Skip to Content

Pergolas vs Trellises: Key Differences You Must Know Before Choosing

Pergolas vs Trellises: Key Differences You Must Know Before Choosing

Share this post:

This post may contain affiliate links. If you click an affiliate link and make a purchase, I may earn a commission. Also, as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

While both pergolas and trellises can aesthetically improve our gardens and help climbing plants grow vertically, many of us don’t know the many differences between the two.

Without digging deep, we might end up making poor choices.

So if you’re having a hard time resolving the issue on pergola vs trellis, read on! We’ll have an in-depth look at their benefits, the outdoor space you need, and the materials you need for each design.

Let’s dive right in!

Pergola vs Trellis: Is One Better Than the Other?

Below is a quick look at the origin of these ornamental structures. We’ll also define what a pergola and a trellis are based on their physical characteristics.

What Is a Pergola?

A pergola is a garden structure with pillars supporting a roof of cross beams. It could stand on its own or can be attached to a bigger building.

Some owners have their pergolas’ roofs open, while others prefer them covered either with canvas or flowering vines to shelter them.

From the Latin word ‘pergula,’ which means projecting eave, the first known pergola dates back to 1400 BCE. To decorate the surroundings, pergolas were used in ancient Egypt and Renaissance Italy during its early days.

Much like today, we use pergolas to bring more life to our backyards.

What Is a Trellis?

A trellis is a garden feature built from an open framework. Commonly made of interwoven pieces of wooden planks, trellises are designed to help creeper plants to grow upwards rather than on the ground.

As to its origin, there are no known records about the exact era the trellis was developed. However, we could suppose that this structure has been around 100 to 200 CE. This is thanks to Pliny the Younger for including trellises in some of his garden letters.

Like pergolas, a trellis with gorgeous clinging plants could also enhance the beauty of your surroundings. But the main difference between the two is that a trellis doesn’t have a roof to provide shade.

Things to Consider Before Choosing Between a Pergola and a Trellis

Now that you’ve learned what these structures look like, let’s explore their other attributes and requirements so that you can make an informed choice.

Permits From the City Council

Building a pergola or a trellis on your property might require you to get a permit from your city council.

Your local government will let you know certain limitations about property modifications. Then they will award you a permit that allows you to proceed with the project.

However, not all cities require a permit to build a pergola or a trellis. However, it’s still best to check with them before you start building one.

How Much Outdoor Space Will They Occupy?

Choosing between the pergola and the trellis depends on the available space in your backyard. With that being said, we’ll look at the amount of space these structures will occupy by looking at their sizes.

Sizes of an Attached Pergola

An attached pergola is designed to have one side attached to a bigger structure like a house or a building. That said, they require fewer columns to support the roof, making it occupy less outdoor space than a freestanding pergola.

The small to medium-sized attached pergola measures around 12 feet by 16 feet. On the other hand, a large-sized pergola has a dimension of around 16 feet by 24 feet.

However, if your backyard doesn’t have enough room to accommodate the pergolas mentioned above, you can reduce the size according to the available space you have.

Sizes of a Freestanding Pergola

Unlike attached pergolas, a freestanding pergola is supported by a minimum of four columns for it to stand alone. In other words, it isn’t attached to any structure.

This one could occupy more space than the attached pergola as it needs more room for additional posts.

Also, since this one is designed for large-sized backyards, you have more freedom to choose the size you wish to have. That means you can have a pergola with six or more posts.

A freestanding pergola with a minimum size of 12 feet by 16 feet is just about right for a family of 6 to have a cozy living space. However, you need a bigger one if you plan on using it to celebrate special occasions with friends and relatives.

Sizes of a Trellis

A trellis is a fantastic alternative for folks who wish to have climbing plants in their garden but have limited outdoor space for a pergola.

The trellis panel usually has a minimum dimension of 6 ft. in width and 1 ft. in height, while a large-sized trellis could measure around 6 ft. in width and 5 ft. in height.

Talking about height, it’s ideal to have a trellis no taller than 6 feet. Anything higher than that could make harvesting quite challenging should you decide to plant creeping fruits and veggies.

Also, since trellises are built or purchased per panel, you can use one or more panels depending on your needs and the available space in your garden.

Uses and Benefits

Let’s now look at the common uses of pergolas and trellises and see which one will benefit us most.

Uses and Benefits of a Pergola

1 – A Protector of Plants

While pergolas can enhance your garden as a decorative feature, they also protect plants that can’t grow upwards. In other words, a pergola allows rambling plants to grow and crawl onto it instead of getting trampled on the ground.

2 – A Place to Dine

Imagine having supper with your family as the sun sets while your flower-covered pergola casts long shadows on your manicured lawn. This structure is a wonderful place to spend quality time with your loved ones, especially during weekends.

3 – An Outdoor Office

A pergola could also be an excellent workplace for the self-employed and work-from-home folks. The shade it provides and the beauty of the surroundings could make you more efficient while working.

4 – A Great Backyard Adornment

A rather dull backyard could easily become eye-catching by adding a pergola to it. Just make sure a brightly colored flowering vine embraces the structure from the ground up.

5 – A Place to Unwind

Who says you need to travel hundreds of miles just to have some quiet time alone? Enjoy the fresh air as you read a book and unwind under the blossoming canopy of your pergola.

6 – A Great Way to Improve Your Deck

Putting an attached pergola could greatly improve your deck as a living area. You don’t have to cover the entire deck with it; instead, have it partially roofed.

That way, you can still enjoy the sun in the open area and get some shade in the pergola when it gets too hot.

Uses and Benefits of a Trellis

1 – It Helps Plants Survive

By having adequate sunlight, plants can make food for themselves. With that in mind, having a climbing plant on an inclined trellis will enjoy plenty of sunlight, making its survival rate increase significantly.

2 – It Accents Your Garden

Adding a few trellises to your garden adorned with intensely-hued flowering vines could enhance the overall appearance of your garden. Thus, a well-positioned trellis can break the monotony of your backyard’s landscape.

3 – It Improves Security and Privacy

Trellises can also serve as a means to protect your property. Using them as a fence prevents the uninvited from getting into your yard, giving you security and privacy.

Moreover, trellises can be used as partitions to separate different parts of your backyard.

4 – It Makes Gardening Easy

You can harvest veggies like cucumbers and climbing squash with ease when they are elevated on a trellis. It can also help you prune plants without too much trouble.

Meaning you don’t have to crouch or squat on the ground to maintain your plants or gather their produce.

5 – It Saves Garden Space

Imagine the amount of space climbing plants could occupy without the use of a trellis. This structure helps you save outdoor space, especially if you plan to have several plants in your garden.

6 – It Helps Fruits Stay Fresh Longer

Vines like tomatoes can benefit so much from a trellis. That’s because fruits on a trellis can stay fresh longer than those sitting on the ground.

Materials to Build a Pergola

If you have come this far and have opted to have a pergola at home, here’s a look at the materials you need to build one:

1 – Woods Against Salty Air

Wood is a remarkable material for building a pergola. You can cut and assemble this construction product with ease.

You can also make them look more pleasing by painting them with colors that complement your house.

However, this material isn’t that resistant to fire or the weather. On the other hand, treated woods are great for pergolas near the coast as they aren’t easily affected by the salty breeze of the ocean.

2 – Galvanized Steel Against Rust

Steel is the one to go if you need a sturdy material that can withstand various weather elements. Using galvanized metals for your pergola ensures that it will be free from rust for an extended period.

Furthermore, steels are less expensive than wood and are fire resistant.

3 – Aluminum as Wood Substitute

If you plan on putting a pergola near the beach, aluminum is a great alternative to wood. Like timber, aluminum is corrosion-resistant and copes excellently with salt.

4 – Concrete for Easy Maintenance

While you can certainly use stones and bricks to build pergolas, concrete is free from imperfections like chips and cracks.

Furthermore, it’s easy to maintain as the ingredients needed to mix and make them are readily available in most places.

Materials to Build a Trellis

Much like pergolas, you can build trellises using wood, metals, and aluminum. However, other materials could make a great trellis, such as:

1 – Bamboo for Rustic Look

Contrary to popular belief, bamboo isn’t wood, though it looks like one.

Using bamboo to build trellises can add rustic flavor to your garden. It means that having this material as a part of your backyard could make the surroundings look more natural.

2 – Plastic for Years to Come

Plastic trellises aren’t only light, but they are flexible too. However, their lightness may not hold up when fruit-bearing vines crawl on them.

Trellises made of UV and PVC plastic are sturdy enough to withstand the sun.

3 – Recycled Materials for the Environment

Discarded screen doors, old headboards, and even used fishing nets can be recycled and repurposed as trellises for your plants. Using these materials doesn’t only save you time and money; it also helps to save the environment.

Costs of Building a Pergola or a Trellis

Building a pergola could cost a few thousand dollars or more, depending on the size and the materials you’ll use.

On the contrary, building a trellis costs less. You can have a small-sized trellis panel for less than a hundred bucks.

Needless to say, building a pergola requires more construction time than creating a single trellis.

Final Thoughts

Pergolas are the way to go if you need additional living space in your backyard. On the other hand, trellises are for those who wish to raise fruit-bearing plants and have their produce harvested easily.

Moreover, a pergola is an option for folks with ample outdoor space and enough budget. Trellises are for people with limited space who are looking for a wallet-friendly alternative for their plants.

Despite their differences, you can enjoy both if you plan and choose wisely.


If you want more backyard tips including recipes, how-tos and more, make sure you subscribe to my youtube channel

Share this post: