What Is An Arbor? The Tiny Pergola

What is an arbor? The term “arbor” has many definitions. But when it comes to landscaping and hardscaping, an arbor can only refer to one thing. A structure that you can use to enhance your outdoor space.

what is an arbor

One thing you can do with hardscaping is building an arbor. An arbor is an interesting structure that is relatively easy to build compared to others like it. But you can also buy small arbors in most lawn and garden departments. 

An arbor is the easiest type of outdoor overhead structure to build and the cheapest to buy. So consider it if you want something small and simple with the possibility for something magical to be added to your landscape. 

What Is An Arbor?

Arbor DefinitionView in gallery
Image from Detailed Landscape

What is an arbor? This is probably your primary question. An arbor is an alcove with sides and a roof that can be found in nature or created from wood. The two are a little different but look a lot alike.

A natural arbor is a curved arch that is made by trees that touch at the top. But a man-made arbor is made from wood, often lattice, and has vines or other plants growing on it. Both of these are considered arbors.

Today, natural arbors are uncommon in private homes so man-made arbors are used. When they are, it is important that greenery is growing on them to create a merging of both hardscaping and softscaping. 

History Of Arbors

History Of ArborsView in gallery

The first arbors were no doubt natural. It is believed that those of ancient Egypt created the first arbors to provide shade for those working in the sun. But they weren’t popularized until Roman gardens took precedence.

After that, the popularity spread throughout Europe. Arbors were very common in courtyards and royal gardens. This fact caused those in the lower and middle classes to find affordable ways to build their own arbors.

From there, gardens everywhere had arbors made from natural materials, some completely natural with others being man-made. To this day, arbors are popular in every country and can be purchased almost anywhere. 

What Is An Arbor Vs. Pergola?

Pergola Vs. ArborView in gallery
Image from McKinney Photography

There are quite a few different types of garden structures that you can add to your yard. Each of them has a unique set of features to add to your landscape. But so far, we’ve only learned about arbors.

Arbors are wonderful because they offer a more natural look when they grow out. They do need to be trimmed and kept clean. But they are generally small and easy to take care of, so they are a great beginner’s structure. 


A pergola is really just a really large arbor when you think about it. While pergolas don’t need to be large, they are generally big enough for at least four people to gather under with lawn chairs or patio furniture. 

They are usually a frame without a full top and instead of rafters. They usually also come with a removable canvas top or tarp that can be put up and down depending on how sunny it is outside and how much shade you want.


A gazebo can technically be alike a pergola with a roof but more often than not, it is only called a gazebo if it is an octagon. Gazebos also have raised roofs with a smaller roof for ventilation on top of a larger one.

The term is often confused with pavilion but gazebos almost always have a foundation. They can be found in parks, gardens, and private yards and are generally quite small compared to other similar structures. 


A trellis is similar to a piece of lattice. It is what goes on the sides of an arbor. But it can also be used on its own to lean up against the wall and looks like a ladder with steps going both ways instead of only horizontally. 

So it is like a large piece of lattice with oversized slats that are used to grow plants efficiently in small spaces. They are added to the sides of houses and arbors to give a good place for plants to grow.


A patio almost always has a concrete pad and is used for larger gatherings. It can be covered or it can be open but it is usually attached to the house and can be walked out onto like a deck. It is similar to a concrete deck. 

However, it can also be made with gravel that is tightly packed to create a cheap and easy-to-lay patio. But the patio needs to have furniture or at least lights to be considered a functional patio for your family. 


The term pavilion is a more universal term because some people use it to describe all of the above structures and anything else that fits into the category. Even some things that aren’t pavilions are called pavilions at times. 

Normally, pavilions aren’t attached to a building but they can be attached like a patio or deck. They always have a roof but may or may not be built with a foundation. You can get portable and permanent pavilions. 

How To Build An Arbor

How To Build An ArborView in gallery

There are many different ways to build an arbor. You can follow one of our projects here. Or you can use this simple walkthrough to help you customize your arbor to your needs. The general steps are usually the same.

Here are simple steps that you can use to start your arbor. While you need to plan out your own measurements and materials for your arbor, this will get you started in the right direction with general steps to take. 

Step 1: Gathering Materials 

What you need for your arbor is rot-resistant wood, concrete, and screws or nails. Cedar smells amazing but there are many choices for wood. You will need lattice or slats as well as 4×4 posts and 2×4 pieces. 

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

Step 2: Dig Holes And 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.

Learning how to place deck supports with concrete can help you with this process. You can 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. 

Step 3:  Cut Boards

If the boards you get are 8-foot then they don’t need cut. 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

These rails can be anywhere from 4 feet to 7 feet, with 6 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: Create The Lattice 

After you secure the top of the arbor with the top rails and find out everything is level, then you can continue by adding a lattice to two sides. The ends can either be built with a lattice or you can create your own lattice.

To create a lattice of sorts, crisis 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: Finish The Top 

If your top rails are already in place then you can 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 everything is level and secure with screws. After this, you can plant your plants that will creep up the arbor and finish the arbor off with paint. Or stain it for a more natural look that will also protect against insects. 

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.

Finding The Right Structure For Your Home

If you aren’t into gardening and don’t want a woodland forest look then you may not want an arbor. If you also want a place to gather with many people and seek shelter from the sun, then an arbor won’t be of much help. 

Instead, something like a patio, pavilion, or gazebo is better. A pergola doesn’t offer as much shade but it is great for gatherings. But if you want something just for aesthetics then an arbor is perfect for you. 

Finding the right outdoor structure isn’t all that difficult after you find out which one is which. Then you can properly shop for the structure that you want without having to skim through a million irrelevant products.