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How to Build a Pergola and Choose Decorative Vines

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Often located at the entrance to a garden or patio area, a pergola is a vine-covered gateway covered with flowering vines. Read on to learn how to build a pergola and choose decorative vines.

Despite the fancy Italian name, a pergola is essentially just a series of 2, 3, 4 or 5 arches interconnected with vine-covered lattices. As impressive as they look, they're not particularly difficult to build—providing you have basic carpentry and gardening skills.

Before you begin, you'll want to check out a few different styles and think about what model best fits your garden. But the basic design involves two upright posts for each section, with a crosspiece connecting them. The posts should rise at least seven feet from the ground, and you'll want to make the archway roughly three feet wide, so you can walk through it. If you have room, it's also nice to leave extra space for a bench, making a shady summer-sitting spot.

Of course, you'll also need to choose the type of decorative vine you want to grow. A few favorites:

  • Clematis--blooms white, pink, red, purple, blue and burgundy
  • Dropmore Scarlet Honeysuckle--blooms reddish, yellow or orange
  • Wisteria--known for its scented flowers
  • Trumpet Vine -- know for it's adaptability with blooms in yellow, dark red or salmon red
  • American Bittersweet--a tough, vigorous vine with colorfil orange "berries" that are used in wreaths and dried flower arrangements
Ask local experts what grows well where you live. And remember: Aggressive vines will engulf nearby plants so try to leave some space between them and any cherished plants, unless you want a garden version of Attila the Hun's rampage across Europe.

Once you've decided on style and dimensions, it's time to start building.

Things You'll Need

  • Post hole digger & cement (if digging post holes)
  • Post spikes and sledge hammer (if using post spikes)
  • Weather-resistant 4x4 posts (2 per archway)
  • Level
  • Measuring tape
  • Crosspiece, straight or curved (1 per archway)
  • Lattice for the sides and top
  • Saw
  • Hammer (or drill)
  • Nails (or screws)
  • Vine seeds or cuttings
  • Vine tying material (twine, nylons, etc.)

Cut the posts from pressure-treated lumber, redwood or cedar heartwood (available at your local lumber center). To set the posts you can  dig holes and plant spikes.

For holes

Use a post hole digger to create 18-inch-deep holes (Remember to calculate that 18 inches when cutting your posts! 7-ft. posts should be cut 8 1/2 feet long). Slide the posts in the hold. In firm ground you can just fill in around the hole and tamp the dirt down In softer soil, or in harsher environments, you may want to pour cement into the hole to create firmer footing. As you install it, use a level to make sure the post is straight.