6 Easy Ways to Create Shade
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6 Easy Ways to Create Shade

Shade is relaxing, cooling, good for your skin... We’ll show you six ways to get it — from instant to worth-the-wait.

Cool down! On a hot day, stepping into the shade can make a temperature difference of 10 to 15 degrees, or even more, depending on the surroundings. Let’s take a look at seven ways to create shade, ranging from a quick fix to a long-term plan.


A large umbrella casts cool shade over a table and chairs. Choose a neutral like this one, or add a punch of color with a bright umbrella.


1. Open an Umbrella

An umbrella is the fastest shade fix around. Wood-frame umbrellas usually open with a rope and pulley system. Metal-frame umbrellas are more likely to have “extra” features, such as a tilting head. Look for an umbrella with the wind vents you see at the top of the one in the photo — the vents allow hot air to escape, instead of building up underneath, and they also make it less likely that the umbrella will blow away or be damaged by a strong gust of wind.
As the sun moves across the sky, it’ll change the shade pattern of your umbrella. You may find you need a larger umbrella than you’d imagine to keep your seating area shaded. A good rule of thumb is that the umbrella should be 5 feet wider than the area to be shaded. (In other words, a 9-ft. umbrella is perfect for a 4-ft. table.)

Most canopy gazebos come with an anchoring system that uses either concrete screws or guy wires. Make sure that any anchors are positioned out of the path of traffic so they don’t present a tripping hazard.

Canopy gazebos offer great opportunities to hang hanging baskets, string lights and chandeliers — all to make it more inviting.


2. Put Up a Canopy Gazebo

A canvas or canopy gazebo is a weekend-quick solution to too much sun. Some are really easy — the simplest ones have folding or telescoping legs and often come with a carrying case. They’re meant to put up in minutes, then come down when you’re finished. Larger, more elaborate ones are often treated as a semi-permanent solution. (Lose a shade tree? This can replace the miss-ing shade.) Most gardeners store the fabric top indoors over the winter.

Although wisteria will cover your pergola quickly, it may take several years for it to bloom. And make sure your pergola is sturdy — those woody vines can crush lightweight lattice.


3. Cover a Pergola With Vines

A little work building a pergola leads to big payoffs! These classic structures are simple: vertical supports plus a frame over the top for shade. The size and style is up to you — simple cedar posts or logs give a casual look, while metal, stone or brick construction is more elegant. You can make your own, or purchase a kit.
Before you build, think carefully about the size of your pergola. It’s a good idea to make it a little bigger than you think you’ll need. You won’t enjoy your pergola to the fullest if it isn’t big enough to keep your whole seating area shaded. Test the size with tall bamboo stakes — stick them in the ground where you want the corners of the pergola. Then arrange your outdoor furniture in the area. See where the stakes cast shade during the day to determine if your furniture will be completely shaded. Move the stakes until you nd a comfortable fit.

Draped over a pergola, vines add extra shade and help soften the hard lines of the structure. Depending on your choice of plants, they can also add colorful owers and fragrance — the wisteria spilling over the pergola at left will scent the entire yard. You can get different looks with vines, too, from classic wisteria or clematis to fast-growing annual vines that’ll cover a pergola in a summer.

Although you can use any fabric for overhead shade, you’ll get the best results from a fabric made for this purpose (a popular brand is Coolaroo). Shade cloth stands up to wind better than ordinary fabric, and you can choose a specific amount of light ltering, too.

Keep any sort of shade fabric well clear of the grill to prevent fire hazards.


4. Add Fabric Overhead

For a more contemporary garden look, fabric is a fast, flexible solution. You can drape fabric over a simple pergola yourself, or use a retractable pergola canopy like the one at right. Or check out shade sails — squares or triangles of fabric stretched between supports to create layers of shade. When you’re choosing fabric for overhead shade, look for features like reinforced grommets — the only drawback to fabric is that it catches the wind and may tear if it isn’t properly anchored.

When you’re choosing a shade tree, check the tag to see how big the mature tree will be. Then make sure you plant it far enough from your house or structure. You want the mature tree to arch over the seating area for shade, but you don’t want to have to spend a lot of time pruning branches away from the house.


Keep limbs trimmed up so that they’re at least 10 ft. above the fire pit for safety.


5. Choose the Right Tree

Planting a tree for shade won’t give you the instant gratification that an umbrella or a structure will, but it’s still a good idea. (You can enjoy other shade options, like the pergola in the photo, while you wait for the tree to grow.)

Sitting a shade tree on the southwest corner of a house or seating area will ensure that you get shade during the hottest part of the day. But if you use your seating area in the morning, you may want a tree to the east too.

The tree you plant will depend on your needs. Some trees, like maples or oaks, cast dense shade while others, such as birches or honeylocusts, offer lighter shade. For a small seating area, a small ornamental tree may offer plenty of shelter, but for a larger area, you may need a full-size shade tree or several smaller trees around the perimeter. Below, you’ll see four trees that grow quickly enough to offer shade in a few years, without dropping many messy leaves or twigs.

When you’re choosing a shade tree, check the tag to see how big the mature tree will be. Then make sure you plant it far enough from your house or structure. You want the mature tree to arch over the seating area for shade, but you don’t want to have to spend a lot of time pruning branches away from the house.

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Before you go to a lot of work hanging curtains or blinds, make sure they’re right where you want them. Sit in your chairs at different times of day and use sheets or even rolls of craft paper to test your curtain placement to be certain they’ll block the most annoying rays of light.

6. Cue the Curtains

What about a little serving of shade on the side? We usually concentrate on overhead shade. But creating shade at the sides of your seating area is just as important, especially on the east and west sides. Many gardeners enjoy their gardens most in the morning or late in the day — both times when low rays of sun get in your eyes or scorch the back of your neck.

If you have a gazebo, porch or pergola, just add curtains. Roll-up blinds are another solution if you have a structure to mount them on. These are often made of split bamboo, for a touch of tropical air in any garden.

If you don’t have an overhead structure to hang shades from, think from the ground up! Garden screens, either purchased or custom-made, can block light. You’ll find everything from fabric-covered screens to simple lattice screens that can support a colorful climbing vine for extra shade.

Shrubs are another ground-up solution. Large shrubs, like lilacs or viburnums, could even shade most of a small patio — and many shrubs offer fragrant flowers, too, which will be a bonus near a seating area. Most shrubs grow more quickly than trees, so your patio- or deck-side garden will look established soon.

Don’t let blazing-hot sun keep you from enjoying your outdoor seating area. Make sure it has a bit of inviting shade and you’ll be a lot more comfortable in your garden.

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