Find the Right Size Arbor


White entry arbor, vinyl

Nothing frames a front walkway or a garden entrance quite like the classic, elegant arbor. Whether it’s made of curving cast iron, sturdy steel, classy vinyl, or stalwart and steady red cedar, an arbor invites you into a yard or garden and makes you feel right at home.

Finding the right size for your arbor is a question of where and how you want to use it.

The best height and width for a front entry arbor is 8 feet tall and 4 feet wide. It needs to be large enough for a tall individual or a small group to walk through at the same time. A grape or garden arbor can be slightly smaller, depending on your own height, but still at least 6′ 8″ tall and 3 feet wide.

The Many Purposes of an Arbor

Wooden arbor with bench

First, let’s define an arbor. People get them confused with other garden structures, like pergolas, trellises, and gazebos.

An arbor is a structure designed to arch over a path or entryway, and it acts as a frame for a plant or vine to be trained along, making a green or flowery living archway.

The arch of an arbor may be curved as in a classical Roman arch, or it can be square. It’s an arbor either way.

How is it different from a trellis, gazebo, or pergola?

A trellis is one plane of latticed wood or metal, usually leaned against a wall, for vines to climb up.

A gazebo is a small covered patio, usually with a distinct Victorian look and a roof that keeps out the rain.

A pergola is similar to an arbor with an open slatted roof for vines to grow along, but it’s much larger and designed to cover an entire patio space rather than a walkway or entryway.

Now that we understand what an arbor is, let’s talk about the different purposes it can fulfill.

An arbor can serve different purposes in your yard or garden. It can act as an entrance highlight, drawing the eye toward a home or garden. Or it can act as a vertical garden in a small side yard. It can provide shade or even privacy when combined with a trellis or latticework.

Whatever your needs, the materials and size of your arbor can be chosen to meet them.

I’m looking to put some smaller arbors in my vegetable garden. They’ll be made of metal wire. And I’ll add one grand, tall wooden arbor as an entrance to my favorite flower garden in the front yard. Purpose determines size and materials.

In some instances, like a front entry arbor, it will need to be quite large, over 8 feet tall and 4 to 5 feet wide, to accommodate visitors and furniture deliveries to your home.

The last thing you want is to discover too late that your new couch can’t be delivered, thanks to your too-small arbor.

Smaller arbors, under 7 feet tall and only 3 feet wide, are charming as entrances to gardens or back doors.

A tall, narrow arbor in classic wood with a gate and fence

You also want to consider what you’ll be planting around the arbor. The arbor needs to be sturdy enough for the growth that will eventually wrap itself around it. A wisteria or grape arbor may need more support than a star jasmine arbor, for instance.

Choosing Your Arbor’s Height and Width

There are a few things to think about before you buy the wood for your arbor:

  • Where will the arbor be, and what will need to travel through the arbor? Do you need to be able to fit furniture through it or is it just for one person at a time walking into a garden space?
  • How tall is the tallest person in your home? Will he or she fit under the arbor?
  • Will the arbor have a gate? Consider the standard size for a front gate in your neighborhood.
  • How wide is the path or sidewalk the arbor will overhang?
  • Will there be a fence on either side of the arbor? How tall do you want the top of the arbor to be compared with the top of the fence?
  • Will the arbor have benches on the ends?
  • How deep do you want your arbor to be? Will it need to cover the path for several feet, stretching on for 8 or 10 feet along the path? Maybe you’ll want more than one arbor in a row?
Wisteria along an extended arbor

The Best Arbor Materials

Once you have determined how tall you want your arbor to be, keep in mind that for a traditional arbor with strong pillars, you’ll need to purchase posts that are a few feet longer than your desired height.

For instance, if you want your arbor to be 8 feet tall, you’ll need 10-foot posts, so you can bury the bottom deep enough to make the pillars stable. You can secure your posts with cement or gravel in the post hole.

Make sure the sides are even and that the posts are made of either metal, vinyl, or pressure-treated wood that can withstand the decomposing elements of wet soil.

Which materials are best?

A climbing rose on a cast iron arbor

That really depends on what you plan to grow along your arbor. Here’s a table with some of the most popular options along with the materials you should use for each one:

Plant
variety
Soil-typeSunshine needsFlower timeArbor
material
Growth
rate
Fallopia
(Mile-a-minute)
well-drained,
poor to moderate
complete sun to
partial shade
August to
September
classic
wood
very
Fast
Wisteria
(Amethyst Falls)
well-drained,
moist and fertile
complete sun to
partial shade
May to Junewire trellisfast
Climbing Hydrangeawell-drained,
fertile
full sun to
partial shade
June to
August
classic
wood
slow to
medium
Virginia
Creeper
well-drained,
fertile
full sun to
partial shade
June to
August
anyfast
Climbing
Roses
fertile, humus-richfull sun to
light shade
July to
September
anymedium
Clematis
Montana
well-drained,
neutral
full sun to
partial shade
May to
June
classic
wood
medium
to fast
Honeysucklewell-drained,
humus-rich
full sun to
partial shade
May to
June
wood or
vinyl
medium
to fast
Clematis
Armandii
well-drained,
fertile
full sun
(keep base in shade)
Early
Spring
classic
wood
fast
Star Jasminewell-drained,
fertile
full sunJune to
August
anymedium
Some data from The Arches

The materials you use might determine your arbor height for you. For instance, a very simple garden arbor for vine-like vegetables or grapes, is a 15-foot long cattle fence folded gently into an archway in your garden.

Vegetable arbor from cattle fence

This type of arbor allows you to plant vertically and work with the garden underneath, but isn’t designed for walking through at your full height.

If you decide on vinyl, you’ll probably end up buying an arbor kit from a home and garden store like Home Depot.

Iron arbor with lantern

One of the cheapest kits at Home Depot is probably the black polyester powder-coated steel frame arbor, only $100. Simple and delicate, it’s about average in size, at only about 7 feet tall and 3.5 feet wide.

If you’re hoping for a sturdier look, go for wood beams or vinyl kits.

Just remember to use pressure-treated wood or similar composite woods that are made to withstand the weather. What a shame it would be if your carefully planned arbor didn’t last through the winter and spring!

I’m planning a couple of those cattle-fence arbors inside my vegetable garden for my heirloom and cherry tomatoes. One of my foodscaping friends introduced me to the idea, and I can’t wait to try it.

Eventually, I’ll put a classic wood arbor, covered in climbing roses, at the entrance to our front yard flower garden. Why stop at just one arbor if you love to garden like I do?

Come back soon and we’ll talk about pergolas, gazebos, and trellises, which are all slightly different things! It can get confusing, but each serves a special purpose in your yard and garden.

I hope this has been a helpful resource for you as you plan your garden or entry arbor. Happy building and happy gardening!

Katrina Lantz

Katrina Lantz studies neuroscience at BYU. She is a curriculum developer at Ensign Peak Academy. She also writes under the pen name K.L. Lantz. Her published books include middle grade fiction: Drats, Foiled Again! and Bombs Away! and adult Christian inspiration: The Healing Bucket.

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