Outdoor tree light ideas – 10 ways to illuminate your garden

Make your trees and shrubs shine once the light fades

Lighting can be just as important a part of our gardens as our homes, yet all too often we either leave it too late or pop out a few lanterns and hope for the best.

Yet a few outdoor tree light ideas can make your trees and shrubs shine after dark too. Tree lights can often be the star attraction when it comes to garden lighting ideas for your space.

‘Trees can be lit via uplighters, where the light is positioned at the base of the trunk and shone upwards to highlight the skeleton of the tree,' says Pip Probert garden designer and RHS multi-award winner at Outer Spaces. 'Or, spots, which can be positioned within the branches of the tree and shone downwards, which is called a “moonlighting effect.” Moonlighting can look more delicate that up lighting, but it depends on the effect you want to create.

‘Festoon lights can look really soft and inviting, while fairy lights can look stunning when fitted correctly. Take the time to follow the branches and internal shape of the tree – NOT just dropping them into the foliage! It is time consuming and often takes more lights than you think, but the effect is stunning.’

‘Connectable string lights are the ultimate choice for illuminating outdoor trees,’ says Amy Mason, director of product at Lights4Fun. ‘By wrapping string lights around the trunks and branches, you'll create a sense of grandeur in your outdoor space. We recommend daisy-chaining multiple sets together from a singular power source for a fuss-free set up that’ll give your tree a soft glow. Make use of accessories such as 2- and 2-way connectors that will allow you to run up separate branches from the same power source, giving your tree an even glow throughout.’

Outdoor tree light ideas

‘Why not take your tree lighting to the next level with a fully customisable display operated string lights controlled through an app?’ asks Amy. ‘Either choose from a vast library of pre-loaded designs or get creative by drawing your own, choosing colours and effects. You can even connect the lights to your Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant to make them dance along with your music for a unique feature.’

For some inspiration for your garden or patio lighting idea, we’ve rounded up our pick of the best outdoor tree light ideas. Many of these are plug-and-enjoy solutions, making it easy to transform your patio, garden or decking.

1. Create a vintage vibe with paper

paper lanterns with tree light and table and chair

(Image credit: Alamy/FotoHelin)

Position a bistro set beneath your favourite tree ready for a spot of afternoon tea in the sun. Create a whimsical feel with paper lantern lights – even unlit, they add to the atmosphere. Choose designs that are solar-powered, so when the light fades, the lanterns emit a lovely soft glow, that’s just perfect for relaxing.

Vary the length of ribbon that your paper lantern lights hang from, suggesting a sense of movement through the branches of your tree. It’s a great idea for a summer garden party idea or wedding, especially if your tree is covered with pretty blossom.

2. Add an Eastern vibe

chinese paper lanterns

(Image credit: Future PLC/Gareth Morgans)

Mini Chinese paper lanterns and glow sticks are perfect for adding a little magic to your favourite tree or climbing plant idea come sundown. Make sure you’ve charged up and tested any solar lights prior to your evening soiree, as they often take longer than you think to charge up fresh from the box. Don’t forget to snap the glow sticks into life.

For speed, choose a set that’s on a string – it will be easy to secure to the tree’s branches and you can create a lovely shape by carrying the drop of each from the string.

3. Suspend lanterns from branches

ribbon lantern with tree light

(Image credit: Alamy)

Gather your collection of lanterns and tealights together to create a magical scene – just hang from ribbon from branches. You could use battery-operated LED tealights for high-up spot – just make sure that any ribbon is clear of the heat from lit ones. Add more sparkle with outdoor fairy lights woven through branches – you always need more than you think, so go large with numbers.

4. Make lights part of a tree’s structure

tree trunk with light

(Image credit: Lights4Fun)

Just how plants and climbers use structures such as pergolas or other garden shade ideas and supports to grow, follow the same tactic with outdoor fairy lights. Wind around the trunk, through branches and over shrubs. 

Choose lights that omit a warm, yellow light for a more natural feel than crisp white/blue LEDs while battery-operated candles can create a soft glow when placed at the foot of a tree or pergola. We recommend the Waterproof TruGlow Candles, £29.99, Lights4Fun.

5. Use candlelight to lead the eye

outdoor area with table and chair and lantern

(Image credit: Alamy)

Stakes and lanterns dotted around your garden can highlight trees in a lovely whimsical way, as your eye moves from light source to light source – a great idea to light your patio or deck lighting idea too. 

Start by clustering lanterns and candle stakes around your patio area, varying the height so you can see changes in planting, then from sturdy branches, hang larger candle lanterns. This will lead the eye upwards to appreciate any hero tree canopies above.

6. Choose lighting that echoes your tree

lantern with trees

(Image credit: Alamy)

Think about how you can enhance planting with an outdoor tree light idea. Oriental style lanterns and jasmine or honeysuckle are a great combination. Play with lines, contrasting billowing branches with straight cables and lights – the softer foliage becomes a great backdrop, allowing the lights to pop, adding an extra visual layer, even when not on.

7. Go for odd numbers

outdoor area with tree light and metal lantern hanging

(Image credit: Future PLC/Carl Hodgson)

Visually, threes, fives and sevens work best when it comes to lanterns. It’s a stylist’s trick that can work with tree lighting too. Fisherman’s lanterns look great during the day, but imagine this tree at night, lit by the soft glow of candlelight? Hanging lanterns below branches will cast a light upwards, playing with shadows and highlighting leaves and texture perfectly. Use this trick when looking at outdoor wall lighting ideas too.

8. Wind up your lighting

string outdoor with tree light and grassland

(Image credit: Festive Lights)

Fairy lights aren’t just for an outdoor Christmas lighting idea – they can turn a tree trunk into a structural feature of your garden too. 

Choose a LED set that’s controlled by the mains, with a timer that allows you to illuminate trees as the light fades. We like the Outdoor String Lights, from £16.99, Festive Lights.

 If you need more lights, then go for a set that will allow you to add to the length – some are connectable up to 950 metres – just imagine the twinkle!

9. Boost an old tree

outdoor with tree light and fairy light

(Image credit: Sparkle Lighting)

If you’ve a favourite tree that is looking a little sorry for itself, give it a new lease of life with some cluster fairy lights, wound through its branches. 

If you aren’t near a mains supply, then choose a solar powered set – and a wired design allows you to bend to the natural curve of your tree, like the Solar Cluster Fairy Lights, from £29.95, Sparkle Lighting.

10. Hang up festoon lights

outdoor with trees and lighting

(Image credit: Future PLC/Colin Poole)

Who doesn’t love a string of festoon lights? Run a set along the top of your garden fence idea, where they can illuminate what’s growing above and below. The lighting will vary, depending on what’s shading each bulb, creating a lovely soft overall effect. If you are near a mains supply, then plug a set in. Alternatively solar ones can give the same effect. This is a great wall lighting idea that also makes a feature of neighbouring trees and shrubs too.

How many lights do I need to illuminate a tree?

Not enough lights and your garden scheme will look mean; too many and it will resemble a Christmas light show. Just how do you get it right? ‘My rule of thumb for any outdoor tree is 10 metres of lights for every three feet of height,’ says Amy Mason, director of product at Lights4Fun.

‘For deciduous trees, this is ideal, but for fir trees, double it up. Start from the base of your trunk and tightly wrap the lights up the tree, moving on to the branches and affixing with cable ties to secure.’

How can I uplight a tree?

‘Uplighting is fairly simple,’ says garden designer Pip from Outer Spaces. ‘A spotlight is positioned at the base of the tree and shines directly up into the foliage, with lighting hitting the trunk and branches as it progresses up through the foliage.’ 

The type of tree and bulb will make a difference to how the garden idea feels at night. ‘A warm white is always better than a bright white,’ says Pip. ‘If you want something a little softer, try moving the spotlight out, away from the tree. This make the effect softer, not as harsh with there being some distance between the bulb and the foliage etc.’

‘Choose solar-powered spotlights for an effortless display, as they’ll soak up the sun during the day and automatically illuminate as dusk falls,’ adds Amy. ‘They’ll light up to 25m and give up to 10 hours of glow, creating a warm ambience, which will last all evening.’

Jennifer Morgan

Jennifer Morgan is an award-winning editor, writer and stylist, with over 25 years’ experience writing, styling and editing home interest magazines. Jennifer was the deputy editor of Ideal Home from 2008-2010, before launching Ideal Home’s sister title, Style at Home in 2010. Jennifer went on to launch several craft magazines and websites, before going freelance in 2016, with a client list that includes John Lewis, Dunlem and Nordic House. Today, she writes for Ideal Home, Real Homes, Waitrose, Woman & Home, Sainsbury’s Magazine and Homes & Gardens. But it was during lockdown that Jennifer realised her dream of publishing her own magazine – Simply Scandi.