Wherever you live, gardening can be an all-year-round pursuit. And when you add lighting amongst your favorite plants, your backyard can be transformed into a magical place.
Today's outdoor illumination is versatile, imaginative and inexpensive. It's also practical and creates different atmospheres. In the sparse winter garden, winter lighting becomes even more important as it adds a subtle, cozy glow to a focal point or pathway.
Why Choose Winter Lighting?
There are so many opportunities for adding lighting to your garden during the winter months. It's surprising how installing the best lighting during the winter can highlight textures and features that aren't noticeable in the lush summer months.
The bare twigs of a deciduous flowering dogwood tree (Cornus florida) can look eerily dramatic when softly illuminated at dusk.
In states with a milder climate, winter illumination makes your porch or decking cozy and inviting for an informal alfresco meal.
Less is More in Winter Lighting
In winter, many gardeners are tempted to install layers of lighting to make up for a lack of foliage and plants. They'll include ground lights, add decorative wall lamps, candles and strings of fairy lights.
However, to be effective, outdoor winter lighting should be almost as sparse as the season itself. For instance, highlighting the beautiful, dark green foliage of an American holly bush (Ilex opaca) smothered in crimson berries enhances this prized winter evergreen.
But too many lights nearby would only overpower and lessen the impact.
Different Styles of Winter Lighting
There are many outdoor lighting styles to choose from. They can be used to draw attention to various areas of your backyard. However, your choice may be influenced by the weather conditions where you live.
These include portable solar spikes you simply push into the soil for instant illumination. They usually give out a soft glow of light. However, in regions with heavy snowfall, ground lights can easily be hidden for weeks at a time.
You can add these to walls and fences. They emit a diffused beam of light in an upwards direction. The illumination is ideal for highlighting textures such as brickwork.
When seen from afar, the upturned glow can make your winter garden appear more spacious.
The beam of diffused light shines downwards. It can look very attractive when highlighting a favorite feature such as a water fountain.
In the winter garden, the glow from a downlighter looks even more magical when there has been a sprinkling of snow or frost.
Bright, targeted illumination from an isolated spotlight can make an icy pathway or step clearly defined. Yet it can be much more interesting than just functional. In a contemporary design, spotlights can be aesthetically pleasing as well as providing safety.
When these independent lanterns have a decorative design, they'll add immense charm when you suspend them from trees, bushes and patios.
However, in areas that suffer from strong winter gales and blizzards, they may easily break free and be found many yards from their original position.
Eco-friendly Garden Winter Lighting
Installing electrical outdoor lighting means using additional energy from the grid. But you can still enjoy decorative outdoor winter lighting and minimize your carbon footprint at the same time.
An obvious choice is to install solar panels on your roof. The electricity they produce is converted from the sun's rays.
It's free energy that requires very little maintenance or running costs. You could use the stored solar electricity to operate your garden lighting as well as your home's appliances.
The individual lights you choose can also have eco benefits. You can also purchase solar powered lights that only require sunlight.
Winter Solar Lights
These are independent lights that operate on their own without power from your home's electricity supply. Solar lights work through tiny photovoltaic cells built into a small panel on the casing.
They absorb sunlight and store it in a battery. Once dusk begins to draw in, the light's photoreceptor is activated and releases the stored energy, providing the solar light with a soft, soothing glow.
However, to emit enough light, the solar light needs to receive between six and eight hours of sunshine each day. A winter garden in a sunny city such as Phoenix should easily accommodate solar lights.
They may not be so reliable in northern cities such as Minneapolis where the winter is traditionally cold and dull. You could look for solar lights with a battery reserve or a USB port where you can help them recharge.
Here is our review of the best solar lights for garden and outdoors for 2024.
Light-emitting diode (LED) lights are usually reliable and energy-efficient. They'll also give a long-lasting performance throughout the winter. LED lighting was originally invented in 1962.
But it wasn't put to any practical use until NASA developed the appropriate technology in the 1990s. LED light is fitted with a semiconductor chip.
It operates through a spectrum of just four wavelengths to beam light from its reflective panel.
PIR Motion Sensor Lights
Passive infrared (PIR) sensor lights are activated when they detect heat or thermal energy. For reliability, they are usually powered by your electrical supply.
They provide powerful illumination whenever heat and motion fall within a specified range. They are ideal for highlighting icy pathways for visitors to your home.
But as security lights, they'll also help deter intruders during the long nights of winter.
Winter Garden Lighting Ideas
Installing lights can transform your winter garden. You can use them to create atmospheres or highlight favorite features and plants. They can also have practical uses such as indicating the edges of steps or decking.
Children will love a magical Christmas display with lots of twinkling fairy lights. Create a backdrop by winding fairy lights between conifers or hedges of beech.
Use solar ground lights to illuminate ornamental Santa Claus, reindeers and snowmen. A pathway with tall shrubs on either side is ideal for supporting an overhead network of fairy lights in imitation of a star-filled sky.
Also see: Christmas Garden Decorations Ideas
Even on winter evenings, you can enjoy relaxing on your patio if you include a traditional chiminea for warmth. Illuminating your decking with LED lights instantly creates a contemporary image.
Use long strips of tiny LED bulbs to define edges of seating areas, garden furniture and raised beds. Adding lights can be a decorative safety feature when they edge steps leading to your patio or front porch.
You can even use them on a pergola where they'll cast a discrete glow. Choose yellow-tinged white bulbs for warmth rather than icy blue-white.
Highlight Favorite Plants
In some states, your winter garden will have lost its summer foliage. But this is where a prized specimen evergreen such as a dwarf Colorado spruce (Picea pungens Globosa) can become a beautiful focal point.
Decorate it with a string of fairy lights in one or more colors. A single uplighter or ground light can highlight the architectural beauty of a Hinoki cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa).
Choose a solar or mains-powered LED light in a soft white to complement winter.
You can have great fun illuminating shrubberies and borders. Portable lanterns suspended from branches emphasize the length of the garden.
Even when it's dark and cold, your winter garden should look vibrant and alive. Choose solar lanterns if the shrubbery faces south or west to gain maximum sunlight.
Portable lanterns can easily be removed when overgrown bushes and branches need to be pruned. Having to rearrange permanent electrical lighting can be more difficult amongst fast-growing shrubs such as the field maple (Acer campestre).
Choosing a Power Supply for Your Outdoor Winter Lighting
The power supply you choose for your garden winter lighting often depends on how you cultivate your backyard. Some people love the versatility of individual solar lights.
They can easily be moved, allowing you to change the structure or planting schemes of your garden once spring finally arrives.
Electric outdoor lighting is usually permanent and therefore more restrictive. When you are planning a new family garden, you need to think carefully about which areas you want to illuminate.
These might include sheltered seating areas where you can relax on a mild, but chilly winter's evening. The perimeters of a play area could be permanently lit in winter and summer.
Fixed electric lighting is a sizable project that's best carried out when you are installing hard landscaping or designing a new patio.
It's much easier to conceal long cables beneath paving stones before they are laid. Installing extensive electric lighting at a later stage can be very disruptive.
Essential Garden Lighting Safety with an RCDThe vital safety measure for garden lighting in any season is an residual current device (RCD). It can save your life.
Problems can occur with outdoor electrical circuitry at any time, but the damage is more likely to occur in winter and it often remains unnoticed until spring.
An RCD continually monitors the flow of electric current. If there is any disruptive fluctuation in the current, the device shuts down in a fraction of a second.
Outdoor Electrical Lighting and Safety
When you install electric garden lighting for winter or summer, you must include additional safety features. Always hire a fully qualified, professional electrician to carry out the work.
An amateur installation could place your family in danger of electrocution. Electric lighting is usually directly connected to your home's circuitry.
The extensive cables usually contain junctions at different intervals where you fit the lights.
To withstand the extremes of the winter weather, each cable will need to have a tough exterior covering. It must be completely waterproof to combat waterlogged soil, heavy rain, and inches of snow.
You'll also need to bury the cables in a deep trench. If possible, cover the area with stone paving to protect it from both gardening activity and the local wildlife.
Raccoons, rats and foxes are all known to bite chunks from cables when foraging for meagre food rations in the depths of winter.
Outdoor Electric Socket Installation
Your electrician could install an outdoor electric socket. You then simply plug in your winter garden lights whenever you choose to activate them.
If possible, the socket should be positioned beneath a canopy or in a recessed area where it can be protected from the worst of the winter rain.
It should also have a protective cover with an Ingress Protection (IP) rating of at least sixty-seven.
John Keohane is the owner of JK Services, an electrical contracting firm that provides electrical services such as electricians, solar panel and EV charger installations.
John hopes the above advise helps homeowners with their gardens this winter. A touch of lighting can make the difference.
Enjoy Your Garden Winter Lighting
Without garden winter lighting, your backyard can often seem a desolate place during the coldest months. But you can use light to add warmth, character and charm.
There's never been a greater choice of versatile winter garden lights including LED and solar. Choose lighting that best suits the weather patterns of your region. Then enjoy the spectacle of an illuminated winter garden.