Using Solar Outdoor Lighting

Brian Barth
solar garden lamp

Solar outdoor lighting is quickly increasing in popularity, as more and more homeowners seek cost effective and environmentally friendly ways to illuminate their outdoor living spaces and gardens. Solar lighting is generally easy to install yourself and has become a viable alternative to electric-powered lighting solutions. However, based on the the unique nature of solar power as an energy source, there are a few guidelines to using solar lights successfully.

Solar Lighting Styles

Light makes a warm addition to any garden. Solar lighting for your garden can be broken down into three main groups: solar spotlights, solar accent lights and solar path lights.

Solar Spotlights

Solar spotlights can be used to highlight certain features in your garden such as a fountain, specimen tree or plant, seating area, pond, flag or statue. Solar spotlights have evolved over the years and are now made with bright LED technology that is far superior to the dim solar lights previously made. LED spotlights create light but do not generate any waste heat. These bulbs generally last for the lifetime of the spotlight and do not need to be replaced. Although LED lights may cost more than conventional lights, they are actually less expensive in the long run.

Using solar spotlights is usually as simple as pushing the attached stake into the ground and adjusting the direction of the fixture to shine on the object you wish to highlight. Others can be mounted to wall, fence, post or other existing garden structure. You'll want to install the lights during the daytime and familiarize yourself with how they are adjusted before returning after dark to aim them properly.

Consider trying one of these options in your yard today:

  • The SGG-S12 Solar Spot Light is a sturdy, high-powered cool white model that gets rave reviews, with buyers mentioning easy installation and quick battery charge. It comes with optional hardware to mount it at ground level, attach it to a wall, or clamp it to a flagpole. The light and solar panel retail for about $130 and the optional components go for $10-$15 each at Earthtech Products.
  • A more affordable option comes from Malibu, one of the largest manufacturers of solar garden lights. Their self-contained spotlight (the solar panel is integrated in the housing of the light fixture) retails for under $20.
  • For a modern design and selection of colors, try Westel solar spotlights; Earthtech Products offers them in an array of colors and finishes, including a lovely earth-toned copper-colored model that retails for $30.

Solar Accent Lights

Solar accent lights are soft lights that are designed to illuminate an area, not a particular garden feature. Accent lights add warmth and personality to a garden. Many solar accent lights use an amber LED bulb that is not as bright as a traditional LED bulb. Amber lights are warm and welcoming in any garden or outdoor living space. Some accent lights even flicker at night, mimicking the movement of a candle flame. Floating accent lights are also a popular option for pond owners who want to add a special touch to their water feature.

You can purchase accent lights that are incorporated into novelty items such as cats, dogs, butterflies or birds. Hang solar accent lights from hooks, place them amongst garden plants or string them above an outdoor living space to add a romantic or festive touch.

  • Amazon offers multi-colored floating lights for ponds, pools, fountains and other outdoor settings. Each light sells for under $8, which makes it affordable to buy several.
  • Plow & Hearth has one of the largest selections of solar powered accent lights. Their hanging solar lanterns are globe-shaped arrangements of tiny sparkling lights to decorate your outdoor spaces. A set of two small and one large lanterns is $100.

Solar Path Lights

If you have a garden path or walkway that you would like to illuminate, solar path lights are a perfect choice. Solar path lights can be installed economically in the ground with stakes or hung on little hooks. If you want to get more creative, you can purchase little solar rocks, or stepping-stones to guide a path. Many people install solar path lights for safety as well as for aesthetics.

When planning your installation of path lights, keep in mind that there are two main approaches. On some models, the solar panel is combined with the light fixture as a single unit, which means it needs to be installed in a very sunny location to provide good lighting at night. The other version has a single large solar panel connected to a group of lights with electrical wire. This allows the lights to be placed in a shady area, as long as the panel can be mounted in a sunny spot nearby. However, be careful to not cut the wire accidentally when digging in the garden!

  • If you're looking for something a bit on the fanciful side, try the Fairy Globe Crystal Ball Lights from Wedna on Amazon. A 20-foot long set of 30 lights retails for around $15.
  • Lumens offers designer path lighting, including the Lucepan Solar Bud, designed by Rodd Lovegrove, which retails for just under $200. The futuristic design integrates the solar panel seamlessly into the housing and is installed simply by pushing the support post into the ground.

Installation and Maintenance

The beauty of solar outdoor lighting is the ease of installation and the minimal maintenance required. With no wiring involved, there is no need to worry about an outlet or fancy electrical connections. Installing solar lights is as easy as finding a location and either staking them in the ground or hanging them from a hook. To keep solar lights functioning well, you will need to change the rechargeable batteries every 18-24 months. Most solar lights use AA batteries. It is also important to keep the solar panel and photocell sensor clean.

Solar lights require direct sunlight in order to operate at maximum efficiency. When a solar light is not receiving direct sunlight, its performance will be reduced, and it may only provide a few hours of light versus eight hours of light or more. It is also important not to position outdoor solar lights where their solar panel is obscured by shrubs or trees. This will also reduce performance.

Solar lights are designed to be weatherproof and will operate during inclement weather and freezing temperatures as long as they are receiving plenty of sunlight.

Creative Uses

hanging solar garden lamp

While solar lights are useful for nighttime safety, they are also an asset in creative garden design.

For example, any garden feature - a raised bed, water feature, trellis or arbor - is brought to life at night simply by outlining its shape with a series of evenly spaced solar lights. Clip-on lights work great for vertical objects, while models with a push-in stake or those that can rest directly on the ground are great for highlighting the form of ground level objects.

Another option is use them to create a visual form - a heart, peace sign, star, butterfly or the initials of a loved one, for example - by arranging the lights in this fashion on the lawn, a wall or any other open space.

Garden Illumination

With so many different solar lighting options available, it is easier than ever to add your own unique charm to your garden. Solar outdoor lighting adds curb appeal and warmth to your home while providing a cost-efficient way to enjoy your outdoor living space after dark.

Using Solar Outdoor Lighting