Lighten Up: 11 Expert Landscape Lighting Tips

We spend so much time and energy on our gardens to create a beautiful, picturesque setting. But once the sun goes down, all that hard work is hidden from view. 

To get more out of your outdoor décor, consider bringing landscape lighting into the equation. Here, landscaping expert Gary Antosh, from www.Plant-Care.com and www.GardenLightingProducts.com , shares his must-know landscape lighting tips for planning your illuminated spaces.

1. Don’t Be Blinding

Landscape lighting is intended to help you and your family enjoy the beauty of your outdoor décor at night -- so don’t turn it into a daytime view by placing floodlights and spotlights everywhere. That will create a flat, washed-out look. Instead, use a number of smaller fixtures, strategically located to illuminate only the most attractive features. Also adjust fixtures so the bulbs are not in direct view, causing the light to be blinding and distract from the object being illuminated.

2. Create Balance

Position your landscape lighting so you have a balance between areas of light and dark. Correctly illuminated, a flowerbed, tree or cluster of bushes can have a nighttime beauty all its own. These features will be more fascinating when surrounded by an area of darkened shadows, providing an interesting contrast. Plus, unattractive features -- such as plants out of bloom or a distracting background -- can be easily concealed in darkness.

3. Be Inconspicuous

You and your guests should be no more aware of the source of landscape lighting at night than you are of the source of daylight. This can be more difficult with solar lighting fixtures, since solar batteries need to be recharged during the day. Try to find an out-of-the-way place that still gets sunlight, or go with low-voltage lights instead.

4. Look Up

Since natural light almost always comes from above, the bulk of your outdoor lighting should come from the same direction -- the higher the better.

5. Get Low

Wattage, that is. Use comparatively low-wattage floodlights for overhead lighting -- never any bulbs larger than 100 watts. Consider low-voltage lighting as well.

6. Hit the Spot

Use spotlights sparingly and for accent lighting only. Landscape spotlights are good at highlighting an otherwise evenly illuminated scene, or to point out an interesting detail or feature such as a pool.

7. Courtesy First

Besides making certain that your landscape lighting doesn’t shine into your eyes, make sure it doesn’t shining into your neighbor’s eyes too.

8. Smaller is Better

When lighting a large flowerbed or other planting area, use a number of smaller lights rather than a single large unit. This will create a series of softly overlapping pools of light that are free of harsh glare in the center.

9. Stick to the Sides

Very little of your landscape lighting should be front lighting. Regardless of whether the light comes from above or below, most of it should be directed from the sides. Also try to have more light coming from one side than the other, which will result in better modeling and give off an interesting shadow effect. While side lighting is often your best bet, feel free to experiment with back lighting for interesting silhouette effects.

10. Seek the Silhouettes

Choose to light more solid objects, which will be illuminated more effectively than thin, skeleton-like structures. Avoid lighting bare trees, open trellises and the like.

11. Focus, Focus, Focus

Select a focal point or center of attraction for each lit area, and highlight it with additional brightness to point out its most attractive features. Use one or two spotlights, or a light coming from an unusual angle, such as straight up.

12. Get Reflective

Make full use of light-colored reflective surfaces in your landscape lighting scheme. Light-colored walls and fences will often help extend the source of illumination by reflecting and diffusing the rays of light over a

Perennial Buying Guide

Perennials are living plants that continue to bloom and thrive year after year. Because they do not require replanting annually, they save you time, effort and money.

Typically, perennials have a shorter blooming season, ranging from two to three weeks depending on the type. By carefully planning your garden, you can arrange for your perennial flowers to peak at various times throughout the season for a continually changing landscape with a fresh, new environment every few weeks. You can also group early, mid-season and late-blooming perennials together to provide a continual backsplash of color.

Before selecting the right perennials for your garden, consider the following questions:

  • Where do you plan to locate your perennials?
  • Is the area exposed to direct or indirect sunlight? Is it shaded?
  • How much time do you have to devote to gardening tasks?
  • How long is the growing season in your region? What is the climate like?
  • What are the unique characteristics of certain popular perennials?

Planting, Maintenance and Selection

Whether you are the type of gardener who likes to spend a lot of time or only a little in the great outdoors, you're sure to find just what you need with the wide range of available types and varieties of perennials. Before you get started, take some time to think about your layout. You'll want to select specimens that match your climate, soil and growing season. Also consider light, as some perennials will not bloom in shady locations.

Because perennials are planted and left in the same spot for many years, location is important. Familiarize yourself with the types of plants that are best suited to your area. You may even want to observe the plants in your neighborhood, taking note of ones that appear to be growing well.

Planting Tips

Taking time to properly prepare your soil is one of the best things you can do to ensure your perennials continue to thrive over the years. Check for proper soil drainage and test pH levels to ensure that the growing environment is conducive to the plants. Most perennials are planted in the spring, though some bulbs and spring-blooming perennials can be set out late in the summer or early fall.

Avid gardeners and enthusiasts may consider starting perennials from seeds. This method is quite cost effective but requires a bit more effort. Follow the planting directions on the back of the seed packet for best results.

  • It is recommended that you prep your soil in the fall for best results
  • Add fertilizer and rake soil smooth in the spring to prepare for new plants
  • If soil has poor drainage, consider planting items in raised beds
  • Gently untangle roots and place in a hole slightly larger than the root ball
  • Plants should be positioned at the same height they were at in the container
  • Be sure to allow plenty of space between plants to encourage better growth
  • Plant late summer or fall blooming perennials in the spring
  • Plant spring flowering perennials in late summer or early fall

Maintenance and Care

Put frequent and thorough watering at the top of your maintenance checklist. An effective watering strategy hydrates plants and promotes good root development. You may want to add mulch to your garden for its water-retention capabilities. Mulch also provides protection during the harsh winter months and creates an attractive and orderly appearance in flowerbeds.

After blooms have withered, remove dead flower heads and cut stems down to the ground. Fertilize perennials in March, then repeat every six weeks to carry the plants through the summer. Apply another treatment to late-blooming plants at the end of summer. Always water plants after fertilizer has been applied to prevent burn.

When perennials reach their growth threshold, use a sharp implement to divide the mature plant directly down the middle. Place the split sections in their new beds; and replace the soil around the "mother" plant. Rooting or transplant hormone can be added to minimize shock.

  • Plant perennials where light, wind and soil conditions are suited to them (consult information provided when you buy plants or seeds)
  • When watering, moisten the entire plant bed, but not so heavily that the soil becomes soggy
  • If possible, wet only the soil around the plant, not the leaves and bloom, to avoid making the plant susceptible to disease
  • Apply mulch after several frosts have occurred to ensure soil temperature remains low
  • Don't apply mulch too early as the warmth can cause new growth, which may freeze and damage the plant
  • Stake tall perennials to prevent stem damage using stakes that measure 6 to 12 inches shorter than the plant
  • Tie the plant by making a double loop, with one loop around the plant and the other around the stake

Selecting Perennials

When it comes to choosing the right perennials, many factors come into play. You need to consider everything from the look and color of a plant to its peak blooming time and ideal soil conditions. Also, make sure that the plant is compatible with your region's climate.

Location plays an equally important role. Check the height, size and growing preferences of each type, and locate plants to their best advantage. For example, gladiolas provide a tall, colorful backdrop to shorter plants, and hostas may be perfect for ringing a tree in a shady side yard. Most perennials are sold when they are in bloom, allowing you to select the colors you want. Choose plants that are compact and dark green before flowering. Avoid plants with thin, pale, yellow stems and leaves or visible signs of mold or mildew.

Characteristics of Popular Perennials

Characteristics

Plant

Bloom once per season

·         Astilbe

·         Baptisia

·         Eupatorium (snakeroot)

Cool temperatures

·         Aconitum (monkshood)

·         Delphinium (larkspur)

·         Lupine

Drought resistant

·         Asclepias (butterfly flower)

·         Gaura (wand flower)

·         Russian sage

Fine foliage

·         Hosta

·         Japanese painted fern

·         Tiarella, "Jeepers Creepers"

Long bloomers

·         Rudbeckia (black-eyed Susan)

·         Salvia (meadow sage)

·         Shasta daisy

Long-lived perennials

·         Hosta

·         Iris

·         Peony

Short-lived perennials

·         Columbine

·         Foxglove

·         Hollyhock


Features

Live Plants: Live plants are usually grown in 1- or 5-gallon containers, although some plants are sold in smaller containers. These plants are already matured and are ready to be placed into your garden for immediate aesthetic enhancement.

Seeds: Seeds are less expensive than buying live plants but require more time and maintenance. For best results, follow the planting instructions included on the back of the seed packet.

Bulbs: Some perennials are sold as bulbs, such as daylilies. Follow the instructions included with your bulbs to ensure proper planting and maintenance. Many bulbs are planted in the fall and bloom the following spring and summer.

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Go Green Indoors: Five Easy Houseplants to Grow

Why struggle with houseplants that drop leaves, need constant care or look sickly? To keep your green home décor looking beautiful, choose houseplants that will thrive in the low-light and low-humidity conditions in most homes. Houseplants not only add a living element to your décor, but they also help clean the air by drawing in carbon dioxide and releasing fresh oxygen.

Try one (or more!) of these nearly foolproof plants that anyone can grow:

Aloe
No home should be without this versatile, healthful plant. Grow it on the windowsill in the kitchen, in a sun-filled bathroom or on a table near a window in the living room. Aloe likes a cool, sunny location that’s not too hot (heat can dry out the leaves). Give it a roomy pot of about 6 to 8 inches across with excellent drainage, as it hates soggy roots.

Aloe grows best in a standard potting mix for houseplants and needs only occasional watering, so keep it on the dry side. The best part is that this plant gives back. Cut off a leaf and squeeze out the juice to soothe and heal minor cuts, scrapes and burns.

Oxalis
This tidy little plant is often referred to as Cape shamrock or Four-leaf clover plant. In the wild, it’s known as wood sorrel.

Oxalis is grown from little tubers that sit just under the surface of the soil in a wide but shallow pot. Buy an established plant and let it grow to fill the pot for a full, lush look. Give oxalis a sunny to partly-sunny location in your home on a table near a window in the living or dining room. It likes a cooler location as its tender stems and leaves will dry out in hot, direct sun. When and if they do, just pull them off the plant to clean it up.

Water this plant well when the surface is bone dry or when the plant droops. The bonus of oxalis is that it blooms beautifully. Stems rise up from the tubers through the leaves topped with clusters of tiny pink, purple or white trumpet shaped flowers. At night, the leaves fold up and reopen in the light of day. In the summer, put it outside in a semi-shady area on a deck or patio. If the plant stops blooming for a period of time, give it a rest. In the fall, put it in a cool, dark place such as a basement or garage and give it a drink every month or so. In the spring, bring it back into a semi-shady place, and it will be rejuvenated to bloom again.

Spider Plant (Chlorophytum Comosum)
You just can’t kill this plant. Spider plants seem to thrive on neglect.

Buy an established plant or ask a friend for a “baby” that grows on the end of a long stem from the mother plant. If you start with a baby plant, fill a small pot with standard houseplant potting soil and anchor the roots into the soil with a hairpin-shaped paper clip or piece of wire. Water it well and let the soil dry slightly. You almost can’t over-water this plant, which is the cause of most houseplants’ demise. If you forget to water it for a long period of time, it folds its leaves to let you know it’s thirsty, then bounces right back after a good drink.

Grow spider plants on a sunny windowsill in any room of the house; it will thrive nearly anywhere there is light. It produces tiny white, fragrant flowers along its stems from time to time. Pull off the dead leaves to keep it neat, and clip off some baby plants to share with friends or make new plants. You can even put the babies in a vase of water where they’ll root and grow for years.

Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera Hybrids)
When it comes to cactus, most people think of thorns and pain -- but not with this variety. Christmas cactus’s smooth, dark green segmented leaves are fleshy and full of moisture. It has the water retention properties of a desert cactus without the spikes.

There are basically three types of this plant, all depending on the bloom time. Christmas cactus is supposed to bloom in late December. Thanksgiving cactus tends to bloom in late November. And Easter cactus might bloom in late March or early April. But you really can’t count on these bloom times. The plant might bloom weeks earlier or later than expected, depending on the amount of sun or darkness it gets. Blooms are generally orchid-like with delicate pink, white, red or orange petals on the outermost tips of the leaves.

Christmas cacti like to be pot-bound -- you can leave them in the pot you bought it in for many years. Some say the trick to getting your plant to bloom is to give it long periods of darkness, then bring it out into the light a few weeks before its bloom time. That might work, but generally, if the plant is watered two or three times a month, it should bloom well nearly on schedule. In summer, bring your plant outdoors to a semi-shady location, then back inside before the first frost of the season. Break off pieces of the leaves at the nodules, let them cure for a few days, and pot them up to share with friends.

Snake Plant (Sansevieria Triasciata)
Tough as nails, this leathery, striped plant is nearly indestructible. Snake plants like a sunny to partly-sunny location on a windowsill or table near a good source of light. It quickly fills the pot and demands little attention except for a good drink about twice a month. These plants have a shallow root system and can grow in a wide, deep saucer or shallow pot in standard houseplant potting soil.

Using a sturdy scissor, clip off any dried-up leaves and cut out any that have brown or dead ends, and it will continuously send up new shoots. Snake plants will send up yellowish-white flowers on wiry stems, but it might take many years to see flowers, so grow them for their leaf color instead.



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Photos: Corbis Images

Holiday Lights: Unique Outdoor Decorating Ideas

While it’s easy to buy a few boxes of lights and frame your porch or drape them over your shrubs, why not -- ahem -- branch out and try these clever decorating ideas with exterior lights? We rounded up our favorite outdoor home décor ideas for the holidays.

Look Up

Get creative with where you hang your holiday lights. Have a garden trellis? Let the bare stems of your climbing plants take center stage for another season by weaving strings of outdoor LEDs through the branches and trellis. Also consider welcoming carolers with a festive garden arch decorated with strings of snowflakes or stars.
Best lights:
Traditional cone-shaped or round C7 or C9 holiday lights rated for outdoor use.

Take New Forms
Usually, once fall comes, sculptures and tuteurs (those teepee-style climbing plant supports) are packed away. Keep them out through the holidays and wrap them in lighted poinsettias or snowflakes. Your garden or pathway will bloom again!
Best lights:
Mini holiday lights rated for outdoor use.


Photo: Pottery Barn

Create a Canopy

This idea is perfect for warmer climates because you can host a holiday party outdoors under the twinkling strings. If you have an arbor, wrap the beams in star lights. Hang a few larger stars too. No arbor? Get the same effect by attaching lights under your home’s soffit, then run the strands to a tree or a support made from fencing or lattice. Anchor the support to a sturdy base or sink them in planter boxes filled with sand or gravel.
Best lights:
Traditional cone-shaped or round C7 or C9 holiday lights rated for outdoor use.

Bring the Vignettes Outside
Let your imagination soar: Hang a lighted Santa and his eight tiny reindeer on your clothesline or string a toy train light set from bare branches. Anything that’s flat is perfect because the straight lines give the illusion of movement through the sky.
Best lights:
Lightweight novelty characters or sculpted lights designed for outdoors.


Photo: Plow and Hearth

Decorate the Pool

If you’re going to entertain outdoors, the pool is the perfect place for floating solar lights. You can even put some around the deck. Even if it’s too cold to entertain outside, if you can see the bobbing lights from indoors it will tie the two spaces together.
Best lights:
Solar waterproof lights designed for pools.

Perfect Your Pathways

Don’t want to electrify? Go natural with votive luminaria to line your driveway and path to the front door. Fill paper bags -- either brown sandwich bags or decorative bags with cutouts -- a quarter full with sandbox sand or kitty litter. Place a votive in and light it. If you prefer no mess, use battery-operated candles that can be recharged during the day.
Best lights:
Either candles or rechargeable versions.


Photo: Pottery Barn

Remember to Stay Safe

No matter what you do with your outdoor home décor for the holidays, always use waterproof or water-resistant lights with an underwriters lab (UL) tag. Always use lights and extension cords rated for outdoor use.

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Main Photo: Corbis Images

Christmas Trees 101

Once a year, we have an important decision to make: Fir or Pine? Fraser or Norway?

For those who celebrate Christmas, the tree is the centerpiece of any holiday home decorating. Make sure you get one that fits your needs and style by following our guide to the most common and popular Christmas trees you’re likely to find.

FIR

Types: Douglas, Balsam, Fraser, Noble, White

 

Douglas Fir

Needles are one inch to one-and-a-half inches and have some of the most fragrant aromas among Christmas trees when crushed. The tree, which is one of the most popular trees for the holidays, is a conical shape. Keep it well watered at all times in order to extend its life through the holiday season.

Balsam Fir

These long-lasting needles are three-quarter inch to one-and-a-half inches and are rounded at the tip. The tree’s dark green color has a silvery cast. The fragrance is lasting and pleasing. This is another popular tree for the holidays.

 

Fraser Fir

Soft-to-the-touch needles are a half inch to one inch long. These pyramid-shaped trees are dark green on top with a silver hue underneath and have a pleasant scent. Strong branches turn upward and hold ornaments well. To care, keep it consistently watered and the tree will have excellent needle retention.

Noble Fir

Needles are one inch long. Nobles are deep green in color, sometimes a bluish or silvery tint, with an unusual (but popular) branch shape. Branches are sturdy with spacing between them, making it easy to hang ornaments as well as hold heavier ornaments. These trees are extremely aromatic and keep very well as long as they’re watered regularly.

White (or Concolor) Fir

Needles are typically a half inch to one-and-a-half inches long and are pointed or notched at the tip. Trees are bluish-green when young and turn a dull green with time. They have good needle retention and a nice, citrusy aroma.

PINE

Types: Scotch, White

Scotch Pine

This tree’s vibrant green needles, which are about one inch long, can be sharp, so you may want to wear gloves when decorating. Branches are stiff -- one of the reasons this is one of the most popular Christmas trees. The tree has a nice, long-lasting aroma and good needle retention (about one month). As with all trees, keep it watered, but this pine has a longer survival rate even if left dry for a while (great for the brown thumbs of the bunch!).

White Pine

Needles are two to five inches long in bundles of five. The slender branches of this full-looking tree won’t support as many decorations as the Scotch Pine and aren’t recommended for heavy ornaments. But its bluish-green color and soft, flexible needles are appealing. It retains needles well when consistently watered, and it has little to no fragrance (great for allergies).

SPRUCES

Types: White, Norway, Blue

 

White Spruce

Short, stiff needles are a half inch to three-quarter inch long and have a blunt tip -- excellent for holding ornaments. When crushed, its needles have an unpleasant odor. But this green or bluish-green tree has the best needle retention among Spruces and a nice, natural shape. Fun fact: It’s the state tree of South Dakota.

 

Norway Spruce

Needles are a half-inch to one inch long. Norways have a shiny, dark green color, a conical shape and strong fragrance. The tree has a short lifespan and needle retention is poor unless it’s cut fresh and kept consistently watered, so it’s best to purchase about a week or so before Christmas. This is a popular choice in Europe.

Blue Spruce

Needles are three-quarter inches to one-and-a-half inches long. Needles will shed in a warm room, but typically this tree has excellent needle retention. Its stiff branches will support many heavy decorations. Blue Spruces have good form and symmetrical shape, and its name comes from its bluish hue that can also appear silvery. Keep it well watered, especially in warmer rooms (and if possible, keep room temperature as low as is comfortable).

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