There are three ways to approach this, easiest first:
There have been some excellent canopy pergola kits coming onto the market recently, so if you'd like all the tricky bits done for you and your space allows, it might be worth considering a pergola kit as an alternative to building your own canopy for a pergola.
Pergola kits with canopies are available in both wood and metal. Both come in free-standing and attached lean-to designs.
As you can see, they create a wonderful place to relax and entertain.
A canopy for a pergola can extend its usability, with protection against sun and light showers.
There are many more pergola kits using fabric now, some with a very modern feel. We're spoilt!
These are hot off the press, so to speak, and finally I can answer the second most asked question on my website, namely, "Can I Buy a ready-made retractable canopy for my existing pergola?" The answer is now a resounding "Yes!"
And they come a good range of colours and sizes. Just find one to fit your needs.
Here is the detail of the mechanism, but there are other images showing how the shades work. This might be the ideal solution if you have an existing pergola.
What we'll need to do first is source a track runner system to fit underneath or inside both sides of the support rafters, so you'll need two.
It's important that we're able to attach rigid tubing, rods or strengthening supports securely to the sliding mechanism carriers that hang below the track from one side to the other (you can see these in the pre-made canopy shades above).
Here are some examples to give you ideas.
For our canopy, we will attach the material to tubing to give it rigidity across the canopy width (they will need to be straightened first) and then attach these tubes, at right angles, to the tracks by hooking them through the eyes of the button carriers on one side of the pergola to the button carriers on the opposite side. They can also be attached with some sort of hoop or hook if the tube is too big for the carrier.
Alternatively, Simply use a wire as shown in the pre-made version, simply running the shades along the wires to extend the shade or retract it.
Either use shower-proof material, like the ones used in the pergola kits, or go for a water-proof fabric (I have chosen the one above as it is waterproof and comes in eleven different colours).
However, these canopies are only intended to be a protection against sun and light showers. The channels that the drooping fabric creates help to prevent water gathering on the canvas.
The diagram below shows the correct way to attach this type of canopy for a pergola. Notice how the fabric drapes between the poles.
We will need 4 to 12 rigid tubing or rod lengths (depending on the size of our pergola) that will neither bend or rust. These are passed through a looped circle that we've stitched into the canvas.
Space the materials hoops, through which we'll push the tubing, equally along the length of the fabric. Obviously we will need two of these rods at the ends, unless we're having a decorative panel (for example, a scalloped edge, like we sometimes see on blinds) at the ends, hanging down. Measure carefully to make sure the rod holders are equally spaced.
This is what our pergola canopy should look like when it is fully extended. Have a look at the pergola kit pictures below to get an idea of how the finished canopy should look.
The bottom diagram would stretch the fabric, making it lose its shape over time, and this would certainly happen if rain was left to weigh down the fabric.
The runners will be attached to either the underside of the rafter/beam or the inside of the supporting side rafter/beam.
These are only an example of the type of runner you'll need. Find one that suits your pergola best.
Aluminium is often used for outdoor furniture and lasts a lifetime due to the oxide layer on its surface, so this is a good option, along with sturdy plastic.
Waterproof fabric can be weighty, so make sure your runners are up to the job, especially for larger pergolas.
I've chosen these as an example, as they come in various lengths ranging from 130cm (4ft 4") increasing every 60cm to 520cm (17' 1"), although any non-rusting glider system, with button carriers, will do. Of course, you will be able to cut them down to exactly the correct length, if you wish.
If you would prefer your runner to be attached to the side of your beam/rafter, you will need a runner that is usually attached flat against the wall, as this one is, here.
Water is very heavy and, therefore, it is important to retract the canopy in heavier showers or when it's not in use, in order to prevent any weight of water damaging the canopy and mechanisms.
Use silicone lubricant spray to keep the sliding mechanism gliding freely.
These can be very attractive, with a modern, sleek appearance, and act as a very effective canopy for a pergola.
Supplied as pre-manufactured kits, they are a convenient way to add an attractive feature to your garden quickly. Buy the sail with the attachment kit, and you'll be up and running in no time.
However, the smallest shade sails tend to be around 3m square. If your pergola is smaller, it's easy enough to make your own.
Do make sure that the supporting structure is strong enough to take the tension on the sails.
You will need:
Fixing kits contain all that you need to fix both triangular and square shade sails.
Here is a triangular shade sail canopy for a pergola...
...and here is a pergola kit with rectangular shade sails attached...
The shade sail must be positioned and tensioned so that there are no low spots where water can pool. This is why the sail is angled at different heights on each corner. The asymmetry is what gives the pergola a modern feel, and also protects the structure from excessive weight and deterioration by the weather.
Either use the metal fixing kit mentioned above, or alternatively use a strong hook, and make loops for the hook to pass over.
You may need something strong to lever the last loop over the hook in order to create the tension needed
Large or small shades can look really stunning. These are very large ones in an hotel courtyard!
When not in use for long periods, you may prefer to take the shade sail down and store it carefully, where nibbling creatures are unable to gain access (they will eat your shade sail if you don't protect it!).
Alternatively, leave it up, and if it's tensioned and angled properly, it should last for many years.
Whichever way you choose to build a canopy for a pergola, I'm sure it will look amazing!
Join the 'Love Gardening!' Ezine and receive garden and landscaping tips, exclusive voucher codes and updates to the website. More...
Pitched Roof Hexagonal Pergola
Free Simple Pergola Plans
Attached Lean-to Pergola
Free Raised Bed Plans
"The plans were great, very concise, easy to follow and I couldn't have managed without them!" T.
“Well done for a really useful site!” Mike.
Love the templates for the Rafter Tails! Using Design #5. Thanks so much." Laura.
"I love your website! Your entire site is incredible. I was able to get ideas for my pergola, which looks fantastic." Wayne.
Great service. Now all I have to do is build it! Martin.
"Your plans look amazingly comprehensive. I see you are intending putting the plans for the corner pergola on this fabulous site. Could you please tell me when the corner pergola plans will be available to purchase...yours is the nicest design I have seen?" Michelle.
Grow Your Own
Beautiful 'Gainsborough' gazebo
See the 'Fantastic Offers' page for more bargains on pergola kits, tools and all things gardening!