Solar outdoor lighting ideas – save energy and keep costs down with well-placed solar lights

Whether you want practical solutions or dramatic effects, with the right outdoor solar lighting you can enjoy too garden for longer

Solar outdoor lighting ideas with string lights
(Image credit: Future / Emma Lee)

There is nothing nicer than sitting outside in the garden on a late summer evening. And the addition of a few well-placed solar lights can transform your plot after sundown, helping you to make the most of your outdoor space. Even a limited amount of lighting can have a huge impact on a patio at night, creating a relaxing atmosphere and extending the time that can be spent outdoors entertaining.   

Positioned correctly, lights can showcase standout trees and plants, turn patios into extra rooms at night, illuminate dark borders and help keep your garden safe. And there is a huge range of options, from easy-to-use spike lights that will illuminate borders to functional step lights – even floating spotlights that be used to add a touch of magic to ponds or water features. 

Why choose outdoor solar lighting? 

Why design a garden with solar lights? It's a no-brainer. Solar power has transformed garden lighting. Not only can the fittings be cable-free, but they cost nothing to run and can be moved around whenever you choose. Powered by specially designed batteries which store energy from the sun during the day, they automatically switch on at dusk, providing a soft glow for several hours at night. It’s a good idea to position the solar cells in a sunny spot, to get the best charge during the day.

1. Go eco with outdoor solar lighting 

Roof garden ideas

(Image credit: Future / Brett Charles)

Who needs electricity or candles when the sun can do all the work? Outdoor solar-powered lights have come a long way in the past few years, with the latest good-quality designs providing a strong glow. Here, a simple solar light fixture – positioned next to a cozy dining spot – will do all the hard work come evening.

2. Use solar lighting to illuminate a fence

Garden lighting ideas

(Image credit: Future / Ben Anders)

If you don’t have a power point for mains electricity outdoors, solar-powered lights can be used instead. They look pretty and are versatile as you’re not dependent on a cable to the mains power supply. However, they don’t throw much real light and only last as long as the sunlight charge. 

However, they brilliant as fairy lights for covering fences, screens or shrubs with glow-worm glamor and some of the larger strings of lights with colorful ornamental shades make lovely swags around patios or pergolas. 

3. Light a garden path or walkway

Solar outdoor lighting ideas with pathway lighting

(Image credit: Future / David Brittain)

It is important to light any turns in the path and, in particular, steps. Post lights are usually cemented in place, though the more easily-fitted stake lights do the same job yet are simply pushed into the earth. 

4. Fit low-level lights on a garden path

Solar outdoor lighting ideas with low level lights

(Image credit: Future / Mark Bolton )

Low-level lights can either be fitted close to the path edges to wash over the paving or be set further back, creating pools of light. Make sure that lights are angled to avoid glare. 

5. Use solar outdoor lighting to show off planting

Solar outdoor lighting ideas with hedge lights

(Image credit: Future / Ben Anders)

Garden lighting works best when it is planned in layers, with some areas left dark so that others stand out more. Choose a few larger features to highlight with a spotlight, which can either be set into the ground on a spike, or fixed to a tree branch to direct a pool of light downwards. If the solar light fitting is black or olive green, it will blend into the background. 

6. Create ambience for al fresco dining 

Garden lighting ideas

(Image credit: Future / Paul Raeside)

If you’re lighting a terrace or patio that’s attached to the house, it helps to think of it as a room. Fit lights that provide a wash of light on to an exterior wall. Lighting low features such as a raised planter, low wall or bench by the dining area from beneath is effective, casting a warm glow on to a decking or paving. 

7. Light up a garden party 

Garden lighting ideas

(Image credit: Future / Emma Lee)

Inexpensive string lights are the most versatile option. Wound around branches, decorating the entrance to a gazebo or trailed along the top of a garden fence, they’re the summer equivalent to fairy lights and come in all sorts of fun designs, including mini lanterns and stars. You can find string lights with a solar panel at one end, or alternatively opt for plug-in lights. 

8. Hang string lights on a tree

Solar outdoor lighting ideas

(Image credit: Future / Emma Lee)

Many of us abide by the ‘right plant, right place’ mantra, so the same applies to lighting. Choosing the right types of solar lights for the right spots will help create a range of effects – from pools of light that highlight plants on the ground to stake lights that illuminate a garden path. Even a string of fairy lights strung through a small tree or lanterns hung from branches will make eye-catching features as dusk falls. To save energy use, got for solar lights. As well as keep the costs down, these have the added benefit of giving out a warmer light. 

9. Consider the surrounding wildlife

Artificial light can affect wildlife, disturbing garden birds, disorientating moths that use natural light to navigate, and affecting the breeding cycles of certain animals. The key to minimising disruption to any wildlife in your garden is two-fold. Firstly, stick to solar lights or warm, soft bulbs rather than bright, dazzling lights or floodlights. And secondly, think carefully about positioning: direct light down and choose step lights with hoods to reduce the glare. 

10. Charge your solar lighting

Solar outdoor lighting ideas with panels

(Image credit: Future / Colin Poole)

Have you ever wondered why your solar lights have stopped working? Fret not! You may need to reposition them during the day. 

The panel on solar on solar-powered lights should be in a bright position during the day, and not shaded by foliage. 

Do solar powered outdoor lights work in winter?

The short answer is yes. Believe it or not, the sun is still mighty powerful in the winter – even if we can't see it with the naked eye. And as outdoor solar lighting is waterproof, it can be left outside all-year long.

Do outdoor solar lights really work?

Solar lights do really work. Not only are they cost-effective, but they are also an eco-friendly way to illuminate your gardens and walkways. They also require limited maintenance, and are easy to install – as most modern solar landscape lights are completely wireless. 

What are the brightest outdoor solar lights?

One considerable drawback with solar landscape lights is that they’re not as bright as electric fixtures. We recommend that you choose a solar light fixture that has a built-in battery to provide up to eight hours of illumination, and a built-in sensor that will turn on automatically at dusk, and turn off at dawn.