The sunshine that shines so brightly in Arizona by day can do wonders for your landscape at night. Shine a solar spotlight on your flower beds. Plant some solar stakes to light the way to your front door. String solar lights from the roof of your gazebo. As long as you’re capturing the sun’s rays to reduce energy costs in your home or office, why not use that same technology to light up the outside? Here’s how it works: A solar panel (or cell) on the light charges a battery during the day. At night a photo-resistor senses there’s no light and triggers an LED light to come on for six to eight hours, powered by a rechargeable battery.
As with any home improvement that can add value to your home, there are benefits and drawbacks. In this case, the pros definitely outweigh the cons.
● Solar is easy for DIYers to install. The cost to design and build a landscape in Tucson is about $4,700. The cost to add solar lights? Less than $100. No wiring is needed.
● Solar is portable. Put the lights where you want and take them with you when you move. Solar lights are perfect for renters.
● No worries about broken or critter-chewed wiring, or severing wires when digging in your landscape.
● Renewable energy reduces your carbon footprint.
● No cost to operate and little maintenance required. The only maintenance is wiping off the cell cover periodically. A dirty cell reduces the battery charge.
● LED lights may be weaker, so you may need more lights to illuminate a specific area.
● Limited battery life. The batteries may need replacing every few years.
● Weaker battery charge when overcast which may mean low light at night.
● You’ll need to keep plant size in check so sun exposure to cells isn’t blocked.
Solar landscape lights can have the traditional look of a stake and lamp, or they can be more ornamental accessories, such as colored balls, animals, flowers, lanterns, and wind chimes. There also are solar birdbaths and solar-powered pumps for water fountains.
These are just a few highlights of the many ways you can use solar lights in your landscaping:
Stick a few lamps in your flower pots on your patio, balcony, or deck. Even more fun are solar-powered flower pots that burst into color at night. They spend their days as frosted white planters. At night, the pots illuminate the scene, with choices of color. Jab the lights in the lawn to outline a sidewalk. Place in garden beds to define corners or to highlight a tree or shrub. Use them to light stairways or pathways.
Ahead of the holidays, plant solar candy cane lights along your sidewalk, or hang solar-powered lights (perhaps shaped like a crescent moon) from your apartment balcony year-round.
In some neighborhoods, solar lights placed in treetops help to light up the night (and the backyard and alley).
Motion-sensor solar lights around your garage or backdoor can bolster your home’s security.
Solar lights are weather-resistant and can stay outdoors year-round. (Be sure to follow the directions if you decide to remove and store the lamps for winter.) Place the lights so the solar cell is exposed to as much sun as possible. Be mindful of trees, shrubs, and other plants that may interfere with sun exposure. Buildings also may block the sun.
Some solar light fixtures have adjustable heads to direct the cells to the sun. Adjustable heads can come in handy because streetlights may affect the brightness of the solar lights by confusing the photo-resistor.
Keep the spacing of the lights at a pleasing distance. Too close together looks more like a runway and diminishes any subtle ambiance the lights may evoke. Too far apart, and the effect will be minimal and sparse.
If a motion-sensitive solar light comes on near your garage door or back gate, don’t grab a baseball bat. Remember, animals and tree branches can trigger a motion sensor.
Garden centers, hardware stores, big-box stores, discount stores, even dollar stores, and many online retailers carry solar lights. You’ll find single lamps or multiples, and lots of different styles — and often at a lower cost than comparable plug-in electrical lights.
Bottom line: Solar lights can highlight your landscaping features, guide family and visitors to your front door, and provide added security around your house and property.
The best part? Solar lights do all this with no cords and no increase to your monthly power bill.
Tim Meredith is an eco-friendly landscaper and freelance writer who started mowing lawns as a teenager to earn extra cash. He uses only organic pest control and fertilizers, solar accent lights, and electric mowers.