Uplighting Your Trees

R. L. Rhodes
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Duration: 2-4 hours

As striking as your trees may be in the daylight, they can enhance the gloom night casts over your landscape. Lighting your trees in the evening adds safety and appeal, even when darkness falls.

Uplighting means simply using grounded lamps to direct light up at the trunk or canopy of a tree in your landscape.

The two most popular forms of lamp for tree-lighting are stake-mounted lamps and in-ground lamps, those with the body of the lamp set into the ground. Stake-mounted lamps will generally be more economical and easier to install, but can also be obtrusive. Because they’re more exposed than recessed lamps, stake-mounted lamps are also easier to knock over, though a well-placed lamp can avoid this simply by staying out of the flow of traffic in your landscape.

Skill level

  •  Easy to intermediate

Time required

  •  2-4 hours

Materials

or…

Tools

Directions

Step 1. Plan the effect

Trees with an open structure can be lit close to the base so that the light illuminates the interior of the branches. Denser trees should be lit from outside the canopy so that the light shines on more of the tree.

High-pressure sodium lamps (abbreviated HPS) should be avoided when lighting landscape features, as the wavelength of the light they emit can disrupt natural growth patterns, making trees more susceptible to injury. Whenever possible, use mercury vapor, metal halide or fluorescent lamps, and lean toward low-intensity lights.

Watch out for aimless or errant lighting. Don’t end up wasting the energy you put into lighting your landscape by directing the light off into the sky. Above all, make sure to place your lamps so that they will not shine in the faces of people passing by. That means taking stock of nearby paths, streets and the houses of neighbors.

Step 2. Place the lamps

You’ll want to set your lamps in inconspicuous places, out of the path of traffic through your lawn. Also bear in mind the likely path of lawnmowers, tillers and other lawn equipment so that you run less risk of damaging the lamps later on. At the same time, plan out the path of the wiring of your lamps to the powers source you intend to use. If you’re using solar-powered lamps, you’ll want to make sure to place the lamps where they’ll receive several hours of sunlight during the day.

For non-solar systems, the safest way to wire your lamps is by digging a shallow trench, about 6 inches deep for low-voltage systems, and burying the wires once you’ve got everything connected. Stake-mounted lamps can be driven directly into the ground, taking care not to damage the lamp itself. For placing in-ground lamps, you’ll likely also want a post-hole digger to set the hole before placement.

Step 3. Wire the lamps

The lamps in some lighting systems require some assembly before you can install them. Follow the directions included with the kit. For lamps using halogen lights, be careful to avoid touching the bulbs. Oils from your hands can heat to high temperatures when the bulbs are lit, putting considerable stress on the glass, even to the point of shattering.

For instructions on properly wiring the system, see our project guide on installing low-voltage outdoor lighting. Before any project that requires digging, be sure to call 811 to check on the location of underground utilities in your yard. Once the system is completely wired, test it to make sure each lamp in the sequence is lighting.

Continuous lighting from dusk to dawn can potentially damage trees by preventing them from entering dormancy during winter. You can avert that danger by using low-intensity light and putting your outdoor lighting on a timer to shut it off late in the evening.

 The Home Depot offers a variety of solutions for lighting your landscape and deck.

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