Outdoor Lighting Design for Autumn & Winter Nights

 In Garden Tips

The cold nights of autumn and winter pale in comparison to their darkness. It’s easy to stay warm when the thermometer drops. Just throw on a blanket, make a cup of hot chocolate, sit by the fireplace and take in the crisp air. However, dealing with the year-end darkness isn’t always just about hot cocoa. Long nights may affect your mood, your vitamin D levels and may impact your ability to enjoy your garden the same as you could on those warm summer evenings. But that’s where outdoor lighting design can enhance your lifestyle as well as the architectural elements of your backyard.

Outdoor lights (low voltage, LED systems for this writing) can serve as a safety and security feature and create ambiance and warmth to enjoy your garden later in the year when the leaves change. Outdoor lighting or ground lights can be especially helpful when you’re not yet ready to take to your den, living room or turn in for the night.

Outdoor Lighting Design Extends Your Living Space

Your useable living space shrinks and expands as your moods and the season’s change.  For example, in the summertime, your living space is quite large since you are likely to spend plenty of time in the backyard, on the front porch and elsewhere. 

You may feel primarily confined to indoor spaces in the wintertime. Outdoor lighting systems can help you regain some “lost territory” by lighting the darkness and expanding your perspective. When the sky no longer turns pretty twilight but instead just darkens by 6 PM, lighting creates a way to see into your outdoor spaces well into the night.

Outdoor Lighting Design Makes Your Property More Inviting

It’s probably safe to say that the majority of homeowners barely look out the window during the winter nights. When it’s dark, it’s challenging to see after all (except perhaps your reflection in the glass). 

The right outdoor lighting design can breathe life into the dull and dreary scenery and create the following dramatic effects:

  • Illuminate trees and garden structures in a visually appealing way
  • Light up snow-covered landscapes or frosty dew on trees and plants, drawing attention to the beautiful landscape
  • Create a lit path or walkway so you can walk through your property and spot obstacles, and prevent injuries

How you feel about your surroundings during the fall and winter is all about perspective. You can see and feel more positives about your off-season surroundings by adding a little more light. 


Uplighting consists of lights not located high, as in a ceiling or roof, but rather, they’re lights placed on the ground and point upwards. 

Uplighting intends to generate visibility towards the sky, illuminating objects on the ground, such as shrubs or focal points. There are variations of these lights. Each can produce unique effects.

Types of Uplighting

  • Highlighting – This is the most common type of uplighting where you place a fixture near the base of an object and simply cast light towards the crown.
  • Silhouetting – This type of uplighting locates an uplight fixture behind an exciting form or texture with a simple background. The shadows create a little more “drama” than standard highlighting.
  • Grazing – A wall washing setup creates an ambient glow and highlights your exterior walls’ texture. 

You can turn your walls into a work of art by illuminating your garden objects and creating “designs” with the presence of their shadows, another fantastic architectural feature. 

One important consideration as you place uplights in your garden is that of light pollution. Consider adding baffles or shrouds on these fixtures and decrease the wattage (you’ll rarely need more than a 7 watt LED lamp) to avoid wasteful lighting shining up towards the heavens. Google “Dark Skies Initiative” for more info.

Path Lighting

You’ve probably seen or visited homes in your neighborhood that have beautifully-lit walkways or accent lights. The benefits of path lighting are vast. They can create inviting visual effects and atmosphere and improve safety by increasing visibility.

The key to sufficient path lighting is proper placement and spacing for the right light output. Since path lights are the fixtures most visible, selection of style is a bit more crucial than perhaps other fixtures such as spotlights and up lights.

Outdoor Lighting Design Ideas for Pathways

  • Evenly spaced lighting 
  • Angled lighting
  • Mood lighting 
  • Sidewall lighting
  • Raised stairwell lighting

Path lighting features some of my favorite outdoor landscape lighting designs because there are many creative options available to homeowners. 

One critical consideration when choosing path lights is the stem lengths. 

Generally speaking, a taller stem (the pole that holds the fixture) will result in fewer fixtures as these will cast a softer but broader pool of light. By doing this, you can avoid the “runway” effect, which is when you place too many short lights too close together.


In addition to the up light and path light is the spotlight. I say this because a spotlight is grounded like a path light and points skyward like an up light. 

Generally speaking, spotlighting allows you to create luminous focal points within your garden but be careful not to overdo it. A little saying in lighting design is that “a little light goes a long way:” this is true with both fixtures and wattage.

Outdoor Lighting Design Ideas for Spotlights

  • Highlight key features such as unusual plants and textures, or your winter garden bed
  • Shine light on garden art or objects, like statues or fountains
  • Emphasize seasonality (snow-covered branches) and unique plant forms

On that last point, you can use spotlights to accent the naturally luminescent precipitation of winter – ice and snow, especially – for an intriguing, sparkly effect. If you’re going to look at a winter landscape for a couple of months, you might as well make it look magical!

A Light at the End of the Year

As we progress from October through November into spring, the shorter days can drag along. While you could trade places with someone who lives in the opposite hemisphere to enjoy long hours of sunshine perennially, there is a beauty in living in an area that experiences all four seasons. 

Embrace your home and your garden 365 days of the year! The right outdoor lighting design can enhance the night, not just during the colder seasons but throughout the entire year. 

While we only discussed the significance of proper lighting, check out my other blog on fire features. A firepit can not only enhance the ambiance of your home but can also create heat and warmth, so colder nights for stargazing, socializing, and evening cocktails can happen, despite a little chill in the air.

So, lighten up. You might find yourself extending your livable space and increasing the value of your property at the same time.

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