Cheap pergola ideas: 13 ways to create one for less

These inspirational cheap pergola ideas are just what you need for creating a stylish garden structure on a budget

cheap pergola ideas
(Image credit: Francis/Alamy Stock Photo)

There are plenty of lovely cheap pergola ideas that are an easy option to offer shade, accessorize for a party, cover a hot tub, provide a frame for planting or add definition to your outdoor space to turn it into more of an alfresco living area. 

A cheap pergola can be freestanding or attached to the house or an existing wall, and is often installed over pathways, patios, hot tubs or decking. There is a wide variety of shapes and styles available to buy including kits and pop-ups or you can have a go at building a simple one of your own as an easy weekend DIY project. 

A stylish new pergola can help inspire your plans for a garden redesign too, especially if you want to make the most of the space to embrace outdoor living whatever the weather. 

Once thing is for sure – you don't need to spend a lot of time or money to add an inexpensive pergola that will make a real impact. So if you’re looking for cheap garden ideas, we’ve come up with our favorite looks for budget pergolas to get you started.

13 cheap pergola ideas to transform your space on a budget

If you are interested in adding some stylish pergola ideas to your outdoor space for a budget-friendly backyard update, there are a few things to consider before you get started. 

'Whether you're an avid landscaper looking to expand your outdoor space, or a homeowner looking for a stylish place to relax, building a pergola is the perfect way to upgrade your garden,' says Gian-Carlo Grossi of Roofing Megastore. 'The first step is deciding where you want it to go. Before buying any materials, you should ensure that the chosen area is big enough and located in a safe place for construction. Make sure the pergola is built or erected away from major tree roots and does not obstruct buried underground utilities.'

Once you've sorted out the practicals then it's time for the fun part – planning your cheap pergola design!

1. Improvise with a budget-friendly pergola roof

pergola with table and chairs

Use natural reed screening panels to make a stylish pergola roof

(Image credit: Mark Bolton Photography/Alamy Stock Photo)

It's a good idea to add a roof or cover to a basic pergola, especially if your garden is a sun trap so there's somewhere shaded to escape from the heat when you need to. 

If you're looking for patio cover ideas, you'll love this easy idea. Choose sustainable and natural reed, willow or bamboo screening that's ideal for using over pergolas and arbors to create a softly shaded area beneath. 

The woven design allows light through and the gaps between canes allow air to pass through too so the space doesn't become stuffy. It's one of the best cheap pergola ideas, as the materials are widely available on rolls from DIY stores and garden centers, and can be easily attached to existing pergola posts with wire or cable ties for a budget solution.

2. Go for a simple pergola structure to save on cost

simple pergola structure with table and chairs

Simple means stylish and less of a spend too 

(Image credit: Future)

It pays to keep things simple when it comes to cheap pergola ideas as using less wood means the build will be cheaper. You'll be looking for a beautiful, durable timber that will stand the test of time, but tropical hardwoods like iroko mean splashing the cash so will probably be beyond your budget. 

Consider more affordable options for your cheap landscaping ideas instead. A pergola made of European green oak will frame a garden perfectly with its natural aesthetic and light straw color. Another popular timber for a pergola is Western red cedar with its beautiful reddish-brown color. Other affordable options include untreated English larch and Douglas fir, which are both widely available in pergola kits.

3. Opt for an inexpensive fabric pergola roof

pergola with fabric roof and table set-up

Havina Camouflage Sail Shade in khaki and ecru by La Redoute

(Image credit: La Redoute)

If luxury pergola awning ideas are beyond your budget, try simpler alternatives like using fabric to create an impromptu sun canopy instead.

Voile is a stunning lightweight fabric that can be used in all manner of ways for your cheap pergola ideas. This lightweight fabric is extremely flexible and versatile, as well as looking good.

It's also worth considering using one or more voile panels on the sides of your pergola as they will look so chic when the breeze catches them, plus they can help create some subtle garden screening for a touch of added privacy. 

4. Transform a basic pergola with paint

simple wooden pergola painted grey

Pergola painted in Wood Stain & Proteck in ‘Warm Grey’ by Protek

(Image credit: Protek)

The love affair with gray paint for exteriors shows no sign of easing and it's one of the most searched for colors online when it comes to finding garden inspo. It's such a practical choice too as it goes with everything.

Once you've learned how to build a pergola, giving it the right paint job is one of the most affordable ways to switch up the look of your DIY design too. If you want to make an impact with the best exterior wood paint, try opting for a dark, bold shade, while a softer hue will give it a more subtle and soothing finish.

Try blending a mix of different shades of gray with black and cream for a cool monochrome look that's easy to do.

5. Choose an affordable freestanding design

simple pergola by Ikea

The Gunnon pergola by Ikea can be erected next to a fence of house wall for an instantly integrated look

(Image credit: Ikea)

Quickly create an extra room on your terrace or in the garden with a freestanding pergola. This will give you a cool space to enjoy summer lunches, or if you're looking for garden party ideas it's the perfect space to decorate with festoon lights and candles for night-time entertaining.

Just as with many gazebo ideas, a pergola like this one can have a number of practical uses. They can be arranged as freestanding or positioned against a house wall. If you want a larger covered area for hosting think about joining two together.

Look for styles that are made of durable powder-coated steel, so your pergola is maintenance-free and easy to take care of too.

6. Add inexpensive roof materials to your pergola

pergola with corrugated plastic roof

Switch up your patio for year-round use by adding a sturdy roof. Shed retreat painted in Royal Exterior in ‘Stone Grey’, floor painted in Royal Exterior in ‘Sage Leaf’, and pergola treated with Timber Eco shield in ‘Golden Brown’ (all by Protek)

(Image credit: sixat21/Protek)

If you're searching for economical roof ideas for pergolas, corrugated PVC roofing panels are a lightweight and affordable choice. They'll give you protection from the weather so you can use the space whatever the time of year.

This budget backyard idea involves attaching some corrugated plastic roofing to the pergola posts. That way, you can still use the space even if it's raining. Plus, you won't be blocking out any additional light, so it will still feel bright and airy. This type of plastic roofing is super durable and easy to clean, too.

Plastic roofing sheets made from high-quality PVC are an excellent choice for pergola roofing thanks to their affordability. In more good news, these panels can last for ten years or more and won’t be warped or discoloured by exposure to UV rays. 

7. Grow your own cheap pergola

arbour design made of willow plants

Create a green retreat with a living pergola

(Image credit: RM Floral/Alamy Stock Photo)

Why cover your pergola with plants when you can have a structure that's made of actual plants? Willow is a fast growing, flexible material that is perfect for creating a variety of different structures, either living or non-living, including inspirational arbour ideas

Willow can be used to create sheltered outdoor seating spots for reading and relaxing. The willow rods are inserted into the ground and tied together, and will set down roots and begin to grow. The new growth can be woven in around the existing structure creating a dense screen of foliage. They are generally best planted between December and April.

Living willow arbor kits are available to buy online and contain graded, bundled and labelled willow rods with clear, illustrated step-by-step instructions. Some companies will install them for you too.

8. Opt for a great-value pop-up pergola 

pop up pergola design by Ikea

The Himmelso gazebo from Ikea is a dream for outdoor living

(Image credit: Ikea)

To create an instant entertaining space try installing a pop-up pergola that can be styled up to suit any occasion.

Choose one with UPF-rated fabric that gives excellent protection against the sun’s UV rays, making it a must for summer days. Many repel water too so you can stay outside even when it's raining.

Look for styles with durable canopy fabric that's fade-resistant to keep the color fresh for longer. Air vents that allow heat to circulate are also a good idea. Choose a style with a powder-coated steel frame too as it will be both sturdy and durable.

9. Drape a canopy over a pergola

pergola with canopy on lawn with picnic blanket

Stylish and elegant tasselled canopy by Cox & Cox

(Image credit: Cox & Cox)

For an easy romantic look choose a canopy that can be hung from a pergola to offer shade. You don't have to buy a ready-made canopy design, however, as a much cheaper option would be to make use of household items you already own, such as a large white sheet or tablecloth. Simply attach ribbon or ties to each corner and fasten these to your pergola structure to hold it in place. 

If you don't have a pergola, canopies like this can be strung up between tree trunks too for an impromptu version that's perfect for parties.

10. Make use of existing garden structures to cut down on timber

pergola built against fence with sofas and firepit

(Image credit: Claire Lloyd Davies/Future)

Another option for your cheap pergola ideas is to make use of an existing fence or wall as part of your design. This means you end up buying less timber for your pergola project, which can make it much more affordable.

You can either match your pergola posts to your cheap fence ideas in terms of material and color, or alternatively choose a complementary or contrasting material and color. 

It's worth checking out your local area for building sites where roofing projects are happening as loft beams are ideal for this type of DIY project. Or you could try your hand at some clever pallet ideas for gardens and make a handy bench to go underneath your DIY pergola too. 

11. Incorporate seating into your cheap pergola design

wooden pergola with L shaped eating

Include seating with your pergola design (Siguna arbor by Wayfair)

(Image credit: Wayfair)

Many affordable off-the-shelf options include seating in their design, which is obviously much trickier to do if you are working on a DIY pergola project. However, incorporating seating into the structure can be more affordable than splashing out on separate garden benches too.

'A ready-made pergola means no need for any heavy duty landscaping, but will still have a big impact on the overall space,' says Wayfair's resident style advisor Nadia McCowan Hill. 'A simple wooden structure can be styled into a contemporary space to relax and entertain that includes seating.'

12. Use existing walls to cover a courtyard cheaply

simple pergola design in courtyard garden with table and benches

Extend your living space outside with an easy pergola idea

(Image credit: Nigel Francis/Alamy Stock Photo)

If you need more room and are looking for budget patio ideas, a cheap pergola could be the solution you're looking for especially if you have a deck or side return that can be easily transformed with the addition of some simple posts. 

'Less expensive than an extension or a conservatory, pergolas can be mounted to the side of your home to create a continuation of your living space,' says Joel Garthwaite of luxury pergola specialists Harbour Lifestyle. 'Plus, nine times out of ten, you won’t actually need to get planning permission to extend your space using a pergola.'

This means you can flawlessly extend your interior into your garden using a cheap pergola for those seamless indoor-outdoor living moments.

13. Add lighting to elevate the look of a cheap pergola

garden pergola with lanterns and table set-up

(Image credit: Johner Images/Getty Images)

Even the most budget-friendly pergola can be transformed with the addition of some stylish pergola lighting ideas

The most affordable option is to go for something like these simple solar lanterns, which look stunning hanging from the timber roof beams. They'll instantly enhance the atmosphere and turn a basic structure into a pretty focal point after dark. 

Alternatively, you could opt for a couple of sets of the best outdoor lights and wind them around the structure of your pergola for added impact. 

What is the best way to keep a cheap pergola looking smart?

We asked Sean Thompson, field technical consultant at Sadolin and Sandtex, for his expert tips on the best way to care for a cheap pergola.

'Even a cheap pergola can be a beautiful addition to a garden, but they tend to be fiddly to decorate, especially when covered in plants, and this can lead to them being neglected over time,' he says. 'It goes without saying that plants will need to be cut back before any paint makeover.

'If the structure has been previously decorated, is in good order and just needs a maintenance coat, generally the preparation is much easier. A simple wash over with a mild detergent in warm water using a stiff nylon brush is usually enough. Rinse off with clean water and allow to dry.

'If the timber is covered in mold or algae, this should be killed off first using a fungicidal wash solution. Take care not to spill any onto plants or soil. Wash off thoroughly with clean water and allow to dry.

'On pergolas constructed with rough sawn timber use a stiff nylon brush to remove any loose flakes. This is where the amount of effort you put it pays dividends, as you want the surface to be as clean as possible.

'Choose a good wood stain for bare wood surfaces or over those that have already had something applied before. Two or three coats can be used depending on the depth of shade you prefer.'

painted pergola with dining table

Pergola painted with Sadolin Classic All Purpose Woodstain in Natural. Furniture painted in Sandtex Rapid Dry Gloss in Oxford Blue and Cranberry Swirl

(Image credit: Sandtex/Sadolin)
Sarah Wilson
Sarah Wilson

Lifestyle journalist Sarah Wilson has been writing about gardens since 2015. She's written for Gardeningetc.com, Livingetc, Homes & Gardens, Easy Gardens and Modern Gardens magazines. Her first job on glossy magazines was at Elle, during which time a visit to the legendary La Colombe d'Or in St-Paul-de-Vence led to an interest in all things gardening. Later as lifestyle editor at Country Homes & Interiors magazine the real pull was the run of captivating country gardens that were featured. Having studied introductory garden and landscape design as well as a course in floristry she is currently putting the skills learned to good use in her own space where the dream is establishing a cutting garden.