Made in the Shade: Sun Protection for Your Backyard
It’s summer: The time of year when most of us kick off our shoes and opt for a little fun in the sun. We dutifully apply our sunscreen and wear wide-brimmed hats to help limit any harm from sun exposure while at the beach or the water park. But, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, damage from sun exposure is cumulative over your lifetime, so it’s always important to take steps to protect yourself — even in your own backyard. Luckily, in addition to wearing sun block, there are some techniques you can use in your yard to help protect your family from harmful UV rays.
Trees and Other Natural Shade-Makers
They don’t call them “shade trees” for nothing! Energy.gov suggests using trees, trellises and other greenery to help create shade and reduce UV exposure in your backyard. They recommend planting a large shade tree native to your region for maximum benefits.
But, keep in mind, it may take years for a new tree to reach its full UV ray-blocking power, depending on the type of tree — so you may want to consider trees that can grow more quickly in your region. ThisOldHouse.com suggests several species, including the northern red oak, the Freeman maple and the tulip tree. Depending upon your region’s climate, deciduous trees may not offer enough year-round shading, says SkinCancer.org. In especially sunny areas, consider evergreens or other varieties less likely to drop leaves.
If you don’t want to wait for a shade tree to grow, you can also try large planters filled with smaller trees, suggests FamilyHandyMan.com. An added benefit: Planters are movable, so you can rearrange them for maximum shade where you need it, whether you’re relaxing on the deck, lounging by the pool or stretched out on a picnic blanket.
Although trees are one of the best natural shade sources, trellises, shrubs and bushes can offer some benefits, too. Strategically positioning shrubs and bushes can provide side shade or fill-in sun protection gaps. Building a pergola or employing trellises on which to grow vines and similar plants can also help achieve this effect. But, remember that small trees, bushes and other greenery may not cast protective shade all day, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, because their shadows will shift based on the sun’s positioning.
Awnings, Umbrellas and Outdoor Structures
Generally speaking, the denser the material used in outdoor awnings, umbrellas or other protective structures, the greater the percentage of UV rays they’ll block. For example, the Skin Cancer Foundation says materials such as tile, metal or timber can block up to 100 percent of the sun’s rays, while other materials may block less. Some manufacturers may provide their products’ ratings, so check the packaging of outdoor materials you are thinking about using.
Portable structures, such as large shade umbrellas, screened tents, or portable canopies are often the lowest-cost options, says FamilyHandyMan.com. They are also quite versatile, and enable owners to easily change their locations based on sun protection needs. However, such structures may not be as durable nor withstand outdoor elements as well as traditional awnings and canopies.
Though they often cost more, permanently installed structures, such as canopy awnings or retractable awnings, offer high degrees of sun protection, says FamilyHandyMan.org. Since they’re often sturdier than their movable counterparts, they also may be better able to withstand the elements. While retractable awnings can be opened to enable owners to let in sunlight, canopy awnings are fixed and cannot be adjusted. In most cases, these structures will also benefit from side-shading strategies (such as plants) in order to achieve the most complete UV protection.
Utilizing a variety of backyard UV protection options — as well as sun block and other methods — can help your family create a safer experience in your outdoor space. Let your creativity and love of summer fun guide you toward solutions that meet your family’s shading needs.