Use outdoor lighting in layers to create mood, drama and effect in your landscape.

It’s time to hang out with friends and family outside, and we have some great ideas for setting the mood with outdoor lighting. It all comes down to technique, which we create using layers of light, angles and some new technology.

Get visitors in the mood right away by lighting the front of your house from the ground. The light shines up to give your home that dramatic height. Any other lighting you add in trees or along walkways sets the stage as people arrive. You welcome them with warmth.

Accentuate individual trees with underlighting for that silhouette feel.

For your patio in particular, approach lighting like a play or production. Think big and think of your home or patio like a big show. We suggest a three-pronged attack:

1. First, use directional, focused lights that are about five to eight inches in diameter to highlight areas and for task lighting. These aren’t flood lights, but softer and more directed.
2. Next, use flood lights for general areas you want to light up, like your nighttime basketball court.
3. Finally, use accent lighting that’s low and scattered to cascade out. Highlight annuals and perennials you’ve planted, especially any that bloom at night.

For example, you can highlight a small night-blooming shrub for a moon garden effect. An LED light gives it a soft glow so it whispers to you and isn’t washed out.

The LED lights may cost more but they last longer than incandescent lights and save energy. And you can find inexpensive rope LED lights at big box or hardware stores. Buy the rolls by the yard and place them at the back of a landscape bed edge. Use them to highlight a shrub around the border of your house or along a pathway. They’re especially great for crescent or S-shaped beds and paths. Roll out the rope and pin the rope to landscape staples to hold it down. You won’t be able to see it, but it casts an upward glow to the landscape that’s very subtle.

A few outdoor lighting tips and ideas

Use leftover Christmas whites with glass vase over it on your outdoor garden table. Or buy themed string lights

Try a soft, submersible light to highlight a pond or other water feature.

When placing focused lights or flood lights, make sure the light isn’t shooting into your eyes or the eyes of your guests.

When you use extension cords, make sure they are outdoor cords only and are not sitting in water or your sprinkler path.

New patio light technology

Solar lighting is so much better than it used to be, with more power. We were just at the hardware show in Las Vegas and were amazed at the choices in solar patio lights. You can find wireless battery or solar-powered lights that come in a mason jar, go in a planter, on a little hook or stand alone. Some even flicker or change color and you can program them with your phone, creating colors and scenes.

Custom create lighting schemes along your walkway or on your patio for different kinds of entertainment. Throw in a little red for Latin night and the hot food you’ll serve. You’ll have built-in holiday lighting. New lights from Honeywell are on a pedestal and program color right in the fixture.

If you’re a low-tech person, you can use real candles. Or get the effect with solar-powered substitutes that flicker or dim.

Lighting makes a huge difference in terms of your mood, so relax and start relaxing when you come home, and watch as friends and neighbors turn green with envy.


Listen In:

This post is adapted from the May 24, 2014 episode of Home Wizards that was released on iTunes May 27, 2014. You can find this segment during hour one of the podcast.