How to build a shade cloth pergola

Updated February 21, 2017

Pergolas are open-roof garden structures supported on pillars used to create semi-shaded areas for seating and growing climbing plants. The big box retailers display garden furniture, gazebos and pergolas right out of the pages of some glossy home decor magazine. The designs and colours are impressive, and so are the prices. You don't have to have a big budget or a professional service to have a chic backyard retreat. Build a shade cloth pergola in a weekend with inexpensive materials and easy-to-use tools.

Sand all the wood thoroughly until it is completely smooth with no rough edges.

Apply primer and paint and let dry if you want a painted structure.

Measure and mark two parallel rows of three spots, 5 feet apart, for the pergola posts.

Dig a 2-foot-deep hole at each place marked.

Place a post in each hole, measuring from the top of the post to the ground to ensure that each post is standing exactly 6 feet above ground level. Then fill the holes with dirt and pack tightly, or fill with cement and let dry thoroughly.

Nail or screw each of the 5-foot 2-inch support boards horizontally to the top edges of the posts inside the pergola.

Place each of the 7-foot boards on top of the facing pairs of posts, laying them flat so that 1 foot sticks out over each post, and either nail or screw them to the posts.

Drape the landscape canvas runner on top of the pergola, parallel to the sets of posts. The canvas should dip slightly in between each top board and hang down a couple of feet on each end.

Staple the canvas to the top of the boards to secure it in windy conditions. Alternatively, you can nail thin strips of wood on top of the canvas.


Bigger or smaller pergolas require adjustments in length and number of boards. Create a more formal appearance by cutting decorative swathes in the ends of the boards for the top of the pergola, or a more rustic appearance by using chiselled round posts and lumber. For a colourful pergola, use white or beige canvas coloured with your choice of fabric dye. For a romantic look, use a lighter material in two panels and a longer length to drape around the end posts. Add a decorative floor under the pergola with crushed slate, ornamental mulch or steppable ground covers.


Check with local utilities and ordinances before digging and building. Precise measurements are important for the finished appearance.

Things You'll Need

  • 6 cedar or treated lumber posts, 4-inch by 4-inch by 8-foot
  • 6 cedar or treated lumber support boards, 2-inch by 6-inch by 5-foot 2-inch
  • 3 cedar or treated lumber cross-boards, 2-inch by 2-inch by 7-foot
  • Sandpaper
  • Tape measure
  • Sharp spade or post hole digger
  • Ladder
  • Hammer
  • Galvanised nails (or screws and power drill)
  • Staple gun and heavy-duty rustproof staples
  • Level
  • 20-foot by 4-foot length of heavy landscape canvas
  • Cement (optional)
  • Exterior primer and paint (optional)
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About the Author

Heidi Cardenas specializes in human resources, business and personal finance, small-business advice, home and garden and home improvement. Her professional background includes human resources and business administration, technical writing and corporate communications. She has studied horticulture and business administration, and enjoys guest blogging for publications including Herb Companion Magazine, Natural Home Living Magazine, and Mother Earth Living.