What Is An Arbor? (Purpose and Uses Of An Arbor)


Maybe you have heard of an arbor but aren’t sure why you would need one. There are many good reasons to build an arbor in your garden or yard.

So, what is the purpose of an arbor?  An arbor is a structure that provides decoration, shade, shelter, and privacy for gates, paths, or benches in your yard or garden.  An arbor also makes your home more attractive and increases its value.  You can use an arbor to provide support for vining flowers, fruits, and vegetables to climb.

Of course, not all arbors are the same.  You have plenty of options in terms of the material, size, and location for an arbor.

In this article, we’ll talk about what an arbor is and how they can improve your landscape. We’ll also look into some of the best plants you can cultivate to climb up an arbor.

Let’s begin.

What Is An Arbor?

An arbor is a structure for your yard or garden that provides decoration, shade, shelter, and privacy. You can build an arbor over a gate, bench, patio, or garden path.

garden arbor arch
An arbor is a structure that can provide decoration, shade, shelter, and privacy in your garden.

Often, plants are allowed to climb on an arbor. As the plants grow, they give the structure a more natural appearance that blends into its surroundings.

What Does An Arbor Look Like?

An arbor is often a freestanding structure that has a a flat, arched, or pointed roof. The roof and sides create a tunnel or overhang to shade a gate, bench, patio, or garden path.

garden arbor
This arbor has a flat roof, but there are no plants growing up the sides (yet!)

You can grow climbing plants up the sides and over the top of an arbor. This creates a “living arch” appearance that can provide shade for you or your plants.

An arbor also adds an interesting feature to the landscape in your yard. You can also use an arbor to separate your garden into different areas, or “outdoor rooms”.

An arbor can be quite long, forming a type of “tunnel” in your yard to connect different areas. You can also place multiple arbors in a series to get the same effect.

Remember that a structure does not necessarily need to support plants to be considered an arbor. An arbor can stand on its own as a unique landscape feature.

In terms of size, an arbor is larger than a trellis, but smaller than pergola.  For more information on these other structures, check out my article on trellises and my article on pergolas.

How Tall Is An Arbor?

An arbor is tall enough for a person to walk under without ducking or squatting. For most people, this means that the arbor should be at least 6 feet tall.

arbor
An arbor should be tall enough to walk underneath without ducking or squatting. Taking hanging plants into account, that means an arbor should be 8 to 10 feet tall.

However, you will also need to account for plants hanging down from the roof of the arbor. This could require an extra 1 to 4 feet of height, depending on how well you trim and prune the plants!

Thus, most arbors are at least 7 feet tall, although heights can vary up to 10 feet or more.

Also, keep in mind that the supports for some arbors need to be driven into the ground to provide stability and to prevent them from falling over. Depending on the weight of the arbor, this could mean driving supports 1 foot or more into the ground.

Here are a few arbors of various heights in different materials:

How Wide Is An Arbor?

An arbor is wide enough for a person to walk through comfortably. This means that most arbors are at least 3 feet wide, although widths can vary up to 9 feet or more.

arches over walkway arbor
Most arbors are at least 3 feet wide, although they can be 9 feet or wider.

Here are some arbors of various widths in different materials:

What Is An Arbor Used For? (Purpose Of An Arbor)

An arbor has many different uses and can provide you with:

  • refuge (shade, shelter, privacy)
  • value (higher home price)
  • growth (a place for plants to climb)
arbor arch
An arbor can be used to create a “living arch” at the entrance to a garden.

An Arbor Provides Shade, Shelter, and Privacy

An arbor can provide a place right in your garden where you can take refuge for a while. You can use an arbor to create a small retreat within your yard where you can rest under the shade of the arbor and any plants growing on it.

Often, an arbor is constructed at the entrance of a garden to shade the garden gate. This can serve as the perfect transition point between your garden and the outside world.

arbors on path
One or more arbors can be used to provide partial shade for a garden gate or a pathway through your yard.

You can also use an arbor to shade part of a patio. You could use multiple arbors in a series to shade an entire path or walkway.

An arbor can even provide shade and shelter for a garden bench.

garden bench
An arbor is a great way to provide shade for a garden bench.

Together with hedgerows and pergolas, an arbor can provide more quiet and privacy in your yard, especially if you grow plants up the sides and roof of the structure.

You can learn more about which plants make a good sound barrier in my article here.

An Arbor Improves The Value Of Your Home

An arbor provides the intangible benefits we discussed earlier, such as shade, peace, and privacy. However, an arbor can also improve the value of your home in several ways.

First, an arbor adds beauty to an outdoor space and offers an interesting landscape feature that you can use for entertaining guests at a gathering..

arbor
An arbor can provide both shade and beauty for a garden path or walkway.

An arbor also improves the appearance of the yard from inside the house and the appearance of the garden from the outside.

Finally, an arbor creates a sheltered place to relax in your yard or garden. You can create a comfortable shaded escape if you incorporate a bench to sit and enjoy nature.

Many home buyers would be willing to pay a little extra for these features. An arbor can pay for itself with an increased home value.

At the very least, your home just might sell faster after you install a well-placed arbor in your yard. This is especially true if it provides a place for beautiful and interesting plants to climb and thrive.

An Arbor Gives Plants A Place To Climb

One of the most interesting and potentially beautiful uses of an arbor is to give plants a place to climb.  This works perfectly, since all arbors have supports on the sides to hold up the roof of the structure.

You can let plants climb freely up these supports and across the roof of the arbor.  This will add visual appeal while also increasing the amount of shade that the “living roof” provides.

arbor
An arbor provides a great place for your plants to grow and climb without getting in the way of a path in your yard or garden.

You can grow plants in the ground around the outside edges of the arbor. You can also plant them in pots on the sides of the arbor, just in case you want to move them around later (or bring them indoors for the winter).

What Can I Plant On An Arbor?

Some of the best climbing plants to adorn an arbor include flowers, fruits, and vegetables that grow in a vine (tall climbing) habit.

Climbing Flowers To Plant On An Arbor

Flowers are less practical than fruits or vegetables. However, they are some of the most beautiful vines you can grow on an arbor.

A few climbing flowers to plant on an arbor include:

  • Bougainvillea – this climbing, thorny ornamental plant comes in vine, bush, and tree forms.  Its flowers are pink, magenta, purple, red, orange, yellow, or white.  A bougainvillea can grow from 3 to 40 feet (1 to 12 meters) tall.
  • Clematis – another climbing, flowering plant that prefers full sun.  Its flowers can be white, pink, red, blue, and maroon.  Choose a tall vining variety for your arbor, rather than a shrub variety.
  • Ivy (Hedera) – an evergreen vine that will climb or creep along the ground, so encourage it to climb.  With support, ivy can climb up to 100 feet (30 meters) above the ground.  Its flowers are greenish-yellow, and it produces a greenish-black berry.  Pollinators love ivy flowers, so plant some if you want to encourage bees to come to help pollinate the rest of your garden.
  • Roses – a perennial flowering plant with thorns and flowers that come in white, yellow, pink, and red.  They can get up to 20 feet tall.
  • Wisteria – this flowering plant is technically in the legume family along with beans, peanuts, and alfalfa.  The flowers are purple, violet, pink, or white.  Wisteria can climb as high as 66 feet (20 meters) and as wide as 33 feet (10 meters), although I would not recommend building an arbor that tall!
stone wall
Ivy is one climbing plant you can use on an arbor to provide extra shade. Keep it pruned or it will get out of control!
Climbing Fruit To Plant On An Arbor

In addition to providing a sweet reward for growing them, fruiting vines also provide flowers that attract bees and other pollinators to your yard.

A few climbing fruits to plant on an arbor include:

  • Blackberries – the berries are dark and tart, and they make a great jam or syrup. The canes can grow 7 feet or taller, but the Louisiana State University suggests pruning them back at 3 to 4 feet tall. There are also thornless blackberry varieties available.
  • Grapes – a great choice if you like to make your own raisins, juice, wine, or jelly. You can also grow them simply to enjoy the bunches of fruit as they ripen underneath the shade of your arbor.
  • Kiwi – these are the champions of tall climbing fruit. Kiwi vines can get up to 40 feet tall. That means they could climb all the way up to the top of a 10-foot arbor, cross the roof, work their way back down the other side, and keep going! The thick leaves will provide lots of shade, and you can enjoy the fruit if you like.
  • Raspberries – the berries are sweet and tart, and they can come in red, black, or yellowish white. The canes can grow 4 to 8 feet tall, but you can prune them to be shorter if you wish. There are also thornless raspberry varieties available.
grapes
Grape vines are a great choice for growing on an arbor, and you can reach right up to harvest the fruit!
Climbing Vegetables To Plant On An Arbor

Vegetable vines can provide vitamin-rich food for your family and shade for your patio. As an added bonus, their flowers may also attract pollinators to your yard.

A few climbing vegetables to plant on an arbor include:

  • Beans – pole beans will grow tall, climbing right up the supports of an arbor.  They also produce lots of green beans, which provide a fresh, healthy source of protein to go along with a meal. Keep picking them and they will keep producing for a long time!
  • Cucumbers – cucumbers are great if you want to make your own pickles, and they are a fresh addition to a garden salad made with lettuce and tomatoes.
  • Squash – squash is another excellent choice for growing up along the supports of an arbor. Steamed summer squash is light and delicious as part of a summer meal under your arbor.
  • Tomatoes – tomatoes are one of the most popular crops that gardeners grow, and for good reason.  Tomatoes are versatile and are used in sauces, dishes, and salads.  You can also eat them fresh from the vine, either plain or with a hint of salt and pepper.
cucumber plant
Cucumbers are the perfect vining vegetable to grow up along the sides of an arbor.

Where To Put An Arbor

There are several options for placing an arbor in your yard.  One of the most common places for an arbor is right over a garden gate.

This provides a welcoming entrance to your garden, and it also provides a place for some of the tall vining vegetables in your garden to grow.

garden arbor
An arbor can provide a welcome to your vegetable garden and also provide a place for plants to climb.

You can also place an arbor over your driveway close to the street.  This will require a wider and taller arbor to allow clearance for trucks.

However, you will have an interesting and beautiful landscape feature to greet you each time you arrive home.

arbor arch
Placing an arbor over your driveway gives you something to welcome you home every day!

Another perfect spot for an arbor is along a path or walkway around your house.  You can even put an arbor over an opening in a hedgerow to allow passage between two parts of your yard.

Finally, you can put an arbor over the entrance to a patio or deck. This will help to define the space and create a welcoming appearance.

What Is The Best Material For An Arbor?

A brick or stone arbor will give your yard an elegant appearance with a structure that will last. However, the materials will be expensive.

stone garden arbor arch
A stone arbor willl last a long time and give an elegant appearance, but it will be expensive and time consuming to build.

Also, you will need to hire a professional to build a brick or stone arbor. This will add an additional cost to the project.

A wooden arbor is a much more common type, but it won’t last as long as brick or stone unless you choose the right type of wood.  Cedar and redwood will last longer in the elements, as will pressure-treated wood.

arbors
You can make an arbor from wood, or even thick vines or branches. As long as they are flexible enough to bend without breaking, you can form an arch (or three, as shown here!)

You can also build an arbor made out of metal (iron, steel, or aluminum).  These materials are heavy and harder to work with.

However, metal will last much longer than wood. Still, you may encounter rust on a metal arbor unless you treat the metal properly.

A plastic or vinyl arbor can hold up against the weather for a long time. However, it may not have the appearance you want. One way to counter this is to completely cover a plastic arbor with vining plants.

Bamboo is another option to consider when selecting a material for your arbor. This material is lightweight but tough and durable, and it would lend a unique appearance to your yard.

arched bamboo walkway
Bamboo provides a sturdy but lightweight material for an arbor.

You can find lots of ideas for materials and styles for arbors in my article here.

How Much Do Arbors Cost?

The cost of an arbor will depend on the size of the arbor, the materials you use to build it, and whether you do the construction work yourself or hire help to do it.

According to homeadvisor.com, “Arbors are normally prefabricated and cost between $100-$1,000.”

There are many arbors in the $100 to $1000 price range on Amazon, Etsy, Target, and WalMart websites.

However, you can also find prefabricated arbors for less than $100. You might be able to grow plants to cover most of the arbor, meaning nobody will notice that it is a less expensive one!

garden arbor path arch
If your plants grow thick enough, you might not even be able to see the arbor structure underneath the leaves and vines!

If you decide to hire someone to construct your arbor, expect to pay even more for labor, materials, and a profit markup.

What Type Of Arbor To Use? (Garden Arbor Ideas)

If you want to spice up the arbor in your yard or garden, there are plenty of ways to make things more interesting.

Arch Arbor

This arbor has a curved roof on top, giving you the classic arch shape instead of a flat roof.  This shape provides a little more head space in the middle for taller people.

garden arbor path arch
You can use a series of arch arbors to provide shade on a garden path.

It also provides more height for tall plants to grow up both sides of the arbor and meet at the top of the arch. You can also let plants grow up one side of the arbor and down the other.

Flat Roof Arbor (Mini-Pergola)

Instead of a curved roof, you can choose an arbor with a flat roof.  This will look somewhat like a mini-pergola.

An arbor with a flat roof might be more useful for providing shade somewhere in the middle of your yard or garden.

Arbor With Lattices On Sides

Essentially, this is two trellises (lattices) that act as the sides or support of the roof of the arbor.

trellis lattice
An arbor with lattices on the sides provides even more space for plants to grow, which means more shade for you.

If you put lattices on the sides of your arbor, you will have even more space for plants to grow up the lattices. More plants growing up the sides means more shade in the morning and afternoon.

Arbor With Bench (Garden Rest Area)

An arbor with a bench underneath is perfect for the middle of your garden. You will have a shady spot under a leafy canopy that protects you from the sun.

garden bench
Put a garden bench underneath an arbor and you will have a place to rest and relax in the shade as you enjoy the beauty and serenity of nature.

This provides a place where you can sit and rest while you admire your work in the garden. This setup can even provide an area to take temporary shelter from light summer rain.

Arbor With Hanging Items (Arbor Rack)

You can hang all sorts of things from an arbor, including wind chimes, herbs, lights, or potted plants. For example, you can choose solar-powered lights and avoid running electrical wires outside.

You can also hang herbs from the garden to dry them out for the kitchen.  You can even build shelves into the sides of the arbor to put potted plants and let them grow up the arbor.

Wedding Arbor

If you or a friend is getting married and wants to avoid paying for an expensive venue, you can use a wedding arbor as part of a small home ceremony.

Conclusion

By now, you have a much better idea of the purpose and uses of an arbor.  You also have some ideas for how you can incorporate an arbor in your own yard.

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

If an arbor is not quite what you are looking for, check out my article on pergolas.

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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