Trees are a distinguishing feature of any outdoor landscape. If you are looking to update your outdoor lighting and are considering adding lighting to feature your trees, we have some great tree lighting ideas and guidelines. A well-lit tree can create an excellent focal point in your outdoor space.
The most important rule to keep in mind when planning your landscape lighting is “less is more”. If you have too much light, everything will be bathed in a generic glow, but just a few carefully placed lights can make your key features really stand out.
Types of Tree Landscaping Lighting: Uplighting and Downlighting
When lighting up your outdoor trees in your landscape, there are two main types of lighting that are commonly used: uplighting and downlighting. This refers to the direction the light is going, either up or down.
Uplighting for Trees:
Uplighting is a type of lighting configuration where light fixtures are placed at the base of the tree, or low to the ground around the tree and then aimed upwards into the tree.
We recommend avoiding uplighting in all outdoor lighting situations. Uplighting is a significant contributor to light pollution.
Any light that shines upwards contributes to skyglow, the artificial brightening of the night sky. This not only diminishes our view of the stars but has significant health and ecological consequences as well.
For more information about light pollution and its effects, check out our article What Is Light Pollution? Definitions and Effects.
Downlighting for Trees:
Downlighting is a lighting configuration where light fixtures are placed up in the trees and then are aimed down towards the ground.
Downlighting has a much smaller contribution to light pollution and should be used instead of uplighting in all outdoor landscaping situations. This will require breaking out a ladder, but the end result will be worth it.
One specific style of downlighting is moonlighting. This is when a soft light is placed high up in a tree and aimed down to mimic the effect of moonlight filtering through the branches.
Moonlighting is particularly effective in a tall tree. It is a great way to create a dramatic effect in your landscape design and can really highlight a specimen tree as it is one of the best outdoor tree lighting ideas.
Types of Trees:
Setting up the right lighting depends on the types of trees you have in your landscape. You may have a single large tree, several smaller trees, mature trees, ornamental trees, deciduous trees, or coniferous trees.
Lighting for Deciduous Trees
Deciduous trees have a more open branching structure and adding some moonlighting is one of the best ways to make them stand out. Another benefit of downlighting and moonlighting is that it will also light up the area below the tree and can provide some nice lighting to flower beds or pathways.
You will want to mount your light 20-30 feet up in the tree, and you will want the light to be placed above the lowest branches to allow for the dappled moonlight effect.
This is one of our favorite tree mounted downlighting fixtures.
These can be mounted directly to the tree trunks. When setting up these types of light fixtures in trees, you want to be mindful of the beam angle. You want it to go as straight down as possible.
This not only helps to mimic the moonlight but also decreases your contribution to light pollution. This light fixture is a low voltage light and will require wiring into your existing electrical setup.
When looking for a light to place in your tree for a moonlighting effect, you want to look for a light that is shielded like the one listed above so that you do not see the light source from the ground.
You also want to look for a light that comes with or has a built-in tree-mount junction box, tripod mount, or bracket to protect the health of your tree.
Lighting for Coniferous Trees
Coniferous trees are evergreen trees that have needles and include pines, spruces, and firs. Coniferous trees can be tricky to light. Because of their dense branches, light may end up getting lost, and adding string lights tends to make an evergreen tree look like a Christmas tree.
Some evergreen trees have an exposed trunk with branches starting higher up, and these are good candidates for adding some downlighting.
Evergreen shrubs however can be highlighted effectively with path lights or garden lights. These can be placed around or behind the shrub for effective lighting.
Check out our article here for our favorite path and garden lights.
Lighting for Groups of Small Trees
If you have some smaller trees around an outdoor living space, the addition of outdoor string lights is an excellent choice to add some nice soft ambient light to your yard. You can attach multiple strings of lights to go between your trees and around your outdoor living space.
Landscape Lighting Ideas
For some additional landscape lighting ideas, check out our article here for our favorite solar lights, path lighting ideas, front door lights, and much more.
We also have a great article on lighting up your pool landscaping and water features.
Undertaking a landscape lighting project may be intimidating, but there are plenty of great tutorials online. And if you don’t feel comfortable, we recommend reaching out to a landscape lighting professional.
Landscape Lighting Best Practices:
When thinking about your outdoor landscaping lighting, we have a few best practices that we recommend. Less is more when it comes to outdoor lighting, outdoor lights should be on a timer, and use lights with lower brightness.
Less is More with Outdoor Lighting
As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, less is always more when it comes to outdoor lighting. Using a limited amount of lighting allows certain things to be featured and to really stand out.
The play of light and dark is what gives the most dramatic effect. If you have too much light, everything is bathed in a generic glow of light and nothing stands out.
Outdoor Lights Should be on a Timer
Setting up outdoor lights on a timer will not only prevent unnecessary light use and cut down on light pollution, but it is also a great way to save energy and is eco-friendly.
Using lights only when needed is also beneficial for wildlife as well as many animals need the darkness and the cues of the light-dark cycle for migration, reproduction, and for feeding.
Setting up a timer and turning your landscaping lights off after a certain time at night will help restore the darkness which is beneficial to both humans and wildlife.
Choose Lights with Lower Intensity (Lumens)
Choosing a light bulb with the right amount of light is important. When using outdoor lights, you only want to light up a specific area, and choosing the right intensity bulb is key.
Light bulb intensity is measured in lumens, which is the brightness of the light. For most outdoor lighting needs, you don’t need anything over 700 lumens. We have an informative article here that discusses how many lumens you need for different outdoor lighting applications.
For more ways to reduce your effect on light pollution check out our article on how to reduce light pollution.
Dark Sky Friendly Lighting
All of the lights that we recommend can be considered dark sky friendly lighting. How can you tell if a light is dark sky friendly? When you look at the light fixture, you should not be able to see the source of the light (bulb).
We understand that people like to use outdoor lights, whether for aesthetic effects such as highlighting the beauty of your trees, entertaining, or security, and we want to help people make informed decisions about the lights being used.
You can use outdoor lights at night responsibly while still being a friend to the starry sky movement and decreasing your contribution to light pollution!
For more information about light pollution, check out our article What is Light Pollution.
To stay up to date on all things light pollution related, check out and subscribe to our podcast Light Pollution News. We have a new episode every month bringing you the latest news and research about light pollution.