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Outdoor Landscape Lighting

How do you create a yard that's light years ahead of others? One way is to make the space usable at night. Since many people work or play till long after the sun goes down, they often don't have time to enjoy their backyard until the evening hours. Add outdoor lighting, and your garden is immediately transformed into usable space.

"Most people don't realize this, but the backyard is a whole new room that they haven't explored fully," says outdoor lighting designer Michael Sestak. "You have the option to go beyond that light bulb at the doorway." Good lighting can bring Zen-like qualities to any setting. You can rediscover the perimeter of your property, make it fun to entertain and highlight points of interest, such as sculptures or fountains.

A recent trend in outdoor lighting is light-emitting diodes, or LEDs. They already light up car dashboards and laptops so why not the backyard? "LED lights are used especially for effect, style and design so the idea is not to try to get a huge amount of light," says Michael.

A reflector light, on the other hand, is meant to cast a lot of light. A big difference between LEDs and reflectors is their energy use; the reflector light uses a 35-watt lamp while the LED uses one watt. Most LED lights are also programmable.

Low-voltage lighting is another recent trend in outdoor lighting. Most homes use 120 volts of power, while low-voltage lighting uses about 12 volts, eliminating the need for deep trenches that hold the wiring. Low-voltage lights can be used for down-lighting (lighting things underneath the light source) or for up-lighting (lighting things above).

Mounting Lights

Be careful when mounting lights around the plants. Here, the light was mounted right onto the tree with screws, and, without monitoring, eventually the tree grew around the light fixture. Driving nails or screws into a growing tree causes an injury that triggers a healing response, like scar tissue forming over a wound.

Another option for mounting any fixture to a tree is to use a strap device. Straps can be made of cloth or a nylon-type product that has a clip device that can be adjusted over the life of the tree.

You can always up-light with on-ground lights and get around the dreaded "glare in the eye" hazard, or try an in-ground light. This type of light can be adjusted to up-light and showcase the structure of a tree.

How to Install an In-Ground Light Fixture

To place the fixture, dig an 18-inch-deep hole and backfill it about halfway with gravel to enhance drainage around the light. Insert the extra cable into the hole, leaving enough cord length to connect to the power source.

Then insert the plastic housing for the light into the hole. Add a few more inches of gravel around the unit to stabilize it. Slide the lamp into the housing; this one has a spring clip for a snug fit.

Most lights come with an assortment of lenses to customize the look. For instance, a 45-degree cutoff is an egg-crate louvered device that eliminates glare as you get closer to or farther away from the lens. Insert the lens over the lamp and add a 45-degree cutoff over the lens.

Replace the lid and cover the above-ground power cord with mulch. Connect the cord to the power source.

Make sure the light is turned on and adjust the light as needed. Note: Consult an electrician for assistance in wiring and installing outdoor lighting systems.

Additional Lighting Options

Create additional interesting in the evening landscape with artisan lights. They add whimsy and personality to the yard. Use them to light a pathway or illuminate a dining area.

For drama and eye-catching appeal, install a spotlight to showcase a sparkling fountain. Small-sized spotlights abound, including the MR-11, the smallest spotlight available. There are even ones designed for underwater lighting.

Bring lighting up into the air with brightly colored Chinese lanterns. Or, add a soft romantic ambiance with sheer globe lights.

In order to hide light fixtures so they're not noticeable day or night, pile rocks around the fixture. "At night you'll see the light peeking out from the rocks, giving its magical look to the stone, and nobody gets glare in their eye, no matter how they look at the fountain," says Michael.

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