Spending time outdoors is almost a necessity after being cooped up all winter, but sitting on the grass in your yard under the sun might not be exactly what you had in mind. If that’s the case, you might be thinking about using some of that extra daylight (and maybe some of a tax return) to build your own outdoor structure, or have a professional install one for you as part of a porch remodel. But there are so many options: how do you figure out which is which, so that you can choose which one best meets your needs?

Landscaping done right: pergolas for the win
Lawn care Decorationdelamaison

While there’s no hard and fast rule about what distinguishes a pergola from a porch cover, the pros at the Landscaping Network identify some key defining characteristics that differentiate between a pergola, a gazebo, and an arbor. Below are quick summaries of each of these outdoor structures so you can make the best choice for your own backyard.


Box style standing structures for your yard
Wooden landscape features Wayfair

Pergolas are freestanding outdoor structures used to provide shade or visual interest to a patio, walkway, or transition area. They can have open sides but are usually covered above, either with lattice work or horizontal planks of wood, and sometimes have vines growing on them. Pergolas, when big enough, can serve as a demarcator of dining or kitchen areas, and may be attached on one or two sides to another structure.

  • Shape: Square or rectangular
  • Size: Large enough to cover an area, though not necessarily big
  • Enclosed?: Usually, no, but may include partially covered sides; roof is latticework or horizontal beams
  • Material: Often wood; sometimes wrought-iron
  • Uses: Provides partial shade; provides visual interest (through lights, design, and/or climbing plants); Demarcates a walkway, transition area, or dining area


A gazebo for any home lawn or yard
Relax outside Wayfair

Gazebos are primarily round, self-contained structures that offer a 360 degree view of the surrounding landscape. Covered in a sloped roof and with open sides (sometimes screened) and support beams, the gazebo keeps those underneath its roof protected from weather and the elements and usually includes a floor to keep occupants out of the grass as well. These are spaces almost always used for entertaining and thus usually include some sort of seating option.

  • Shape: Round (due to construction limitations, they are often technically octagonal or hexagonal)
  • Size: Large enough for 5 to 15 individuals to gather in
  • Enclosed: No (though sometimes screened in to keep bugs out)
  • Material: Wood
  • Uses: Entertaining; outdoor, weather-protected living space


Exterior hardscape models and designs
Arbor magic Wayfair

Unlike pergolas and gazebos, arbors are more like doorways than spaces you stay in. Sometimes arched at the top and always covered in beams or latticework, an arbor can help identify an entryway (into a garden, for instance) and/or anchor a path. They provide some shade but are more often used to add visual interest and height to a garden. Though arbors often harbor climbing plants, they are different than trellises (which serve as points in a wall where climbing plants grow).

  • Shape: Tall, square or rectangular
  • Size: Small, enough to cover an entryway
  • Enclosed?: No (though partially covered)
  • Material: Often wood, though varies; sometimes wrought-iron, even plastic
  • Uses: Mark entryway; provide support for climbing plants; add visual interest/height to garden; break up long, narrow garden spaces

Which is Right for You?

Hardwood exterior structures for any backyard
Hardwood additions HGTV

While these might offer some guidance of what will work in your yard based on what you’re looking for, each yard has a different layout, style, and need, which means contacting a landscape designer might be your best bet. After taking a look at your space and hearing what you’re interested in, they can give you recommendations and might even be able to help you build the structure that’ll work best for you and your family. If you get started now, you’ve still got months to enjoy your new space!

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