What to Know If You Want to Build a Pergola Around a Tree

Allie Ogletree
Written by Allie Ogletree
Updated April 19, 2022
A family plays under a pergola
Photo: Shestock/Tetra Images/Getty Images

Highlights

  • It costs anywhere from $2,100 to $6,000 to build a pergola. 

  • There are many design styles and materials you can use to build a pergola around a tree.

  • Be sure to leave enough room for your tree to grow.

  • Consider hiring a pro to design and install a custom pergola. 

  • Once installed, add some personalized features like a swing or furniture to your pergola.

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Sometimes, shade from your favorite backyard tree just isn’t enough for enjoying your outdoor space on a sunny day. If you want a cooler place to hang plants, a hammock chair, or decorations, building a pergola around your tree can enhance your backyard ambiance. Here’s what you need to know before you build.

What Is a Pergola?

A pergola is an outdoor garden structure that usually consists of four posts, two support beams, and a lattice roof. Pergolas provide extra shade and can go over your patio to offer dimensions to your yard and a relaxing space for lounging on a sunny day. 

Pergolas vs. Arbors vs. Gazebos vs. Pavilions

There are a handful of structures one can build outside, and sometimes the names and meanings can get a little blurry. Let’s add some definitions to these structures:

  • Pergolas: Usually an open or partially-shaded, freestanding structure with four posts

  • Arbors: Open and freestanding structures designed for walkways and entrances

  • Gazebos: Freestanding structures with a solid roof and a deck 

  • Pavilion: Similar to a gazebo but without a built-in floor

Types of Pergolas

Pergola designs vary depending on what you’re hoping to achieve in your yard. Whether you’re working with a local landscaping designer to design a custom pergola or plan on ordering a pergola and doing it yourself, it’s useful to know the different pergola designs on the market:

Open Pergolas

Most pergolas have an open-roof concept that lets sunlight and that cool breeze flow through. Open pergolas offer a sort of outdoor open-concept design that highlights the beauty of your yard without potentially obstructing views of your stunning garden.

Attached Pergolas

An attached pergola is partially attached to your home and only uses two posts. This can save you money on materials, but you might not be able to get away with this type of structure if your tree isn’t positioned in an ideal location.

Sail Pergolas

Is that a boat setting sail in your backyard? The beauty of sails has been captured by painters for centuries. While most people probably envision a boat setting off to sea, sail pergolas bring the beach vibes to homes. 

The waterproof fabric comes in all shapes and sizes, from squares to rectangles to triangles, making it easy to choose the best design to work with trees.

Gable Pergolas

Also called a pitched pergola, gable pergolas offer additional sun protection than traditional pergolas because they have a pitched roof with open sides and open ends. They’re also more durable than sail pergolas because they have rafters that connect to a ridge running across the center of the roof structure. You can use fabric, metal, or vinyl to line your gable pergola. 

Due to the pitched roof and closed roof design, this option might be more challenging to work around a tree.

Best Pergola Materials

There are also a few different types of materials you can use to build your pergola structure:

Wooden Pergolas

The most natural-looking pergola building material is wood. Wooden pergolas blend effortlessly into your yard but also have a warm and inviting appearance that is sure to make your structure stand out. 

Vinyl Pergolas

Vinyl pergolas are an affordable and low-maintenance building material that you can easily construct into a stylish pergola. Keep in mind that it’s difficult to paint vinyl, so most vinyl pergolas are white, which naturally brings out the beauty of your tree! 

Fiberglass Pergolas

Fiberglass pergolas are durable and low-maintenance, making them an ideal material for building a pergola. The main downside is that you might have trouble finding a custom-built pergola made with this material and may have to opt for a pergola kit. Choosing a kit limits your ability to work around your tree and customize your pergola.

Steel Pergolas

If you live in a windy or stormy climate zone, steel pergolas offer the most structural support. The first thing that might come to mind is steel’s industrial look, but steel doesn’t have to look industrial. 

You can combine a steel support structure with a wooden lattice or secure a sturdy fabric to the sides of your steel pergola for extra shade and a softer, more modern aesthetic. To work with your tree, you can leave out a couple of lattice pieces so that the tree can poke through. 

Pros and Cons of Building a Pergola

For some homeowners, pergolas are an excellent addition to their outdoor space, but pergolas aren’t right for everyone. Here are the benefits and disadvantages of installing a pergola:

Benefits of a Pergola

  • More lounge space

  • Aesthetically appealing

  • Additional shade

  • Durable

  • Low-maintenance, depending on your material of choice

  • Perfect for adding landscaping features like plants, hammocks, and decorations

Disadvantages of a Pergola

  • Wooden pergolas require maintenance and change over time

  • Might not work with a tree

  • Some yards might be too small to install a pergola around your tree

How Much Does It Cost to Build a Pergola?

The average cost to build a pergola is $2,100 to $6,000. Most pergolas cost between $10 to $60 per square foot. Prices can vary depending on the size, materials of choice, your pergola’s design, and the complexity that your tree presents for the installation. 

Things to Consider When Adding a Pergola 

You’ve decided on an architectural design and material for your pergola. Before you add the pergola to your yard, consider these tips on how to get the most out of your structure when there’s a tree:

  • If you already have a deck or patio, it can be advantageous to design your pergola around the area to enhance it and provide shade. Just make sure your measurements fit with the ground structure before investing in a pergola.

  • Consider the future when building a pergola around a tree; what kind of tree do you have? How much is it likely to grow? You don’t want to build a structure only for the tree’s branches or trunk to push into the pergola over time.

  • Choose a level site for your pergola that doesn’t flood, and be sure to survey the ground for any utility or electrical lines before you build.

  • Know which building materials are more permanent. You can swap out fabric materials with ease if you decide to change them down the line, but some structures like metal or fiberglass may be more challenging to switch later on.

  • Some pergolas can be partially attached to your home, saving you on materials, but you might have to chat with a pro to ensure it works with your tree.

  • For wooden pergolas, know your options for the best wood structure for your yard. There are many types of wood you can choose from to build a pergola, including redwood, cedar, and timber.

How to Install a Pergola Around a Tree

It’s important to note that building a pergola isn’t an easy feat—especially if you’re working around a tree. If you’re up for the challenge, this project should take a good couple of days of hard work with a determined crew. 

Follow these steps to build a pergola:

  1. Map out your design. Plan, plan, plan. You’ll need to choose a location and measure the area for the pergola. 

  2. Make room for the tree. Whether this involves making the tree the center point or creating space on one side of the pergola to accommodate the tree, know where you’re going to leave space for the tree.

  3. Gather your materials. Have a checklist on hand to make sure you have all the right dimensions and tools to do the job.

  4. Install the posts. Dig, pour the cement, and then wait for it to dry. Then, secure the posts to the footers with anchors. Stabilize the posts with post boards to hold them in place.

  5. Build the rafters. Lastly, install the rafters to the top of the posts.

DIY vs. Hiring a Pro to Build a Pergola

Building a pergola requires multiple hands on deck due to the size of the structure. It also requires many tools and materials. While you can DIY a pergola by purchasing a pergola kit, this option is unlikely to work when building a pergola around a tree. 

Unless you’re a professional carpenter, it’s best to hire a professional pergola contractor near you to do the job. A pro can design and build the structure so that it best works with your tree, budget, and overall vision. 

Pergola Decorating Ideas

Pergola with plants and hanging lights
Photo: Johner Images/Getty Images

Once your pergola is installed, the sheer possibilities for making it your own space can leave you not knowing where to begin. Check out these tips for outdoor living spaces that will add a personal touch to your new pergola.

  • Plants: From planter boxes to trellises for creeper plants, adding a pop of green or bright, colorful flowers will be sure to add charm to your pergola.

  • Seating and dining: Add some comfy seating and a table to make the most out of your new outdoor area.

  • Curtains: Much like windows, the open nature of pergolas means you can add curtains to block out some of that excess wind and sunlight.

  • Lights: String some globe string lights around your pergola for a warm setting come nighttime. 

  • Swing sets: Install a wooden porch swing for unique and exciting seating for pergolas.

  • Hammocks: Alternatively, for a Bohemian vibe, install a hammock to lay back and enjoy the breeze!

  • Firepit: On a cool evening, having a firepit to warm up by is a great way to extend your yearly use of a pergola.

These are just a few ways you can enjoy your pergola. If you’re planning on installing a large swing, you might want to check with a pro to make sure the structure is capable of holding the weight of the swing.

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