For first-time homeowners, DIY doesn't always equal do-it-right. Case in point: landscape lighting. You buy a $100 boxed set of solar path lights and spotlights, install them according to the manufacturer's directions, then wait for the sun to set and your front yard to look like the one on the box. Instead, the spotlights with the yellow filter make your plants look sickly and the pagoda-style lights along the walkway barely stay lit for a few hours. There is, it turns out, a science and art to landscape lighting, and it doesn't come in a box. Experts agree that function over form is best when it comes to night-lighting your property. When done right, outdoor lighting is like "icing on the cake" for your yard, says Doug Tibbits, owner of Premier Outdoor Lighting in Tampa. Here are four techniques to employ, as well as some tips on getting the most from your lighting. -
Lighting experts use several techniques, but moonlighting is the most popular. It is a soft, natural look light with a dappled pattern of light and shadows. To create the effect, multiple light fixtures are mounted in tall tree branches to cast light downward through the lower branches. "It's as if the space was illuminated by a full moon," lighting designer Randall Whitehead says.
Uplighting, a popular technique with palm trees, is used to highlight and add dimension to trees, palms, shrubs and other objects with lights from the ground. One of the biggest mistakes with uplighting palms is placing the light too close to the trunk. "The best way to light a palm is from the next palm over," Whitehead advises.
The best features in your yard, such as a prized plant, statue, fountain or gazebo, can be illuminated with spotlighting, which uses carefully placed directional fixtures. Spotlighting is also used in outdoor kitchens to focus light on work areas such as the sink, grill and cutting board.
Lights can be placed at the base of walls and pointed upward to skim the surface with dappled light and shadows, a technique known as grazing. It is also used to project through low-growing plants, such as ornamental grasses.
Plants look healthiest when illuminated with cool colors from LED and fluorescent sources. Add a daylight blue color correcting filter on incandescent outdoor lights to eliminate the amber hue.
People, however, look best in ambient fill light that softens shadows. To light outdoor rooms, use warm colors from halogen, incandescent and warm-hued LED lights.
Don't use dimmers on outdoor incandescent lights; their color becomes more amber, making plants look sickly.
Hide light fixtures behind shrubs, trees or other foliage, unless they are decorative.
Use patterned filters on light fixtures to create moonlight and other interesting effects.
Soften outdoor decorative lighting by using 25 to 40 watt bulbs.
UV-producing cool lights can attract insects. Be sure to use warm-hued LED lights in outdoor sitting areas.
Create two levels of light. One for when you are inside looking out and one for when you are actually in the garden.
Invest in treated brass, bronze or copper fixtures, which hold up better in Florida sun and salt.
Sources: Randall Whitehead Lighting Inc.; the American Lighting Association