Building a Metal Shade Cloth Structure

Not long ago we talked about shade cloth and its benefits to bonsai. Because of our toasty summers here in Oregon, USA, we decided to put up shade cloth for part of the yard—the area of the yard devoted to some tender deciduous and sun-sensitive native Northwest conifers, like Englemann spruce and Mountain Hemlock.

After considering several ideas, we settled on a metal structure. It’s quite a bit more expensive than a wooden one, but the minimal and simple aesthetics were appealing, and that seemed to offset the cost. It also helps (a lot) to have an apprentice who has logged some hours welding…

There are many simpler things one could probably do, but just in case you want more hassle and expense, we offer this option:


So many things start as long straight sticks…


Matt Reel barely needs a ladder to reach the top of this 10′ riser.


Matt’s long arms were also very useful when we over-filled one of the holes and had to remove some gravel.


Long straight sticks in need of shortening.


Our ringer, Bobby Curttright, doing the welding of the top bracing.


The day we put all 8 posts in the ground with concrete.


How we attached the cable in the corners.


All that expense for such a minor amount of shade…this is 30%. Less than that would have been ok, a touch more would have also been ok, but it was the best compromise between the trees that need a little bit and the those that wanted a bit more. 50% shade cloth and more are mostly for understory plants that actually prefer shade, or for climates with very severe summers. 30% will take the edge off in strong sun. The pines and junipers, in our relatively mild climate, are on nearby benches but not under the shade cloth.


The full structure with shade cloth attached. It needs a few 45’s in the corners, but otherwise it’s complete. The grommeted shade cloth was simply ziptied in place. We’ll need to take it off for winter to avoid the random snowstorm.

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  1. Ray says:

    Looking good!!

  2. Lucia Soppe says:

    Very nice work!

  3. Don Erickson says:

    Nice job by a great team! Looks good and I’m sure it will do the job. Lucky to have all the skilled help.

  4. Looks great!! I used wooden 4×4’s and they were cheap, and great when put up. But over the years they have bowed. So some of the shade cloths are loose, and some are too small. The metals square tube is a much better long term choice!!
    Hurley Johnson
    Timeless Trees Nursery

  5. Dave Williams says:

    Another great post! I live between Fresno and Bakersfield Ca. A typical summer day here is between 95 and 105 degrees. At those temperatures, would you recommend placing my evergreens under shade as well as my deciduous trees? Thanks!

    • crataegus says:

      If your typical highs are near 100, yes, almost anything in a pot could use some protection. It’s both a leaf/root protection…in many cases protecting just the pot can help, but in a bonsai yard that is unsightly. You might do 40%. I used to live in Arizona and used 55%, but that’s a bit much for junipers and pines year round. You might also consider using shade cloth only for when your temps are consistently above 90, then take it down.

  6. Nathan says:

    Where does one get a custom sized and grommeted shade cloth?

  7. Bryan says:

    I have a rooftop garden , I live in Los Angeles. Last year i rushed to put up shade cloth at 60% across the board in an effort to cool things down. My junipers didn’t suffer, but they didn’t really thrive either. I want to go down to 40% on that side and keep 60 for the more tender material. My concern is the heat from the roof however. In the summer it can get hotter up there than it would on the ground. Would 40% or 50 be better in this case? Thanks for your reply.

    • crataegus says:

      The rooftops are tricky. Make sure your benches are high enough, away from the worst of the radiant heat. In those situations keeping heat down is as important as shade to the trees. 60% might be too much for conifers, so I think you’re on the right track. From here I can’t really advise beyond that…

  8. Living in Colorado, having shade cloth works great for both purposes. I’ve had a foot of hail accumulate at my property and even large trees have a hard time surviving such extremes. I pull my shade cloth taut…. sends the hail stones soaring one more time, only opposite the direction of my bonsai.

  9. Mac Jaster says:

    I’m planning on doing something like this in my new backyard in the spring. If you had to do this over again, is there any tips or tweaks you could offer on top of the original posting?

    • crataegus says:

      Not really…it is one of those things that are challenging to set up, but then super easy afterwards, if you go with the no-paint option. I’m a big fan of hard to start with and easy later on. This project does fit that bill.

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