Patio UmbrellaToday we got about six inches of snow in the yard. Summer is months away. But this might be the best time to start thinking about how you're going to outfit your yard for those backyard barbecues and family games. You can find some great deals and soon backyard essentials will be fully stocked.

One thing we are looking for is a patio umbrella. We got used to the benefits of umbrellas when we lived in Florida and spent hours on the beach. Our rental home has a nice, large umbrella set into a small dinette set. It was a wonderful addition to the patio this past summer and provided a much more comfortable entertainment area. With new construction, you generally have a yard devoid of trees — and our yard will be no exception — so the shade provided will be essential.

Patio umbrellas are practical yard additions. As you've probably seen, then can be used over a dining table. They can also be used free-standing to provide shade to a seating area or recreation area. Some are large enough to shade an entire seating area, creating a covered, outdoor living room. You can enjoy your backyard in comfort! And they come in a variety of colors and styles, from traditional to contemporary. A variety of bases are available and you can even find light kits, lamps, and vases that are made to fit.

Poolside, an umbrella is a necessity. Smart homeowners don't plant trees near pools. The falling debris increases your workload and makes the pool area a mess. But there are lots of us who don't yearn to bask in the sun. I'm a redhead and the sun reflecting on the water just screams, “Skin cancer!” to me. If my kids are swimming and I'm in the area, there must be an area I can sit to avoid the exposure. An outdoor patio umbrella (preferably an off set umbrella) is the perfect solution. They are stylish, adjustable, and take care of the job.

When planning your backyard, consider how you will use different areas and see if an umbrella will make the area more useable and enjoyable for your family and friends.