14 Backyard Shade Ideas

By Kathleen McCoy | Advertiser Disclosure

Do you love being outside in the heat of the day but yearn for shade to diffuse the sun’s rays? There are plenty of backyard shade ideas that can make living outdoors more comfortable year-round.

Adding shade may require professionally installed permanent structures like a pergola, roof, or retractable awning, or you can go the DIY route if you want something less permanent and more budget-friendly. Shade sails, patio umbrellas, and minor updates to your landscaping can give you protection from the sun and meet your outdoor living space needs.

Of course, your design style (and any HOA covenant restrictions) must be taken into account before you choose the right backyard shade solutions for your home. If you prefer a minimalist patio design, perhaps a metal canopy is the answer. If you long to escape to the Mediterranean, an arbor draped in vines and lights could be more suited to your style. Here are 14 backyard shade ideas to elevate your outdoor space.

1. Build a pergola

A pergola is an outdoor garden feature that forms shade over a walkway or seating area. It’s typically made of a set of vertical posts that supports cross-beams covered in hanging plants, vines, and greenery. Pergolas come in a wide range of styles, sizes, and materials.

You can build one from scratch or you can purchase a kit with all of the pieces cut to size. Add outdoor curtains around the perimeter of the pergola to fight late afternoon sun and add more privacy.

2. Create a narrow slat wraparound screen

If your home features more of a contemporary design, you can create an elegant wraparound screen using thin slats of hardwood. Space the boards as close or as far apart as you desire to shade your outdoor space.

3. Install a shade sail

Shade sails are a cost-effective and adaptable solution to create outdoor shade. They look like sails from ships and can be angled to block the sun as it moves across the horizon. Shade sails are available in many materials, colors, and sizes to complement your home.

4. Put up an umbrella

Extra-large patio umbrellas can provide shade and protection for large seating areas, outdoor dining spaces, and children’s play areas. If you live in a part of the country known for wind, such as Chicago or Oklahoma City, you’ll need to secure a patio umbrella with weights that prevent it from blowing away. It’s also imperative that you have the umbrella extended only when you’re using it to keep it from flying away in a gust of wind.

5. Plant a tree

The most eco-friendly backyard shade solution is to plant a tree. Consider planting pine trees, red maple trees, or other fast-growing trees native to your area. Don’t worry about your backyard becoming dull in the shade—you can add beautiful shade plants to your garden that are colorful and hardy.

6. Plant a vertical garden

Apartment patio shade ideas can be more challenging to come up with due to limited space and leasing restrictions. One great way to filter sunlight in an apartment is with a vertical garden. Vertical gardens, or living walls, are great for small spaces and large areas, alike. In your backyard or on your apartment balcony, plant a small vertical garden and fill it with herbs and salad greens you love.

Read more: 6 Ways to Decorate Your Apartment Balcony

7. Hang curtains

If your apartment or condo complex doesn’t allow permanent shade structures to be added to your patio or balcony, consider hanging outdoor curtains on a spring rod. You can pull the curtains closed when you need sun protection in your outdoor room and open the curtains when you don’t.

8. Install a retractable awning

Retractable awnings are a popular, albeit more expensive, option to increase backyard shade levels. Manufacturers make retractable awnings to complement virtually any design style, and when not in use, you won’t even notice the awning is there. If you’re looking for outdoor kitchen inspiration, remember that you’ll often be cooking during the heat of the day, and shade from an awning may be what you need to keep the space comfortable.

9. Create a DIY retractable canopy

DIY retractable canopies aren’t permanent structures and you can create one in just a few hours. The result is the look of a horizontal Roman shade—elegant and romantic.

To get started, suspend wires over the area you want shade, and then hang outdoor fabric fitted with metal rings. When you want shade, slide the material closed; when you want to bask in the sun, close the awning. You can add this type of canopy to existing pergolas for extra sun protection or install them over your swimming pool for slightly more shade.

10. Build an arbor

If you long for dreamy Mediterranean nights sitting under a vine-covered arbor, this DIY project may be the perfect solution. You can purchase a ready-made arbor and plant fast-growing vines like wisteria or grapes to add shade. In warm, arid climates, mist the vines to cool the air through old-school evaporative cooling.

11. Purchase a metal canopy

Metal canopies, often used for carports, can add shade to any outdoor space. Design-wise, they’re well-suited for minimalist, mid-century modern, and contemporary homes. Use a licensed contractor to help you install the canopy and make sure it’s secured to the ground. 

12. Add a wood slat roof

There’s nothing like a covered front or back porch to create true indoor-outdoor living. Find an experienced contractor to alter your roofline, making sure to leave plenty of headspace. On the inside, use wood slats to create the romantic look of a southern front porch. Be creative with the ceiling—paint the wood slats a cooling color to invoke relaxation and conversation.

13. Consider a laser-cut metal screen

Laser-cut metal screens are architectural features rich in character that provide plenty of shade. Virtually any pattern can be custom-created to add your style to the structure.

14. Mix it up with a tiki-styled thatched roof

Perhaps the ultimate way to encourage family members to spend more time outdoors is to create a backyard suitable for a staycation. And what inspires that vacation vibe more than a Tiki-styled thatched roof to cast some shade over bar and seating areas? Check with local building codes to ensure that thatched roofs are legal in your area.

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