Creating Shade in Your Backyard: Tips and Tricks for a Comfortable Outdoor Living Space
By Sarah Finazzo • February 9, 2023
Creating a comfortable outdoor living space in your backyard is essential for enjoying the warm summer months. Think of those July 4th weekends when heat is radiating off the grill and everyone takes turn inside to escape the sun. That's right, one of the most important elements for a comfortable outdoor space is keeping it cool, which means providing shade. Without shade, it can be difficult to spend time outdoors on hot, sunny days.
Fortunately, there are many different ways to create a little shade in your backyard. In this blog post, we will discuss some of the most popular and effective backyard shade ideas, including how to think about your overall yard layout, as well as using trees, umbrellas, awnings, pergolas and more.
Whether you have a small patio or a large backyard, you can find a solution that works for you. Here’s some advice on how to keep you and your guests cool.
Program Your Yard for Shade
Your Yard Layout
Your deck may be baking in the sun, but it’s possible you already have other opportunities for shade in your yard. Take stock of what the sun does in your landscape throughout the day. Do you have mature trees or a hedge providing protection and offering a shady spot after the early morning? That’s the perfect place for your new seating area! Don’t feel tied to the structure of your house. Making new areas to spend time in your yard can be as simple as moving furniture or designating a space.
If you really want to get granular about your ambient heat, start thinking also about the amount of paving and the surface area of shade you have in your yard. We all know asphalt is hot under the harsh rays. Concrete and lighter colored pavers are cooler, and any organic material like wood decking and mulch is even cooler still. Think about how covered your space is, and definitely take into account any tiny feet (whether human or canine) that might scramble across the pavement or patio barefoot!
Relatedly, plants have the ability to create shade around our space. A single tulip bulb may not make much difference, but if you think in terms of shrubs and massings of tall grasses, that adds up!
Chosen wisely, you can employ the plants in your yard to absorb and reflect heat that may otherwise get soaked up by the ground, turning your yard into a sauna. Again, take a look at how your sun moves across the space! You’ll find plenty of ways to create little pockets of shade.
Backyard Shade Ideas: Our Favorite Features
On top of being smart about the layout of your yard, there are many fantastic outdoor shade features you can add. Check out some of our favorites below:
Adding an awning to your house can provide a great source of shade in the summer months. An awning is a type of covering that attaches to the exterior of a building and extends outwards to provide shade or protect from the rain and other elements. They are relatively easy to install and come in a variety of styles and sizes to fit any home.
We love a retractable awning that can automatically go in and out, making it easy to adjust during the day. Awnings can also be made of different materials such as canvas, aluminum, and acrylic, which can be chosen based on the climate of the area you live in.
Another benefit of an awning is that it can add aesthetic appeal to your home. There are many different styles and colors of awnings available, so you can choose one that complements the architecture of your home and your personal taste. Whether you prefer a classic look or something more modern, it's out there!
If you’re willing to build a permanent structure, incorporating a pergola can have a huge payoff. They can be built to fit with just about any style and vary in how involved they are to install. Pop one out of the box or have a skilled carpenter fabricate it on-site.
The classic wooden look for a pergola seems like it will never go out of style, but there are also some great looking stains and finishes that can change up the look. Make sure the overhead slats are at an appropriate angle to the sun’s path so you get solid coverage during the day! You can add outdoor curtains for sun protection - and style.
We absolutely love a well-placed pergola to lounge beneath. Why not go all-out whimsical and train some vines to creep up those posts? Certain species of vine love to climb up built structures. Vines can be planted directly in the soil or in planters next to your pergola’s posts.
You can choose a vine for its flowering color, leaf size & density (denser leaf cover means more shade!). Clematis and various grape vines can be good options, depending on your zone. Just be wary of certain twining vines like Wisteria, which grow thick, heavy stems that can damage or weigh on a structure.
Try a Shade Sail
Shade sails can be a dynamic addition to a backyard or side yard. A shade sail is a type of outdoor sunshade that is made of a durable, UV-resistant fabric. The shade sail is typically in the shape of a triangle or a rectangle and is suspended between several anchor points, such as poles, trees, or walls. They act as a barrier between you and the sun while maintaining a light touch aesthetically.
Shade sails come in different sizes, colors, and shapes and can be customized to fit your specific needs. Whether you need a clean, cool neutral or are using it as a vibrant pop of color. Fastened to the exterior of a home, designated posts, or atop a pergola, shade sails can add an inviting texture to your hangout space in your yard – while keeping everyone cool.
Pick a Great Umbrella
A patio umbrella is one of the simplest ideas, however there are things to consider before you run out and buy one.
First, it’s important to evaluate your outdoor space. For example, do you need patio shade? Then consider the use of your patio space and the traffic through the space. Do you have room for a stand alone umbrella or should you look for a table that allows for an integrated umbrella? A good rule is to allow for 3’ around the umbrella to circulate!
Think about placement first and aesthetic second. Make sure the umbrella will achieve the desired sun blocking without impinging on views and circulation. This is especially critical if the patio umbrella will be a more permanent fixture and therefore harder to move. This includes a larger umbrella or cantilever umbrella that is heavier.
For aesthetics you need to ask yourself if you want the umbrella to blend in with the landscape or pop with a vibrant color. If you want your umbrella to meld in the natural setting, think neutral colors like white, grey, and beige or even subtle greens and blues. If you want your umbrella to make a statement check out umbrellas in a vibrant color or even a pattern.
Consider a Pool
Hear us out – while you may not think you have the type of yard that can accommodate a pool, you might be surprised! Many companies now offer small-scale prefabricated plunge pools meant for quick dips and cool-downs. Soake Pools is a great company that offers beautiful prefab plunge pools as small as 8’9”x5’. So cute! They include a number of customizable options as well, from lighting, to tiling, and automation. Just check your local code to see if installing a pool is possible. And if you have space for something larger, well, Tilly can help you site that too.
You can get creative with the shade over your pool as well. Add a shade sail, a canopy, or a pool umbrella that can be placed in the shallow end or on the deck.
Plant a Shade Tree
It won’t pay off right away, but strategically planting a tree or two has the power to change the whole climate of your space. Pay attention to the direction of the sun across your yard throughout the day, and be sure not to shade out any sun-loving plants you’d like to keep. A nice big maple or oak can provide shelter from the sun for generations.
There are many different ways to create shade in your backyard, and there is a solution for every size and style of yard. Whether you have a small patio or a large backyard, you can find a shade feature that works for you.
From simple solutions like umbrellas to more permanent options like trees and pergolas, adding a shade feature to your backyard can make it more comfortable and usable on hot summer days. Beat the heat and stay cool out there!
Some Shady Inspiration
Read more about: Landscape Design Tips