Light Your Way

Solar Yard Lights: Give Your Yard Dimension and Sparkle

Solar yard lights allow you to provide form and excitement to your yard.


Solar yard lights can provide a large number of effects for your yard. In fact, from paths to foliage to architectural lighting, there is no aspect of your outdoor space that cannot be lit by some form of solar light. In this article, I will discuss those numerous options, introducing you to these various types of lighting and how to find the type of lighting that is just right for your yard.

Solar Lights for Paths

One of the most common types of solar yard light is as path lighting. I will expand the use of this term here to refer to any lighting that marks off the edges of your patio space and where it meets your grassy and garden spaces. “Stake lights”, which look exactly like their vampire-themed name indicates, are easily placed in your grassy and garden spaces by simply staking them into the ground. These path lights will usually have a solar panel on the top that absorbs light during the day, capturing the energy in a battery for use at night.

Solar Yard Lights

Using stake lights, you can easily light your path using a variety of arrangements.

Path lighting can be arranged in a number of different ways. If your path is very narrow, a single row of lights can be very attractive, providing the image of a sparkling curve along the contours of your patio. For wider paths, you have a couple of choices. First, you can have lights that match each other at regular intervals. This appears more formal, and works well for more “stately” homes. Alternatively, you can have the stake lights alternate sides as people walk down the path. This still appears proportional, but provides a much more informal feel to your outdoor lighting design.

Accent Lighting

One common way of lighting your outdoors is to use a great deal of accent lighting. The reasoning is fairly simple. Because the outdoors has such strong contrasts between light and dark anyway, accent lighting embraces this, shining light on individual areas for maximum dramatic effect. In fact, the effect is literally theatrical, providing spots of illumination on an otherwise dark stage. Choose some elements of your yard that you want to highlight, and shine your accent lights directly at them, allowing the ambient lighting to come primarily from the reflected light.

Because accent lighting is generally kept out of sight, solar accent lights can be especially bright. The amount of power your solar yard lights can generate is directly proportional to the area of your solar panels. Usually, accent lighting will have rather large solar panels that are hidden adjacent to the light sources themselves. This has advantages and disadvantages. Solar accent lights are perfect for lighting from above, as the panels have ready access to the sun when installed on the roof. However, they are difficult to hide from other angles, because anything that would hide the panel would also prevent the sunlight from reaching the panel. An important exception to this is solar accent lighting where the panel is installed on the roof and the solar yard light itself is attached by a longer wire.

Solar Yard Lighting For Foliage

Garden Light Framing

Solar lighting for foliage can frame your yard. Just be careful not to use warm lights on foliage, or it makes it look dead.

By far one of the most exciting ways of using solar yard lighting is to light up your foliage. This can include everything from your trees to your vines to your garden. Contrary to what one might expect, big dark spaces are actually claustrophobic. We feel the dark closing around us. Shining light on foliage pushes the walls of our yard away, creating a wide open space that is lush and has a sense of dimension.

There are a large number of different options that you can use for lighting your outdoor foliage. Before you begin, you should check the dark sky regulations in your local area. Many areas do not allow any lights that are pointed upward, and require that any outdoor lights be shielded from the top. If you are in a city with strict dark sky regulations, you will need to have your foliage and landscape lighting pointing from above, rather than from below.

Foliage Lighting has some of the same issues as accent lighting (in fact, it is strictly speaking a type of accent lighting), in that hiding the panels in such a way that the sun can see them but your guests can’t. The tops of fences and trees are often good spots for this, though you might need to put the solar panels away from the light sources. Light from trees has the added advantage that it lights the leaves as it goes down, creating a canopy-like effect and really providing your yard with dimension. Since trees naturally block sunlight, you will need to place your panels away from the trees (or you might consider using non-solar lighting for tree lights, at least).

You can also use solar post lights that are taller than you foliage and that shines light downward onto your foliage. These are similar to stake lights, but are much taller. They have the advantage that you can light your foliage from spots away from the wall without breaking dark sky regulations. Simply place the post lights near bushes, trees and fences and the light will shine downward onto your foliage.

For lights designed to hit foliage, make sure to pick a white light or even a cooler light. Foliage looks absolutely terrible under the warm light we are used to from incandescent and halogen lighting, as it washes out the green, replacing it with an ugly brown that makes it look dead. In fact, if the light is unlikely to hit any human faces, you can consider using a cool-colored light bulb to make the green really pop.


“Sparkle” refers to lighting where the light itself is a form of decoration. Because light stands out so well outdoors, solar yard lighting is an especially good opportunity for providing sparkle to your yard. Perhaps the most famous case of this is solar-powered Christmas lighting, where the lights are virtually the only thing that is seen and the wide array of colors provide a “sparkle” that catches the eye.

Solar Brick Lights

Notice how these solar brick lights are being used as information by the path but as decorative sparkle around the tree. These bricks can be purchased at Amazon.

For everyday solar yard lighting, solar-powered Christmas lights wouldn’t be appropriate, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t other options. Because solar yard lighting is so incredibly versatile, you can put small, low-brightness lights just about anywhere. Consider the following options:

  • A row of low-voltage lanterns along the back of your yard on top of the fence.
  • A string of dim globe lights above head level to mark off the contours of your patio and provide it with dimensionality.
  • Small stake lights along the contours of your garden or even inside of your bushes.

These are just three ideas, but the possibilities are endless. The trick with sparkle is that you are not actually attempting to illuminate anything with the light sources. Instead, the light itself is the decoration. Because sparkle can be traced along various contours, you can use the flexibility of location with solar lights to draw the eye along.

Putting It All Together

Solar yard lights allow you to use flexible lighting that can provide contours and sparkle:

  • Solar yard lights make excellent path lights, and different arrangements evoke different levels of formality.
  • The lighting of foliage can provide your outdoor spaces with dimensions, removing the oppressive feeling of darkness. Be sure to follow dark sky rules in your area.
  • Dimmer lights can be used for sparkle, which is attractive in itself and can trace the contours of your yard and beatify your entire yard.

With these tips in mind, you will have a lot of ideas for how you can use solar yard lighting in you outdoor spaces.


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