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Whether you’re looking to create a mood, make a path safer, highlight a water feature, or illuminate an outdoor table so you can actually see what you’re eating, there have never been more (or better) options to light up your garden. You don’t have to hire anyone to do this, and if you use solar lights, you don’t even need to know where your outlets are. One benefit of solar lights is that they cost nothing to run — all you need to do is put them where they can get enough sun to recharge each day and they’ll automatically come on at night and turn off in the morning. But if you prefer the typically brighter light that an electrical light can provide, there are excellent wired options as well. To help you choose among all of them, we asked seven expert gardeners to tell us their favorites. Here, their top ways to light up the night. (We also have guides to the best gardening gloves, boots, hoses, and tools, in case you’re outfitting yourself as well as your garden.)
String lights come in a variety of lengths, strengths, and shapes, and you can put them anywhere that gets sunlight during the day. (Amber Grossman of BlackGirlsGardening even uses them in her greenhouse.) This inexpensive option from Opolemin is the preferred solar string light of garden influencer Goo, of Gardening With Goo, because of the lights’ powerful rechargeable batteries. (Check out how he has used them here.) The panel angles adjust up to 270 degrees to help you catch the most sun, and the lights are housed in durable PVC pipe that will withstand any weather. Plus, there’s flexible copper wire inside so you can bend them around trees, through fences, or wherever else you need.
Lauri Kranz, founder of the organic-produce delivery service Edible Gardens LA and co-author of A Garden Can Be Anywhere, loves these solar string lights. They’re a bit pricier than the others, but each handblown globe is unique and gives off a soothing light. If you don’t have too much space to fill, they may be just the thing.
Grossman likes to use an array of different pathway lights all around her garden, and both she and Goo recommend these lights by Maggift. They aren’t superbright, but they give off a nice, soft glow along a path and are very easy to use: Just stick the spike in the soil and wait until nighttime.
Grossman also uses pathway lights by Solpex. These are brighter than most, and their flush-with-the-ground design not only gives the lights a sleek look, but it also makes them less likely to trip people or get tangled up in dog leashes.
CaliKim, the author of Organic Gardening for Everyone, uses a variety of both solar and electric lights in her garden depending on the situation. For security, she likes this superbright Litom Solar Motion-Sensor light, which she says is “great for the side of the house and fits nicely under eaves or hard-to-reach places.” It has three modes (dim, medium, and high) and is waterproof, and it takes only a couple of screws to install.
Although they’re called fence lights, that doesn’t mean they can only be used on fences, CaliKim says. They have a nice amber light for daily use, and on more festive occasions, they can be set to cycle through a rainbow of colors.
Kranz likes these lights because they “come in printed and solid fabrics and are both useful and beautiful.” They have a stainless-steel frame and pretty, punched-out patterns, and their durable Tyvek fabric is weatherproof and treated to withstand UV rays.
Another CaliKim pick, this one’s for tabletop lighting. These faux candles sit in metal frames that have little discreet solar panels on top. They’re rain resistant, but don’t leave them out in extreme weather or it could damage the glass.
Katie Parks, who grows her own food on one acre in the Sierra Nevada (check out her Instagram @frecklesandsprouts), says that “lots of solar lights throughout can be really magical and soft … but if you need to really light up an area, I would go for electric.” And U.K. ecologist, botanist, and home-grower Becky Searle (@sow_much_more on Instagram) prefers electric to solar lights because “solar lights are a little unreliable and don’t work as well in the dark months, when you need them the most!” She loves these string lights, which have shatter-resistant bulbs every two feet and can be connected with as many as 47 other strings of lights.
Here’s a 100-foot strand with 50 soft, warm-glow lights that CaliKim likes. They’re waterproof and dimmable, too.
With 25 lights spread out over a 25-foot cord, these globe string lights are Brooklyn terrace gardener Marie Viljoen’s favorite. “I twine globe string lights around the wrought-iron railing of our terrace for simple, old-school ambience and discreet but warm light for when we eat outdoors,” she says. For larger spaces, you can connect up to two strands.
Fairy lights are low-voltage lights connected by black wire to blend in with the night. Each bulb lights independently to “mimic the movement of fireflies, randomly flashing, flickering, and fading for viewing fun on warm summer evenings,” explains CaliKim. These lights, which can be connected with up to nine other light strands, are her favorite for adorning trees and shrubs.
If you’re looking for a clever way to light your table, CaliKim recommends these low-voltage, battery-powered, remote-controlled lights that mount inside an umbrella. They have eight settings and can also be used inside tents.
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