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


Many gardeners and homeowners wonder about the purpose of an arbor, and whether it is useful or not.  However, there are some good reasons to build an arbor in your garden or yard.

So, what is the purpose of an arbor?  An arbor provides 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 grapes, vining vegetables, or flowering plants to climb.

Of course, not all arbors are the same.  You have plenty of options in terms of the materials you use, the size, the location, and which plants you cultivate to grow up the arbor.  Let’s take a closer look at arbors and how they can improve your yard and garden.

What Is The Purpose Of An Arbor?

An arbor is often a freestanding structure that creates a tunnel or overhang to shade a garden gate, path, or bench.  An arbor can have a flat or arched roof, and is tall enough to walk under (7 feet high or taller).

You can grow climbing plants up the walls and ceilings of the arbor to create a “living arch” appearance.  You can also use an arbor to separate your garden into different areas, or “outdoor rooms”.

An arbor is larger than trellis, but smaller than pergola.  The structure does not necessarily need to support plants to be considered an arbor.

arbor arch
An arbor can be used to create a “living arch” at the entrance to a garden.

For more information, check out my article on trellises and my article on pergolas.

An Arbor Provides Shade, Shelter, and Privacy

An arbor can provide a small retreat within your yard where you can rest under the shade of the arbor.  Often, an arbor is constructed at the entrance of a garden to shade the garden gate.

An arbor can also be used to shade part of a path, and to serve as a transition between different areas of a yard or garden.

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

An arbor can even provide shade and shelter for a bench in your yard or garden.

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

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

An Arbor Improves The Value Of Your Home

An arbor improves the value of your home in several ways.

First, it adds beauty to an outdoor space and offers an interesting landscape feature for entertaining guests.

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 can create a sheltered place to relax in your yard or garden, especially if you incorporate a bench.

Many home buyers would be willing to pay extra for these features.  At the very least, your home will sell faster if you have installed a well-placed arbor in your yard.

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.  All arbors have supports on the sides to hold up the arch or roof structure.

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

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, or you can put them in pots at the sides.

What Can I Plant On An Arbor?

Some of the best climbing plants to adorn an arbor include:

  • 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!
  • 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.
  • 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!
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Beans – pole beans will grow tall, 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.
  • 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, maybe with a bit of salt and pepper.
  • Cucumbers – cucumbers are great if you want to make your own pickles, or as a fresh addition to a garden salad made with lettuce and tomatoes.
  • Squash – squash is another excellent choice for growing up the supports of an arbor.  Steamed summer squash is light and delicious as part of a summer meal under your 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 over your garden gate.

This provides a welcoming entrance to your garden, and 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 might require a wider and taller arbor, but you will be welcomed by an interesting and beautiful landscape feature each time you come 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, to define the space and create a welcoming appearance.

How High Should An Arbor Be?

An arbor should be 8 to 10 feet tall.  Remember that an arbor should be tall enough to walk under without ducking or squatting.

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.

For most people, this means that the arbor should be at least 6 feet tall.  However, you will also need to account for plants hanging down from the arbor, which accounts for the extra 2 to 4 feet of height.

Of course, you should maintain the plants on the arbor by keeping them well-pruned and trimming them back when necessary.

Also, keep in mind that the supports for the arbor need to be driven a couple of feet into the ground to provide stability and to prevent them from falling over.  This means that an arbor with a height of 8 to 10 feet will require supports that are 10 to 12 feet tall.

What Is The Best Material For An Arbor?

A brick or stone arbor will give an elegant appearance, although these materials will be expensive.  You also may need to hire a professional to build a brick or stone arbor.

A wood arbor is a much more common type, but it won’t hold up as long as brick or stone unless you choose the right 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) or plastic (such as vinyl).  These may hold up longer, but you may encounter rust with a metal arbor unless the metal is treated properly.

Plastic can hold up a long time under the weather, but it may not have the appearance you want.

Bamboo is another option to consider when selecting a material for your arbor.

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 the Amazon and WalMart websites.  However, you can find prefabricated arbors for less than $100.  You might be able to grow plants to cover most of the arbor itself so that nobody notices that it is a less expensive one!

Generally, wood arbors will cost more than metal or plastic ones.  If you decide to hire someone to construct your arbor, expect to pay even more for labor, materials, and a profit markup.

Garden Arbor Ideas

If you want to spice up the arbor in your yard or garden, here are some ideas to make things more interesting.

  • Arbor with arched roof (classic arbor) – instead of a flat roof, you can choose an arbor in the classic arch shape.  That way, you can allow plants to grow up both sides of the arbor and meet at the top of the arch, or let plants grow up one side of the arbor and down the other.
  • Arbor with flat roof (mini-pergola) – instead of an arched roof, you can choose an arbor with a flat roof.  This will look somewhat like a mini-pergola, and it might be more useful for providing shade somewhere in the middle of your yard or garden.
  • Arbor with lattices on sides (trellis-side) – if you put lattices on the sides of your arbor, then you will have even more space for plants to grow up the lattices, giving more shade when the plants get to the top of the arbor.
  • Arbor with bench (garden rest area) – an arbor with a bench underneath is perfect for the middle of your garden so that you can rest and admire your work under a leafy canopy that protects you from the sun.  This 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.  You can choose solar-powered lights and avoid running electrical wires outside, and you can hang herbs from the garden to dry them out for the kitchen.  You can also build shelves into the sides of the arbor to put potted plants and let them grow up the arbor.

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 you have any questions about arbors, please leave a comment below.

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

jonathon.david.madore

Hi, I'm Jonathon. I’m the gardening guy (not guru!) who is encouraging everyone to spend more time in the garden. I try to help solve common gardening problems so that you can get the best harvest every year!

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