The Bright Ideas Blog

Design inspiration and outdoor lighting tips and advice for homeowners

Tree Accent Lighting Ideas for Beautiful Landscape Lighting

In the real world, no two trees are identical (even if they are the same species). In the world of landscape lighting, it follows that no two trees should be illuminated in exactly the same way. 

The lighting should be tailored to the tree so that it can be captured in the best possible fashion. Learning how to do this takes practice. If you need tree lighting ideas for that beautiful evergreen, deciduous, or ornamental tree species in your landscape lighting project than look no further.

There are many different approaches to tree lighting. It all just depends on the shape, the size, the tree's placement in the landscape, the viewing angles, and the desired lighting effect. 

Evergreens, deciduous, and ornamental trees are the three area of tree lighting we will be discussing. While small ornamental tree species will actually fall into either the evergreen or deciduous category, the way the lighting is approached for small ornate trees is very different. But we will get more into details later. Without further ado, let's get started.

Lighting an Evergreen

Evergreens consist of tree species that keep their leaves (needles) year round. When you think of evergreens, the first thing that comes to mind is probably some kind of conifer.

There are close to 630 different conifer species; dozens of them are regularly seen in people's landscapes. There are several related families of conifers. Some of the families contain dozens of different species. Here are the ones most commonly known:

  • Pine
  • Spruce
  • Cedar
  • Fir
  • Yew
  • Redwood
  • Hemlock

As you can see, there are a number of different varieties, and the lighting approach for each evergreen will change depending on the size, shape, and species.

To help demonstrate this point, let's take a look at the way a Silver Fir might be lit vs. a ponderosa Pine. 


Silver Fir

A Silver Fir is a type of conifer that generally grows in the same shape as your classic Christmas tree. Their canopy starts at the ground level and continues all the way to the top of the tree. As their name sake suggests, their needles are flat with a touch of silver. 

How would you light a Silver Fir? The first thing to look at is the shape of the tree. A Silver Fir is typically a wider tree whose trunk is obscured from view by branches and needles. As these trees grow, their branches grow outward and will take up more space.

For this reason, a spot light, set further back from the tree, with a light bulb that has a wider beam spread, could be used to capture this tree's shape and outline. Two lights could be used to capture more of the tree depending on the size and viewing angle. 

(Pro Tip) Taking the color of  the tree's needles into consideration, being selective about the kelvin temperature of the light bulb can have a big pay off with a tree like this. Kelvin temperature simply refers to the character of the light (whether it has a warm or cool feel). Using a cooler kelvin temperature with a tree like a silver fir could have a big pay off, because it will help to accentuate and bring out out the silvers in the needles. For more detailed info on kelvin temperature, click here.

Ponderosa Pine

A Ponderosa Pine looks different in appearance from a Silver Fir. Ponderosa Pines grow tall with the bottom third of their trunk's bark exposed for all to see. The canopy is typically further up the tree's body. 

Rather than try to capture the whole canopy, a light can be placed close to the tree's base shining on the trunk. The goal with a tree like this is to warm up the bark on the truck and capture all the texture. There are other ways a tree like this could be lit, but this method would work well.

Lighting a Deciduous

Unlike evergreens that keep their needles all year round, deciduous trees lose their leaves in the fall and grow them back in the spring. Deciduous trees make up several related families, many of these families contain dozens of species. Here are a few families that are commonly known: 

  •  Aspen
  • Beech
  • Birch
  • Cherry
  • Cottonwood
  • Dogwood
  • Hawthorn
  • Hickory
  • Locust
  • Maple
  • Oak
  • Red Bud
  • Sweetgum
  • Walnut
  • Willow

With so many species of deciduous trees that grow in so many different shapes and sizes, it can be difficult to pin down a specific landscape lighting method that encompasses all deciduous trees.Tree-up-and-down-lighting-pond-Utah-3

That said, here are some things to think on and consider when looking to light one of these trees. 

First, where is this tree going to be viewed? Is it in the center of the lawn, or is it located in the landscape's perimeter? Is this tree a center piece that needs to be brought to the foreground with lights, or is this a tree that belongs in the background?

These are important questions to ask because they'll get you thinking about why you want to light a certain tree, and it forces you to ask what purpose will it serve to have a specific tree illuminated. 


Let's take a look at a specific example. Let's say we have an older established oak tree in the center of the backyard. This tree is a centerpiece that pulls the whole yard together. This tree obviously needs to be lit, but what's the best method? 

Ask yourself, will this tree only be viewed from one side, or will it be seen from different angles? This will be the key to deciding what the best method will be for lighting this tree. 

 In addition, consider your budget. if your budget allows, an established Oak tree can be a serious showstopper with the right lighting softly capturing it from the correct angles. It can also be understated and made to blend in with the rest of the landscape if it is lit less concentrically.

The question is whether or not a tree needs to be lit from one side, or multiple sides. What angles will the fixtures need to be placed at to get the best results? The most important question to ask when lighting a deciduous tree: will lighting this tree add or take away from the overall scene I'm trying to create?


Lighting an Ornamental 

Ornamental trees are small and ornate and therefore need to be approached differently than other trees. While ornamental trees consist of both evergreen and deciduous trees, I've grouped them separately because the approach to lighting them is different.  Here are a few examples of what is considered to be an ornamental tree.

  • Dwarf Korean Lilac
  • Japanese Maple
  • Weeping Cherry
  • Eastern Redbud
  • Kousa Dogwood
  • Weeping Spruce
  • Tulip Trees
  • Dwarf Tricolor Beech
  • Weeping Blue Atlas Cedar & many others

Ornamental trees aren't big and loud. They don't scream "look at me", yet these trees demand our attention through with their beauty. Ornamental trees are pretty to look at without being overstated. They are beautiful in and of themselves. They subscribe to the old saying: 'less is more'. 

The subtlety of these trees needs to be reflected in the way they are lit. Remember: less is always more when it comes to lighting ornamental trees. 

Japanese Maple

For example, let's look at how we might might illuminate an ornate Japanese Maple. These trees, especially the lace leaf variety, tend to have a canopy that stretches outwards. The way they grow, mixed with their fragile ornate frames, means that light tends to travel quite well from the base of the trunk all the way up through the canopy.

So, what is the secret lighting a Japanese maple beautifully? Be subtle, don't use a light that will be too powerful, otherwise they will like they've been set on fire. The trick is to use a softly diffused light. With these trees, even an extremely soft light will have enough punch to reach the upper canopy. 

For the best results lighting an ornate tree, be subtle.


For more thoughts and ideas on lighting Japanese Maples, click here

It's fair to say that tree lighting can be challenging when you aren't quite sure where to started. Luckily, your local lighting designer is a great resource. With years of specialized experience in outdoor lighting design, they'll be excited to help you figure out the best method for lighting each tree just right. 

Landscape Lighting Makes All The Difference

At Landscape Lighting Pro of Utah, the art of outdoor illumination is a real passion we work to perfect. Designing elegantly bespoke landscape lighting systems is simply all we do. For over 15 years, our award winning team of designers and craftsmen have striven to bring the best outdoor lighting experience possible to people's homes and businesses across the Wasatch Front and beyond. 

Located in Midvale, Landscape Lighting Pro of Utah installs, maintains, and repairs lighting systems throughout Utah's residential areas, including Salt Lake City, Park City, Draper, Davis, and Utah Counties.

If you have an upcoming project you'd like help with, call (801)440-7647 for more information, schedule a free consultation, or feel free to simply fill out a contact form.
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