Ultimate Landscape Lighting Design Guide

landscape lighting design guide

Installing an exterior landscape lighting system is a great way to add beauty, curb appeal and safety to your home garden, walkway and entrance areas. Plus, if you have an existing system, it can easily be enhanced or adapted to reflect new layouts, styles, or landscaping updates. In this article, you’ll learn the basics of how to design your landscape lighting.

Before you start purchasing items, it’s best to get a few things in order to avoid extra headaches, trips to the store, or worse—incompatible components. We recommend first grabbing a notepad and pencil and doing a walkthrough of your property to get a sense of how you envision your system.

General ideas to keep in mind as you plan

interior design
  • Decide what exterior areas or objects you want to light.
  • Select the appropriate lighting techniques.
  • Choose the fixtures and accessories that give you the desired effect.
  • Choose the power supply, either line or (more commonly) low voltage.
  • Select the appropriate bulbs.

Accent or Spot Lighting

interior design

Landscape spotlights focus a controlled intense beam to highlight the focal points in your garden: flowers, small shrubs, and statuary. This creates sparkling islands of interest in your landscape lighting plan.


Positioning the light close to an interesting surface can bring out the texture of tree bark, a masonry wall, wood shingles or an attractive door. Grazing of smooth surfaces is not usually recommended.


Light the object from the front and below to project intriguing shadows on the wall or other vertical surfaces.


When you conceal lights behind and below a tress or bush, you achieve that same wondrous effect as seeing it on a ridge silhouetted against the sky at dusk.

Pool and Fountain Lighting

Underwater lighting creates dramatic effects in pools and at fountains. Install a dimmer for turning lights up to add excitement. Note: Water may be used as a mirror by lighting the area behind the reflecting surface.

Downlighting or Area Lighting

Mount lighting units high up in trees or on the house to cast broad illumination over wide areas. Landscape flood lighting enables you to entertain in your backyard or outdoor area after dark, and does double duty for security and safety. For highlighting flower beds, paths or steps, the downlight is positioned close to the ground. An outdoor area is accented with appropriate outdoor lighting for a complete look.

Cross Lighting

Illuminating a tree or statue from two or more sides reveals the three-dimensional form in a striking perspective.


Lights aimed upwards (sometimes buried in the ground) create a highly dramatic effect akin to the theater. Use it with interesting trees, a statue or textured wall surfaces. Autumn leaves or swirling snow provide spectacular views. Focus the light on the key plants or objects in your yard.

Spread or Diffused Lighting

Where you require circular patterns of light on flower beds, larger shrubbery or ground cover, spread lights cover a wider area with low-level illumination. Some units, such as these bollards, cast softly diffused lighting for patios, decks, driveways and pathways. Wall brackets provide a similar lighting function. The path or flower bed should be more illuminated than the actual fixture.


Like downlighting, but using soft light sources positioned very high up, this technique simulates the lovely effect of moonlight filtering through branches, casting attractive shadow patterns.

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