Backyard lighting ideas – 10 ways to light up your outdoor space

Stylish backyard lighting ideas are key to good garden design. Get it right and it will enhance your space like nothing else

backyard lighting ideas
James Alexander-Sinclair/Stefano Marinaz Landscape Architect
(Image credit: James Alexander-Sinclair/Stefano Marinaz Landscape Architect)

Good backyard lighting ideas can transform your yard and max up its potential as an extra space to enjoy in the evening. The right lighting can spotlight focal points such as planting and help to zone different areas for relaxing, alfresco cooking or gathering for drinks. 

Discreet up-lights can be used to enhance plants and trees, adding drama as their shapes will take on architectural qualities when thrown into relief. The same goes for pieces of garden art or sculpture, which can become key focal points of the night garden if you use the right lighting to draw attention to them.

You can also create a relaxed atmosphere if you use recessed lighting to give your backyard ideas an indoor feel that's perfect for defining a welcoming space when you're entertaining friends. There's a practical element to good lighting too, as it can be used to light the way and frame entrances.

Browse our expert backyard lighting ideas to help you create a wonderfully lit night time garden that's a real design feature.

Backyard lighting ideas

'Our backyards are now being used much more for socializing and entertaining, so there’s an increased focus on how they transform after dusk. Incorporating a lighting scheme into your design can bring a new ambience to your garden – and of course it's practical too,' explains John Wyer, CEO of garden designers Bowles & Wyer.

With so many backyard lighting ideas to choose from, keep in mind the look you want to create and its chosen purpose when planning how to landscape your backyard. This may be to highlight a path, form a focal point such as enhancing a plant or piece of garden art, zone a space such as a relaxation area or guide your way down some steps or along a path.

'Clever but discreet backyard lighting can add a further dimension and drama to your garden,' says garden designer Charlotte Rowe. 'It helps to extend the life of a garden, creating an atmospheric space or outdoor room even after dark.' 

Whatever you hope to achieve one thing is for sure – every backyard needs good lighting to help you make the most of your space at night. So why not create a series of impressive focal points and help define your space with our selection of stunning backyard lighting ideas?

1. Light up the backyard at dusk

Uplit trees topiary and garden path

(Image credit: Charlotte Rowe Garden Design)

This stunning contemporary space is perfect for anyone looking for sloped backyard ideas. It features a sleek modern water feature, raised dining platform and smart planting that all benefits from being discreetly lit as soon as daylight starts to fade. Make sure your backyard lighting ideas include built-in timers to add automatic atmosphere at dusk. It's a small detail that makes a big difference.

'This garden design shows how important it is to have lighting even when it's not quite dark,' says garden designer Charlotte Rowe. 'There is lighting in the water feature which plays with the movement in the water and highlights the stepping stone. The hedging and trees in the lower garden are also lit with spike spots for added drama.'

2. Create a magical space

sunken garden with entertainment area and lighting

Lighting design by John Cullen Lighting

(Image credit: John Cullen Lighting)

Stunning backyard lighting adds another dimension to this sunken garden, creating an enchanting space for entertaining and helping to bring the garden to life at night. The lighting scheme, designed by John Cullen Creative Director Sally Storey, brings together both inside and out, picking out the key features throughout the space to enhance the overall effect.

The path to the outdoor seating area and kitchen beyond is lit with floor lights to guide you through the space. The architectural nature of the trees and sculptures is emphasized with spiked spotlights to softly light the surrounding area. A subtle glow is created under the seating area which adds another interesting dimension.

The most flexible solution for backyard lighting is often to use spiked lights which are repositioned as the seasons change to ensure you highlight the best effects. This design shows how lighting can be used in this way to pull together a space cohesively and is packed with backyard lighting ideas you can steal.

3. Enhance a focal point

tree lined path leading to statue with lighting

(Image credit: Charlotte Rowe Garden Design)

Using a combination of decorative lighting effects always produces the best results. Accent lighting lets you create drama to enhance a sculpture at the end of a path, for example, while recessed lights in the gravel enhance the starkly silhouetted trunks of a row of pleached trees.  

'The flat-topped umbrella plane trees down this avenue are up-lit with the light softly grazing their trunks. This leads your eye down the avenue to the focal point urn at the end,' says garden designer Charlotte Rowe. 'The large timber arbor on the right is also enhanced by strong ambient lighting.'

Lighting a canopy of trees overhead such as here is always magical too, lending a sense of enchantment that's perfect for enhancing space in small backyards.

4. Zone your space with lights

garden featuring lit path and trees

(Image credit: Bowles Wyer)

'Carefully placed backyard lighting can effectively zone your space. It creates small intimate areas nestled in foliage, almost like beads on a necklace,' says garden designer John Wyer. 'The best way to do this is to think about purpose – dining, lounging, a water feature. Or you could even give a new lease of life to a winding pathway by adding subtle spotlights.'

Lighting can add a completely different mood to your backyard too and should be used to accentuate the form and texture that you’ve created in your garden design. In larger backyards it can be used to add a sense of mystery. Where does the winding path lit by recessed lights lead to? What is that stunning spot-lit tree in the distance that demands a closer look?

Lighting is your best friend when it comes to staging your backyard for a party too. Nothing sets the scene better than an outdoor space lit by glowing lights.

5. Use lighting to transform a courtyard 

modern courtyard garden lit at night

(Image credit: Charlotte Rowe/Light-IQ)

Inspirational and innovative lighting can be used to work with existing architecture such as the walls of this enclosed courtyard, showing that no matter how small your garden is it can be transformed into an exceptionally lit space.

'This long water rill has spotlights under each of the timber pontoons that cross the water and an uplight for the water spout at the end. This helps to take your eye down the water feature to the wall at the end,' says garden designer Charlotte Rowe. This creates the impression that the space is bigger than it actually is.

'We have also up-lit the multi-stem Amelanchier trees and the pleached hornbeams at the end of the garden, with the light grazing the old stock brick walls around the garden,' adds Charlotte. The result shows that clever backyard lighting ideas that pay attention to smaller details can be transformative.

6. Create an outdoor space with an indoor feel

courtyard garden with alfresco dining area lit up at night

Courtyard garden by Osada Design, with lighting by John Cullen Lighting

(Image credit: Osada Design/John Cullen Lighting)

A blended indoor-outdoor entertaining area is perfect for a relaxed atmosphere such as the one here in this sheltered courtyard space by Osada Design and John Cullen Lighting. It's a real retreat from city life.

When night falls, a sophisticated lighting system adds drama, illuminating the trees and the movement of water, highlighting planting in pots as well as the main architecture of the building, while creating magical shadows and making a space to be enjoyed at all hours of the day.

It's a unique backyard that uses planting, water and lighting to add drama, turning a small area into an extra special place for entertaining.

7. Go subtle for a relaxing spa effect

contemporary urban garden with path and lighting ideas

(Image credit: Charlotte Rowe Garden Design)

As relaxation pools go, this one has to be high on our wish list. Who wouldn't want to step along that magically lit path and slip into the whirlpool spa to ease away the stresses of the day? We love the retreat-like feel of it, which is enhanced by the addition of lanterns and candles around the edges.

'This spa has a light inside it to give it form but there are also up-lit pleached pear trees around it,' says garden designer Charlotte Rowe. 'We also always recommend that natural lighting in the form of lanterns and night lights are used in addition to electric lighting.'

When it comes to backyard lighting ideas, don't forget battery operated flameless candles as they're one of the easiest ways and best backyard ideas on a budget to create the right mood. You can set the timers on them so they come on automatically at dusk too.

8. Throw the spotlight on trees

garden trees lit up at night

(Image credit: Alun Callender/Future)

Discreet backyard lighting ideas can be used to create a showpiece for a welcoming ambience in the evening garden. Trees take on architectural qualities when lit up from beneath, the angled uplighters enhancing the shape of leaves and the structure of trunks and branches. This will add drama that can be enjoyed from inside the house too.

Choose uplighters that are recessed into the ground. Alternatively set lights on moveable spikes for illuminating the trunks and branches of specimen trees, as they can be shifted both to suit the mood and according to the seasons. When one tree has had its moment simply switch the focus to another one by shifting the light.

9. Illuminate the pool at night time

pool in contemporary garden with lighting

(Image credit: John Cullen Lighting)

Illuminated pool ideas are so inviting for a night-time dip and if you're entertaining in the garden add a Hamptons-like vibe when dusk falls. What could be more alluring than a well-lit pool?

In this design by John Cullen Lighting the trees bordering the pool are also lit up with spotlights to emphasize their architectural qualities, while up-lighters are used on the house to add a welcoming glow. 

In the distance a combination of spike floodlights and spotlights enhance the perimeter planting, helping to pull the whole look together seamlessly.

10. Use different layers for the best effects

lit courtyard garden with seats at night

James Alexander-Sinclair/Stefano Marinaz Landscape Architect

(Image credit: James Alexander-Sinclair/Stefano Marinaz Landscape Architect)

This small split level garden uses mellow sandstone for the paving and steps that looks spectacular bathed in warm light at night. 'Lighting is a very important part of this backyard as it gives a new dimension and feel to the space,' explains landscape architect Stefano Marinaz

For this project there were three different channels of lighting, one for the trees, one for the steps and bench, and the third for the recessed lights at the back of the yard so the client could control what they wanted on/off independently from the other group of lights. 

'The LED lights used for this project consisted of a sequence of recessed spotlights along the steps from the first floor down to the ground floor level of the garden,' explains Stefano. 'We included a spike LED light under each of the multi-stem Amelanchier trees.

'Underneath the limestone solid block seating we had a recessed channel for an LED strip light. At the end of the garden we used some recessed small uplights to wash the timber cladding.' 

Look at backyard lighting ideas in terms of different layers for spectacular results to achieve an effect like the one in this space.

How do you illuminate a backyard?

To light a backyard, first decide on the look you want to achieve and which areas demand special attention in terms of lighting. Choose what you want to throw the spotlight on, whether that's trees, an entrance, a pergola or a water feature.

Draw up a plan, working out what each area needs, then talk through your ideas with an electrician. Unless you’re using solar-powered lights you’ll need a power supply which means outdoor sockets and a switch plus armored cabling for safety. This will need to be installed professionally. 

LED lights are energy efficient and there is now a huge range available to choose from. If your garden is sunny consider solar-powered lighting but remember it’s not such a good option in winter. Avoid flooding the garden with light as it can look too harsh and you won't achieve the type of ambient glow that works best.

How can I light my backyard without electricity?

Garden lighting has been revolutionized by improved LEDs, which are energy efficient and one of the safest options for outdoors without needing electricity cables and a power supply. 

Look for warm white LED bulbs that can be clipped to outdoor structures like fences or pergolas so you can make more of your space in the evening by creating a more intimate setting. Choose inter-connecting sets if you want an easy option for lighting a bigger party space. To create atmosphere also consider flameless electric candles or real candles in hurricane lamps.

With the exception of solar powered lighting and candles, all other garden lights need to be connected to the mains. Solar lights can be used to edge paths and patios, and enhance planting. Some are suitable to use as spotlights too. They’re most effective in an open spot that gets enough sunlight and naturally their performance is not as good in winter. 

There’s now a huge choice of LED lights available that work well for backyard lighting ideas, including a range of quality ones can last up to 20 years. 

Sarah Wilson
Sarah Wilson

Lifestyle journalist Sarah Wilson has been writing about gardens since 2015. She's written for Gardeningetc.com, Livingetc, Homes & Gardens, Easy Gardens and Modern Gardens magazines. Her first job on glossy magazines was at Elle, during which time a visit to the legendary La Colombe d'Or in St-Paul-de-Vence led to an interest in all things gardening. Later as lifestyle editor at Country Homes & Interiors magazine the real pull was the run of captivating country gardens that were featured.