durability of a redwood arbor.  As with most wood, the parts of the arbor closest to ground level will bear most of the damage from water and soil.

Most redwood arbors that you order will need some assembly.  However, the pieces in a kit are usually cut, sanded, and predrilled.

Sometimes, the pieces of a redwood arbor are fixed together with water resistant glue.  However, assembly may require hardware (screw or nails), which may be zinc plated to resist rust or tarnish.

Since redwood is dense and heavy, you might also need to secure the stakes with concrete to keep the arbor in place.

Steel Arbor

A steel arbor is probably the sturdiest type that you can find, able to hold up more weight than any other type.  Since steel is about as heavy as iron, the support stakes will need to go deep into the ground.

Steel will not rot like wood, and it is much sturdier than vinyl.  Even a thin steel rod can hold much more weight than the equivalent plastic.

Steel can still rust, but many steel arbors are coated with a zinc powder that prevents rust in an outdoor environment.  Steel that is covered with a polyester coating will also resist rust.

Stainless steel is an alloy of iron other metals, such as chromium and nickel.  A properly treated steel or stainless steel arbor can last for many years without signs of rust or corrosion.

A steel rebar arbor is also an option.  While rebar is normally used to reinforce concrete, it can also be used to build an arbor (or a trellis) for climbing plants.

Wood Arbor

A wood arbor made of oak, pine, or other types of wood offers a garden feature with a natural appearance.  Although these woods don’t last as long as cedar or redwood, stain or paint will increase their lifespan.

wooden arbor
A wood arbor is the easiest to build to custom specifications. Remember that untreated wood will rot fairly quickly.

As with most wood, the parts of the arbor closest to ground level will bear most of the damage from water and soil.

Most wood arbors that you order will need some assembly.  However, the pieces in a kit are usually cut, sanded, and predrilled for you.

Assembly may require hardware (screw or nails), which may be zinc plated to resist rust or tarnish.  You also have the option to buy or create a custom design and build your own wood arbor.

You might also need to secure the wooden support stakes with concrete to keep the arbor in place.  A wood arbor may require some maintenance to prevent rotting, but it offers a natural appearance that other materials can’t match.

Designs For Arbors

Arbors come in all shapes and sizes: tall, short, narrow, and wide.  You can even decide on a flat, pointed, or curved roof, depending on the look you want to achieve.

Arch Arbor

An arch arbor has vertical sides that meet at the top to form a curve.  An arch arbor can be made of metal, wood, or plastic.

arch arbor
An arch arbor has vertical sides and a curved top. Several in a row could form a living tunnel if spaced close together.

You can plant on both sides of an arch arbor so that climbing vines meet at the top.  You can also plant on one side and let the vines climb up one side, over the top arch, and back down the other side of the arbor.

An arch arbor would make a good addition to a garden entrance.  Given enough time, a series of arch arbors could form a “living tunnel” through a part of your yard.

An arch arbor can also make a great feature for a garden wedding!

Circular Arbor (Round Arbor)

A circular arbor is made by forming a material into curved sides and top, giving it a more round shape than an arch arbor.

You can still walk through a circular arbor, and plants can still grow up one or both sides to meet at the top of the arbor.

You can also use circular arbors to create “windows” to look into a garden.  It may be difficult to cut wood or bend bamboo into a circular shape, but flexible plastic pipes or vines could be shaped into a circular arbor.

Extra Wide Arbor

An extra wide arbor provides more space for walking through a garden entrance.  This is helpful when vines planted on the sides of an arbor grow thicker and take up some space under the arbor.

wide arbor
An extra wide arbor leaves plenty of space for walking underneath, even after accounting for the growth of plants.

A narrow arbor might only be 3 feet wide, and most arbors are wider than that.  An extra wide arbor might be up to 9 feet or wider.

A very tall and wide arbor would provide even more climbing space for plants.  A wide arbor would also provide shade to a large area in your garden.

Flat Top Arbor

A flat top arbor has vertical sides just like an arch arbor.  However, its top (roof) is flat instead of curved.

flat top arbor
A flat top arbor has vertical sides like an arch arbor, but it has a flat roof instead.

This could be useful if you want to put a flat piece of wood on top of the arbor for temporary shade.  It is also easier to build a flat top arbor out of wood than an arch arbor.

Gated Arbor

A gated arbor is any type of arbor with the addition of a gate.  This is a good option for the entrance to a flower or vegetable garden that you want to keep safe from rabbits, deer, and other pests.

garden gate arbor
This gated arbor has a gate that does not quite reach to the top of the arbor.

A gate arbor could have a single gate, or it could have a double gate (two separate gates that meet in the middle).

Some arbors have gates that are full-height.  Others have gates that are much shorter than the arbor structure itself.

You can learn more about garden gates, sizes, and how to decide on dimensions in my article here.

Lattice Arbor

A lattice arbor has a lattice (or trellis) on one or both sides.  This makes it easier for vines (ivy, tomatoes, cucumbers, grapes, etc.) to climb the arbor.

metal trellis
A lattice arbor has a trellis on one or both sides to give plants more places to climb.

Conclusion

Now you have a starting point for comparing the materials and designs of different types of arbors.  You can learn more about arbors in my article here.

You can also find some inspiration from this article about rustic garden arbors.

I hope you found this article helpful.  If so, please share it with someone who can use the information.

If you want to read some of my most popular posts, check out the “Best of GreenUpSide” page here.  Enjoy!

~Jonathon

jonathon.david.madore

Hi, I'm Jon. Let's solve your gardening problems, spend more time growing, and get the best harvest every year!

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