Back yard - Finished!

DIY Backyard Pergola

Constructing A Pergola / September 7, 2021

BeforeBuilding a pergola isn’t the easiest project — but with enough planning and free labor from family and friends, it only took Jamin and Ashley about 14 hours to make theirs.

Here’s the before picture:

Notice how some easier changes — paint color, shutters, planter, and trellis — have already given their home’s exterior a lift. With the pergola, Jamin and Ashley definitely have added a wow factor to their backyard.


Basically, here’s what you’ll do:

  • Buy posts and planks to fit the size pergola you’re planning to build. Select pine wood if you’re planning to paint it; western red cedar if you want the natural look (but be prepared to seal it.)
  • Set the posts by either anchoring them to concrete or sinking them into a cement-filled, 2-ft. deep hole. Make sure your posts are plumb in all directions, or your pergola will lean like Pisa.
  • Add end beams.
  • Add knee braces to the end beams and posts (knee braces are the 45-degree supports that stiffen the structure so it can’t lean).
  • Decide spacing, and add rafters (Jamin and Ashley call them “cross beams”).Pergola rafters If you want to grow vines up your pergola, set rafters about 12 in. apart so there’s plenty of support for vines.
  • Add 2-by-2-inch lattice (Jamin and Ashley refer to them as “top beams”). The lattice is key to providing shade.
  • Paint; or sand and leave wood au naturel. Preserve natural wood tones with a clear exterior sealer or stain.

Make More Shade

Jamin and Ashley decided to add shade by training Carolina jasmine (Gelsemium sempervirens) to grow up the structure. The plant smells great and sports beautiful, trumpet-shaped yellow flowers. When the vine fills in, the shade will come.

Here are three other classic vining plants that make great shade:

  • Clematis has beautiful summer flowers.
  • Trumpet vine (Distictis) flowers attract hummingbirds.
  • Grapes grow fast and have big leaves for shade (Vitis has virtually no fruit).

Think twice before growing wisteria up a pergola. It’s a beautiful plant, but can become very heavy as it matures, stressing the structure it covers.