4 ways to keep your patio cool

Don't let the heat keep you cooped up inside this summer. There are a number of ways from pergolas to water features to help keep your patio cool and comfortable.

Gazebo WJohn and Noreen Rice of Annapolis have designed the perfect set up to help them enjoy their patio even on hot summer days.

Their backyard oasis, which features two separate seating areas, gets the afternoon sun. To keep things cool, the couple uses umbrellas, various plants and even a charming water feature to do the trick.

“Although we are in town, and it’s not a big property, because of the way the plants are done ... the patio is private,” Noreen says. The water feature “gives the garden a cool and calming feel,” she adds.

Here are four techniques to keep your patio cool and comfortable even in the dog days of summer.

1. Plant natural shade

Tall trees are perfect for keeping your patio cool. But if mature vegetation doesn’t already exist, plant smaller understory trees like dogwoods and eastern redbuds to add a bit more shade, suggests Nathan Powers, horticulturist and landscape manger at Homestead Gardens in Davidsonville. Shrubs, such as rhododendrons and azaleas, and potted plants placed around the patio also can help.

“Potted plants are a great way to get some instant cooling effect,” Powers says. “Glazed pottery with blue and green colors planted with sun-tolerant ferns such as the Kimberly sword fern can create a lush feeling in the space.”

If you’re interested in adding larger shade trees, Powers suggests planting trees that are known to grow quickly such as river birch, crepe myrtle and red maple varieties like Autumn Blaze or October Glory to quickly build shade.

Shade Moody Graham Pergola and Vines copy W2. Build a shade structure

Including an attractive and more permanent structure to your patio can provide just the shade you need with a bit of style. There are two options:

  • A pergola – a rectangular structure constructed with pillars and decorative cross beams can give a patio a bit of shade while maintaining an outdoor feel, says Annapolis resident Jay Graham, a landscape architect with Moody Graham based in Washington, D.C.
  • A gazebo – a circular structure with a peaked roof often set away from the house that can offer a cool oasis in the middle of a garden or near a patio.
    For additional shade, adorn either structure with open lattice on the sides to allow woody vines to grow.
    Graham says these structures are best for single-family homes or homes with a lot of backyard space.

Sail3. Cover up with temporary shade

To create instant shade when there is no space for permanent structures, Graham suggests cloth canopies.

Awnings and different styles of umbrellas are perfect options to provide temporary shade when needed. Umbrellas can often swivel and adjust to block the sun, and awnings can be permanent or retractable. For a more distinctive look, try adding a shade sail, a lightweight covering usually suspended by tension and shaped much like a ship’s sail.

“Fabric structures are the easiest retrofit and are the most cost-effective for families,” Graham says.

4. Add water

Create a unique and cool environment on your patio using water fixtures and fountains.

“I wouldn’t forget the power of a water feature,” Graham says. “The sound of water can make it physiologically cooler.”

If you’re looking to add a water fountain, Powers suggests looking for patio fountains with a circulating water source, which can be anything from small bubbling garden fixtures to freestanding, tiered fountains.

But fountains aren’t the only way to use water to cool things down.

“I like to spray water on my patio surface and plants before using the space,” Powers says. “I find that it drops the temperature a bit and creates a cooling effect.”

Shade Homestead Gardens Understory Trees and Potted Plants WTips from the pros

  • Consider when and where the sun hits your patio before adding shade features. — Jay Graham, landscape architect
  • Cool things down by spraying water on your patio before use. — Nathan Powers, landscape manager at Homestead Gardens
  • Purchase nonmetallic patio sets that use lighter colors and cushions to keep your seating from getting too hot in the sun. — Powers

Patio cooling cost breakdown

Plants
Dogwoods – $125
Eastern Redbuds – $120
Rhododendrons – $30
Azaleas – $30
Kimberly Sword Fern – $20
River Birch – $75
Autumn Blaze – $100
October Glory – $120
Crepe Myrtle – $50
(Priced at Home Depot and FastGrowingTrees.com)

Structures
Do-it-yourself pergola kits – $400-$5,000
Do-it-yourself gazebo kits – $200-$1,600
(Priced at Home Depot)

Canopies
Awnings – $900-$5,000
Patio and beach umbrellas – $90-$500
Cantilever umbrella – $200-$1,200
Shade sail – $60-$300
(Pricing at Home Depot)

Water Features
Bird bath fountains – $150-$300
Wall fountains – $150-$500
Freestanding fountain – $250-$1,200
(Priced at landscapingnetwork.com)

By Amanda Danaher

Second photo courtesy of Moody Graham

Last photo couresy of Homestead Gardens

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