Pergola shade ideas – 10 ways to use a pergola for shade

These pergola shade ideas will create a peaceful space that's perfect for relaxing on a summer day

three pergola ideas for shade
(Image credit: Simon Scarboro/David Cleveland/Real Stone and Tile Co))

There are plenty of pergola shade ideas that will increase the usability of your backyard during the summertime. Ranging from simple fabric coverings through to more substantial solid roofs, they can suit every style of garden, too. 

Traditionally, a pergola is a frame, usually wooden, the consists of four posts and a roof. Typically, these roofs are an open slatted design, and while they’re aesthetically pleasing, they don't offer much shade – something that is essential in the warmer parts of the country. 

But there are a whole host of pergola shade solutions you can combine with your pergola ideas to make yours a comfortable place to sit even on the hottest days. We’ve put together the best to inspire you. 

Pergola shade ideas

Pergola shade ideas make this garden structure a more versatile addition to a yard. 'Pergolas are perfect for providing filtered sunlight as well as shade,' says Tammy Sons, founder of Tree Nursery Co. ‘They are a nice addition to decks for putting hot tubs, swings, lawn chairs, and picnic tables under. Outdoor lights work exceptionally well strung around pergola tops for nighttime enjoyment. Pergolas can also be decorated with all types of climbing plants and vines for added beauty in the spring and summer seasons.' 

To make the most of any location and look, consider these ways to build a pergola for shade.

1. Add a rustic roof

Backyard ideas

(Image credit: Real Stone and Tile Co)

A rustic design can be one of the best pergola roof ideas to create shade in a backyard. However, since natural daylight will fade more quickly under a pergola designed for shade, ensure you include backyard lighting to illuminate it. 

This shaded garden space is utilized for outdoor lounging surrounded by beautiful architectural plants – and the pergola is built as an element of the deck ideas

2. Hang curtains on a pergola

pergola with reeded roof and curtained sides

(Image credit: Simon Scarboro)

While shade from above is important, shade around its sides can be crucial for day-long comfort.  

In this idyllic setup, weighted sheer curtains are hung from the rails installed below the wooden framework of the pergola. As well as offering shelter from the sun, these pergola shade ideas give the space a softer edge and add both color and pattern.

3. Layer up roof materials

covered pergola with beams and sticks and space for alfresco dining

(Image credit: Alistair Nicholls)

If you're designing a pergola it’s worth considering layering roof materials to provide sufficient shade. 

In this spacious scheme, a structure of wooden beams creates an airy roof. To provide extra pergola shade when the sun is at its highest, above is a second roof structure comprised of loose willow branches that offers an escape from the sun while still letting in pretty dappled beams.

4. Grow a living pergola roof for shade

Patio with armchair and sofa and pergola above with vine

(Image credit: Future / David Cleveland)

Think about growing climbing plants over the roof of a pergola to make a seating area that’s wonderfully cool during the hottest times of the year. It’s an especially appealing pergola shade option if you want your structure attached to the house as it creates an attractive view from upstairs windows.

There are plenty of different plants that you can use but you might favor fast-growing flowering vines as these will provide both shade and interest in a relatively short period of time – typically just a few years.

5. Opt for a retractable pergola canopy 

retractable blue and white striped pergola canopy

(Image credit: ShadeFX)

For maximum flexibility, take a look at a retractable canopy that enables you to create a pergola for shade when you want it – or not when you don't – perfect for achieving the perfect balance between light and shadow.

A retractable canopy has a soft, laid-back aesthetic like a fabric roof, but increased durability. It could also offer both sun and rain protection, which will help to preserve your furniture as well as providing a relaxing space in all weathers.

Designs like this Oakville canopy from Shade FX are controlled by a motor, although there are also more affordable options that are operated by a rope pulley system or a manual drive.

6. Relax in a pergola tent

fabric cover on pergola on lawn

(Image credit: Raj Tent Club)

If you're hosting a garden party, adding a decadently dressed pergola for shade to the lawn creates a focal point for gathering and the perfect spot to escape the heat of the day. 

Ideal for summer celebrations, this 9 foot (2.8m) pergola from Raj Tent Club is able to seat up to 10 guests. As well as offering shade from above, the delicately tied curtains at each post can also be untied and closed to create an intimate setting. Just add lighting to linger in the yard after dark.

7. Introduce scent and color as well as shade

pergola with roses climbing up the supports by Jo Thompson Garden Design

(Image credit: Jo Thompson Garden Design)

Planting climbing roses is one of our favorite pergola shade ideas, introducing beautiful blooms and fragrance, along with extra cool to the area. They can provide privacy for a yard that‘s overlooked, too.

There are lots of different climbing rose varieties that can be used to create pergola shade. 

'Theo Clevers roses work well planted next to pergolas or porches where they will give a great display in combination with climbers,' recommends Marcus Eyles, horticultural director at Dobbies, 'This variety has a gentle aroma of strawberries and has beautiful rosette-shaped flowers in large, tight clusters. They are also suitable for growing in larger pots if you only have space for containers on the patio.'

8. Install a louvered roof 

caribbean blinds black pergola blinds in garden

(Image credit: Caribbean Blinds)

If you’re looking for pergola shade ideas with maximum flexibility, a louvered roof is a sound solution, allowing adjustment throughout the day. 

'Designed for those who want to “live life outdoors”, modern pergolas with rotating aluminum louvered roofs permit the user to play with light and shade, offering an open-air alfresco feel when left fully open, and ensuring a completely water, wind and even snow-tight roof when closed,' says Stuart Dantzic, managing director of Caribbean Blinds

9.  Create temporary shade with vintage fabrics

temporary pergola with fabric covering

(Image credit: Dan Duchars)

Pergola shades don’t need to be permanent additions to the structure. On a sunny day, simply drape a minimalist metal pergola with pretty fabric to create welcome cool and privacy. Use mismatched fabrics to create a laid-back boho vibe, then pair with rattan garden furniture and plenty of pillows for a cozy spot in which to relax. 

10. Benefit from natural shade

Grange carousel, Oxford Garden Centre

(Image credit: Grange)

If you are looking to erect a new pergola in your garden, consider positioning it in an area that is already shaded. This beautifully simple wooden carousel design from the Oxford Garden Centre has a completely open roof which enables it to feel bright and airy but, since it is positioned under the boughs of a willow tree, is perfectly shaded. Dressed with bunting, pillows and picnic blankets, it is ideal for al fresco dining. 

How do you add more shade to a pergola?

You can add more shade to a pergola with coverings at the sides. Fabric panels are a simple addition, and can be hung, like curtains, from railings fitted just below the perimeter of the roof structure. They will soften the lines of the pergola, too. 

Alternatively, use large foliage plants in pots, positioned around the sides of the pergola to cool and green the area.

What can you use to shade a pergola?

To shade a pergola, use fabric hung as curtains or draped over the roof, patio planting ideas, and different roofing materials either alone or in combination. Your choices might depend on the permanence of the pergola, and the style of your yard. 

If you have erected a temporary pergola to provide shade over the course of a few sunny days, then fabric provides an excellent source of shade. As permanent solutions, consider adding blinds or even building a solid roof.

Holly Reaney
Content Editor and Sub-editor

Having graduated with a first class degree in English Literature, Holly started her career as a features writer and sub-editor at Period Living magazine, Homes & Gardens' sister title. Working on Period Living brought with it insight into the complexities of owning and caring for period homes, from interior decorating through to choosing the right windows and the challenges of extending. This has led to a passion for traditional interiors, particularly the country-look. Writing for the Homes & Gardens website as a content editor, alongside regular features for Period Living and Country Homes & Interiors magazines, has enabled her to broaden her writing to incorporate her interests in gardening, wildlife and nature.