Upgrade Your Yard into an Outdoor Oasis
An arbor bursting with blooms can immediately upgrade your yard into an outdoor oasis, maximizing your growing space while creating a lush, inviting area. Arbors are versatile: Add climbing jasmine to the arch and you have a romantic retreat. Cultivate ivy and you've got a natural patio screen. And although covering your structure in climbing plants may seem complicated to pull off, vines are surprisingly simple to grow and maintain. Here, learn everything you need to know about adding an arbor to an outside space.
If you're especially handy, you can build an arbor yourself, but they also come premade in wood, plastic, or metal — with gentle arches or with more defined angles. If you live in an area with particularly harsh winters, consider purchasing one that can be broken down and stored during the cold months (to protect it from the elements). The Home Depot, Lowe's, Sears, Target, and garden shops all have a selection of arbors (from $75).
"Decide how you want your arbor to function," recommends landscape and gardening expert Melinda Myers, author of Can't Miss Small Space Gardening. "If the arbor serves a purpose — as opposed to being plunked in the middle of the lawn — it will give an illusion of space, even in a small area." Here, her top four placement recommendations:
Make a gate. Use an arbor as a transitional element between two areas — a front and back yard, a flower garden and a vegetable plot, a rose garden and a children's play space. Decorate the structure with plants that relate to the location: Plant climbing roses on an arbor that leads to a flower garden, tomato vines near a veggie patch, or bright orange snapdragons and whimsical wind chimes beside the swing set.
Frame a focal point. Place your arbor in front of a fountain, birdbath, antique rosebush, or another eye-catching element in the yard. It will serve as a dramatic visual anchor that will guide visitors' eyes to the area. Add brightly colored vines to make it stand out amid the greenery of the rest of the yard.
Shade a seating area. An arbor that arches over outdoor chairs or a bench and is adorned with a dense vine, like hyacinth or wisteria, creates a comfortable — and shady — resting spot.
Mask an eyesore. Hide garbage cans, a utilitarian area, or other less picturesque parts of your yard with an arbor covered in lush vines or hanging baskets. Or, set up your archway along an edge of a patio or terrace; this placement screens the area off from neighbors and helps create the feeling of an outdoor room.
Climbing annual vines such as morning glories or moonflowers will spring upward within weeks of planting, while perennial vines, like clematis and wisteria, take a year or two to truly take off (but then they'll be around for years). Here's how to make your arbor stunning, whatever your time frame.
For gorgeous blooms right now: Hang flowers in baskets from the underside of the arch for an instantly in-bloom look. Black-eyed Susan vines, nasturtiums, and snapdragons are ideal for baskets because their tendrils will creep over the edge and eventually blend into any vines you may plant along the sides of the structure.
For pretty plants all summer long: Add annual vines, like sweet peas, morning glories, or hyacinth bean plants. Purchase vines already growing in containers, then plant them 3 inches from the side of the structure and train them up your arbor. For dense coverage, place one vine on the inner corner of the arbor and one on the outside so that the vines will eventually grow upward in a crisscross pattern. As they grow, use strips of fabric or jute to tie the largest shoots to the trellis (make a loose knot so the stem will be able to move and thicken). Monitor your vine during the first few weeks of growth; you might have to manually wind the vine once or twice around the arbor before it begins weaving back and forth on its own.
For plants and flowers for years to come: Plant perennial vines now, then add an annual vine each year. Since they take a while to mature, perennials are best if your arbor is a permanent (not seasonal) structure. Check out the National Garden Bureau's Website (ngb.org) to find the best plants for your region. Climbing vines that work especially well in all climates include honeysuckle, hydrangea, clematis, and wisteria. But be careful not to overdo your planting: Stick to just one or two perennial vines so the weight of the mature vines doesn't damage the structure.
For an arbor with added value, consider planting edibles. Many fruits and vegetables grow on a vine, making them especially suited for arbor cultivation. Design a structure good enough to eat by choosing climbing fruits and veggies such as grapes, apples, kiwis, spinach, or cherry tomatoes.