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Past Articles Library | Gardening Design | Shade Sails, Patio Covers

Using Shade Sails, Awnings, Patio Covers,
and Umbrellas in Landscape Design

The backyard, as we have mentioned before, is an integral part of your entire property.

In fact, the backyard is as much a part of the house as the dining or family room.

So when it's time to think about a shade structure, it's best if that structure, whether it's a shade sail, awning, patio cover or an umbrella, looks as though it belongs there and doesn't make your yard look like a campsite.

This is much easier these days because there are so many high quality shade structures available, most of which come with beautiful fabrics that filter UV light, and others that come with small lights that will give soft light underneath them after the sun has gone down.

There are wooden, fabric, aluminum, and retractable shade coverings, in fact the list seems endless, so let's take a look at each kind of shade structure, and its benefits, in order to help you choose the best one for your yard, deck, or patio area.

Shade Sails

Shade sails are designed to provide outdoor protection from the sun and use a flexible membrane, tensioned between three or more anchor points, similar in form to a ship's sail, therefore the name shade sail.

What's great about these is that they are very cost effective, fast to set up and take down, and can add quite a bit of color and style to your yard that other traditional shade coverings can't. They are practical and functional, but are also stylish, giving your garden or outdoor area a fashionable look.

Get Creative

Shade sail shapes vary from triangular to polygons, and by installing different shapes, colors and sizes, tensioned and overlapping in different ways, you can add a fun theme to your yard by giving it a new dimension simply with fabrics and shapes.

Can Be Permanent or Temporary

Shade sails and awnings are tensioned usually by means of either a stainless steel turnbuckle or a pulley system fixed at each corner of the sail. For permanently fixed sails and awnings, the turnbuckle provides the best means of applying tension to the canopy.

For sails and sun canopies that are to be used on an occasional basis, the pulley system is more practical since it can be set up and taken down in a couple of minutes.

Shade Sail Materials

Shade sails are generally made from knitted fabrics which allow them to stretch into 3 dimensions, which is why they can be tensioned to make different 3 dimensional shapes. The knitted fabric allows some air flow which means it won�t allow heat to build up beneath it and will help create a cooler area beneath.

Make sure the shade sail you buy is of quality material and will last long if tensioned on a permanent basis. It's also important to check the fabric manufacturer�s guarantees of UV protection rating since some sub-standard polyethylene types don�t offer as much protection from the sun as they claim.

Shade sails are usually manufactured from high density polyethylene which is a very strong and flexible knitted fabric. These modern polyethylene fabrics were specifically developed to provide protection from the sun, and in so doing they are manufactured with UV protection ratings.

These fabrics are also designed to allow air to circulate, promoting a cooler environment, but this means that some fabrics do not always offer adequate UV protection as we have already said. If your supplier does not know what UV rating their sun shades are then look elsewhere.


The benefits of awnings:

  • Reduce energy costs

  • Reduces harmful sunlight before it enters indoor living areas

  • Provides sun, heat & rain protection year-round

  • Has no need of cumbersome supporting posts

Awning Styles

When choosing an awning for your home, think about your everyday living needs. For example, a retractable awning gives you the option to fold up or close the awning when the need arises.

This is a great option for the back yard or deck area that may not get a lot of winter sun. You may opt to retract your awning during the cooler months to allow more heat and sunlight into your home.

You'll also want to think about what kind of awning would look best on your home such as:

  • Window or roof-mounted
  • Canvas or aluminum
  • Flat or rounded

Fabric colors and patterns come in hundreds, if not thousands of choices, but make sure you choose a fabric that is mildew resistant.

Lastly, awnings can be operated manually by a hand crank or they can be motorized. Motorized awnings can be hard-wired to a switch in your existing wall structure, or operated via remote control.

This is convenient because you can set the pitch or angle of the awning to your liking so you can increase or decrease the amount of view you have.

Outdoor Umbrellas

Outdoor umbrellas are probably one of the most versatile shade structures you can buy. They can be self-storing, or permanent, and they can be of a maintenance-free design.

Umbrellas are by far the most economical choice, and probably the least expensive way to provide shade to your patio or deck area. Plus, umbrellas come in a variety of colors and styles so you can find one that fits your d�cor and landscape design.

Some even come with a push-button ability to tilt as the sun moves, while others have no center pole, but are designed to drape or hang.

Classic white market umbrellas are a good choice because they suit almost any garden design, but choose the style and color scheme that will fit your outdoor area best.

Outdoor Umbrella Tips:

1. If you choose to go with an umbrella, make sure the pole fits in the opening of the table you have or buy

2. Some umbrellas swivel and set up beside the table

3. Fabrics should give UV protection and resist fading, rot, mildew, and mold. Some can also repel rain

4. For a large covered area, choose fabric that also breathes, it will allow the air to move through its weave and provide more air circulation and flow

5. Check the quality of the frame and canopy ribs. Make sure they are hardwood or metal to withstand weather, rain and corrosion

6. Make sure what you buy comes with a guarantee that covers mechanical parts for the life of the umbrella

Patio and Deck Covers

Another way to provide shade to your backyard is to cover the top of your patio or deck with lattice. This is a more permanent shade cover than an awning or umbrella, but these can be very attractive.

By installing support beams and framing for the roof, lattice or slats can be attached across the top that will provide a semi-shaded area below.

Vines like wisteria, clematis, roses, grapes and other climbers can be grown up and over the structure, giving you a beautiful, living bower under which to relax during the heat of summer.

If you want a patio cover that is more solid so that you can use it no matter what the weather, just make sure to check the building codes in your area for snow load or wind speeds that need to be accommodated.

While a solid covering is more expensive, it can give you a lot of advantages. You can have lighting or a ceiling fan wired into the ceiling of your patio covering, allowing you to enjoy your patio at night and to circulate the air on hot days.

With a permanent cover, you can move your more tender plants to a protected spot under the cover when the sun is fierce or the temperatures drop. You can also have vines grow up the support columns to soften the look.

Plus there are many materials to choose from when building a permanent cover. You'll find patio coverings made of alumawood, wood or metal which can be as plain or ornate as suites your tastes and style.

In fact patio and deck covers can be as ornate or decorative as you want and they will add to the value of your home.

Reasons For A Permanent Shade Structure

  • Want a shady spot to exercise outdoors in the summer

  • Want an area outdoors you can use year round for projects that can't be done indoors

  • Want to be able to use your patio in all kinds of weather. In that case you may be looking for a more solid cover that will withstand sun, rain, wind and possibly snow.

  • Want to be outdoors at night, so you can add lighting or a ceiling fan into the design to make the patio more usable

Making A choice

So if you have been thinking about adding a shade area to your yard, why not do it this summer? You can use something inexpensive such as a shade sail or umbrella, or even just a draped bit of cloth can be artfully done.

You don't have to spend a lot of time or money and an awning, or patio cover can really enhance the look and value of your home, but most of all it will enhance your enjoyment of your backyard space.


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