By Jan Soults Walker
If you hop-skip like a rookie firewalker across your sun-drenched patio, then patio shade projects are probably a hot priority.
But there’s no reason to get burned on price; you’ll find plenty of low-cost shade-giving options to cool your tootsies.
If you’re looking for shade beyond the typical market umbrellas ($45) and freestanding gazebo kits (starting at $200 at home improvement centers), check out these other easy, affordable patio shade projects — all for under $300:
Tall order: vertical trellis
Even if you have overhead shade, low morning or late afternoon light can make your patio uncomfortably hot in summer. Filter low-flying rays with a vertical trellis for growing leafy climbing plants.
The taller the trellis (60 inches or more), the more time you enjoy in the shade. Plus, an attractive trellis adds structure, lush greenery, and home privacy to your outdoor getaway.
Trellises can be made of weather-resistant wood, metal, PVC, or a combination of materials. Build one from scratch in just a few hours for less than $100 using vertical posts and cross members that plants grip and climb.
Or, make a simple frame and add pre-made garden lattice, $20 for a 4-by-8-foot sheet.
Trellises also come in kits ($40-$250 and up) or ready-made ($15-$200 and up). In an hour or less, you’ll be ready to set the trellis in the ground.
For plants, choose climbing leafy or flowering vines, such as English ivy, golden hop, morning glory, clematis, bougainvillea, or roses. Prices range from $10 to $40 and up for climbers.
Or, start veggie climbers from seed ($1 or less per packet), such as pole beans or sweet peas, and harvest the rewards later.
Add leafy shade by planting a sapling or ornamental tree in a container. A small (6-10 feet tall) tree will still throw plenty of shade — Japanese maples and dwarf red buckeyes are favorites. You’ll pay $40-$100 for a young tree.
Select a container large enough to stabilize the tree so wind won’t blow it over. Add a wheeled base for shade mobility. Fill out with these other ideas for container gardening.
A potted tree requires more care than one in the yard. Feed it monthly during the growing season and water regularly (once or twice a day in dry weather). As your trees grow, transplant them to larger pots. Winter over container trees indoors — anywhere with ample light and temperatures that won’t drop below 40 degrees.
Potted citrus trees are a beautiful, bountiful option. A lemon tree loves a sunny patio while offering shade and juicy fruits for squeezing. Other fruit-bearing trees include fig and semi-dwarf apple trees.
A potted palm transports your patio to the tropics with wide fronds for dappled shade and an island feel. Chinese windmill, or chusan palm (Trachycarpus), for example, can grow up to 7 feet tall in a container.
Sailing in the shade
Shade sails are triangular or square pieces of high-strength nylon that you suspend over your patio, adding color, pattern, and plenty of shade. The sails require connections to posts, trees, or rigid structural members of your house, such as exposed rafter ends.
A sail with 11-foot sides starts at $40. More expensive shade sails ($170 and up) include hardware (turnbuckles, eye bolts, and cable) for sturdy, wind-resistant installations.
As a frugal alternative, make your own shade sail using a canvas drop cloth ($15 for a 6-ounce, 9-by-12-foot piece). Install grommets ($10 for a kit) at the corners and loop clothesline ($5 for 50 feet) through the grommets.
Shade from the islands
Mix up a mai tai and enjoy a cool respite beneath these tropically inspired patio shade projects:
- Top an existing structure, such as a pergola, with reed or bamboo fencing. A 6-by-16-foot roll of bamboo fencing starts at $22. Secure the fencing with galvanized staples or roofing nails.
- Thatch panels ($200 for a 12 pack of 4-by-4-foot panels) are typically made from palm fronds cut into strips. Staple or nail the panels to the top of an existing pergola or awning frame for tiki-hut charm.