What Is An Arbor And How Is It Beneficial To Outdoor Spaces?

What is an arbor? This is the first question people ask. In the world of backyard landscaping, an arbor is a garden structure that enhances outdoor spaces.

What Is An Arbor

When people think of backyard building, they envision labor, expenses, and other inconveniences. And while such conditions may be evident with projects like a garden, swimming pool installation or outdoor kitchens, arbors are different. 

History Of Arbors

As you know, time is money and it should be spent wisely. With outdoor projects, create what you want rather than what your neighbors want.

You’ll discover how a DIY arbor project is one that never stops growing, just like a garden. Think of an arbor as a child. The more you nurture it, the more it will take care of you.

What Is An Arbor?

Arbor Definition
Detailed Landscape

An arbor is a freestanding structure like a pergola, except it has an arched roof made with wood, vines, and plants. However, you shouldn’t see it as a garden. The structure is composed of lightweight material and lattice strips running parallel to its length. It functions as an outdoor room or seating area with shade.

Pergolas, on the other hand, have dominant poles, cover walkways, and stretch across longer distances. In simpler terms, an arbor is short and sweet, while a pergola is big and mighty.

A natural arbor is a curved arch made with several materials that features climbing vines and trees that converge at the top. Natural arbors are uncommon in private homes, so man-made arbors are the standard. You could have a wood, plastic, or vinyl arbor.  

History Of Arbors

History Of Arbors

Arbors date back to ancient Egypt, just like everything else. The freestanding structure was also popular in Roman Gardens.

In the US, and up until the 20s, arbors were made of cedar, chestnut, or locust posts. They were typically 10 to 12 feet tall. White cedar or spruce poles were tacked on between each post, so it looked like a ladder. A second layer of poles would be applied in the opposite direction to create a mesh.

Today, arbors are popular worldwide. The shade structure features vining plants, climbing plants, and other greenery. 

What Are The Best Arbor Vines?

If you want to build an arbor, choose your trees, plants, and vines according to your environment. An arbor will always have plants growing in it throughout the year. However, One wrong vine could destroy an arbor. 

Pergola Vs. Arbor
McKinney Photography

For an arbor to be effective, it must have hardy, vigorous, and long branches. Here is a list of support plants and climbing vines that are ideal for an arbor:

  • Wisteria vines offer a robust fragrance. As an aggressive climbing vine, it is not recommended to grow them close to your home.
  • Clematis plants are known as the “Queen of the Climbers.” The climbing vines thrive in sunlight and moist soil but require cooler temperatures at night. 
  • Climbing roses have long canes. When they bloom, they’re covered in roses. The rose plant is popular for arbors and trellis walls.
  • Dutchman’s pipes are one of the extreme climbing vine species. The vine grows six feet a year and can reach up to 30 feet long. The vine can provide shade for your garden path.
  • Virginia creeper is a natural climbing vine. The vine is a member of the grape family. During cool fall weather, the leaves will become colorful.
  • Climbing hydrangeas are native to Asia. The flowering deciduous vine is a good choice if you want to add color to your arbor. The vine is a natural climber and clings to surfaces by aerial rootlets.
  • Kiwi plants can withstand temperatures as low as -40 degrees Fahrenheit.  Arbors with a male and female kiwi plant will produce a crop of grape-sized, vitamin-packed fruit.
  • Silver Lace Vine is one of the most aggressive vines you could have. Small, fragrant, off-white blooms over the vine. Should you choose to have this in your arbor, you will need to keep a watchful eye on it. 

How To Build An Arbor

How To Build An Arbor

There are different ways to build an arbor. You can follow one of our projects here. Or you can use this simple walkthrough to customize your arbor. Also, wood isn’t your only option. You could assemble a vinyl arbor, plastic arbor, or iron arbor if you preferred. 

Here are simple steps that you can use to start your arbor. 

Step 1: Materials 

Rot-resistant wood, concrete, screws, and nails are the essential materials for an arbor.  Cedarwood offers a robust fragrance, but other wood materials are available. You will need lattice or slats along with 4×4 posts and 2×4 pieces. 

Concrete is necessary to stabilize the posts. The boards will make up the frame, and the screws will hold the frame together. The lattice isn’t even a key component, but it makes it easier for vines and plants to have a foothold.

Step 2: Set Posts

The main posts will work best if they are 4×4 but you can work with 2×4 posts. So, dig four holes 12-24 inches deep. The holes can be filled 4-6 inches with gravel to help steady the posts and keep the boards from rotting.

Attached deck supports with concrete will help with this process. Use gravel alone for this but it’s a better idea to use concrete to keep the arbor stable. Just make sure all of the angles are right or your roof will not be stable.

Step 3:  Board Length

If you use 8-foot boards, you won’t need to cut them. They will sink down one foot and will be seven feet above the ground. This is a good height for an arbor. But to finish off the frame you need top rails

The rails can be between four feet to seven feet, with six feet being a good medium. So, find where you marked dug tour holes and mark the boards for the top rails so that they are parallel with the holes. 

Step 4: Latticework

After the top of the arbor is attached to the top rails, add lattice work to two sides. The ends can either be built with a lattice or you can create your own lattice.

To create a lattice, criss cross boards by adding the horizontal boards and finishing out with short vertical boards. The exact shape and size of the squares are up to you but squares are much easier to create than diamonds. 

Step 5: Arbor Cover

If your top rails are in place, finish the top by adding a few boards on top of them in the opposite direction. The top rails will be longways and the other boards will be short and laid the other way. 

Make sure the structure is level and both sides are connected with screws. You don’t need to be a professional carpenter to assemble one. When you’re ready, designate your plants in locations so they will creep up the arbor.  You could stain it for a natural appearance, which will also safeguard it against insects. 

Arbor Maintenance

Owning an arbor is a labor of love. The structure requires maintenance, but it’s worth it. 

Arbor Pruning

You will need to learn how to prune your vines. For effective pruning, timing is critical. If your vines are spring bloomers, and you prune them before spring, the plant will not produce flowers for the entire year.

An arbor is about the trees and vines than about the wood. For example, an arborist is a tree pruner or tree expert, sometimes known as a “tree surgeon.”

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)FAQ

What Is An Arbor Saw?

When discussing arbors, you may come across a tool known as an arbor saw. Don’t let this confuse you. An arbor saw gets its name from the shaft on which the blade spins. An arbor is also a type of simple tool.

What Is An Arbor Used For?

An arbor is used for shade, privacy, and to enhance your outdoor space. It isn’t large enough to provide shelter for humans but it is a fun way to make your garden path look better. Arbors are adorable arches. 

Can You Add A Canopy To A Garden Arbor?

You can add a canopy to an arbor to allow it to provide more shelter and to protect anything under it. This will take away from the natural look of the arbor if the canopy is thick or unnaturally colored.

Should I Buy An Arbor Or Build One?

You can do either. Because arbors are smaller than most outdoor structures they are easier to transport. But that also means they are easier to build. You can meet in the middle and buy an arbor kit.

Arbor: Wrap Up

An arbor is for those who enjoy gardens but don’t want the hassle that comes with taking care of them. If you don’t have a green thumb, an arbor wouldn’t be a good project for you. However, if you need an outdoor spot where you can spend time with others then an arbor would be a good addition to your backyard.

When you build an arbor, think of it as your personal woodland forest. If that seems too overwhelming, try a pergola, patio, pavilion, or gazebo. Remember, a pergola doesn’t offer the same protection from the sunlight. An arbor offers a unique aesthetic you won’t find with other backyard structures.

Building the right outdoor structure isn’t difficult. Once you’ve crossed that hurdle, narrow your search for something specific. If you put the time in and remain dedicated to your arbor, you’ll get out of it what you put into it.