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The 13 Very Best Garden Lights

Photo-Illustration: The Strategist; Photos: Retailers

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As the days get longer and the weather gets warmer, garden lights are a great option to extend your outdoors hours past sunset. They come in a range of styles, sizes, and brightnesses and can provide soft, ambient illumination for a late-night glass of wine or emit bright enough light for a party. I spoke to nine experts about their favorites, which range from versatile, affordable rope lights to a portable “vaguely mushroom-shaped” lamp.

What we’re looking for

Brightness

In general, garden lights are dimmer than indoor lights, and most options on our list fall somewhere between the brightness of a battery-powered candle and a medium-strength bike light. Both LEDs and incandescent bulbs appear on this list: LED lights use much less energy and thus last longer without burning out, but some prefer the aesthetic and warmth of incandescents. Where possible, I’m providing specifications in lumens, which is a more direct measure of brightness than wattage, which is technically a measure of power — because LEDs use less energy than incandescents, a five-watt LED is much brighter than a five-watt incandescent.

Style

There are many styles of garden lights, from portable battery-powered lanterns to LED sconces designed to be installed along a fence. Two of the most common styles are string lights, which can be hung, draped, or wrapped around structures, and stake lights, which are anchored into the ground. Both are versatile and easy to move around or reinstall; in general, stake lights are most useful for illuminating pathways, and string lights provide ambient overhead light (this includes rope lights, which are similar to string lights but are covered in a protective PVC tube).

Power source

Many garden lights are solar powered, which has several benefits: They’re low maintenance, don’t run up your electrical bill, and can be installed anywhere — plus the same sunny conditions that keep your plants happy are also ideal for charging solar batteries, so they’re a natural fit for gardens. Still, some of our experts prefer lights that plug into an electrical outlet, which tend to be brighter and more reliable, especially during the winter. Gardener Katie Parks says that, although “lots of solar lights throughout can be really magical and soft … if you need to really light up an area, I would go for electric.” Ecologist, botanist, and home grower Becky Searle gives the caveat that solar lights “don’t work as well in the dark months, when you need them the most.”

Best garden lights overall

Brightness: One watt per bulb (LED) | Style: String light | Power source: Electric

This strand of LED lights, recommended by garden blogger CaliKim, the author of Organic Gardening for Everyone, check all our boxes: They’re durable — with shatterproof bulbs and an IP45 waterproof rating, making them safe to keep outdoors in wet conditions — and versatile enough to work well in any space, whether a backyard or an apartment balcony. They’re also fairly affordable and come in several lengths and bulb shapes, from 25 feet to 100 feet, which makes it easier to buy exactly what you need without spending extra for surplus footage. (You can also add up to seven more strands if you move or need to buy extra lights for an event.)

They have a warm white-color temperature of 2,700 Kelvin (for more on those specs, read our guide to buying LED lightbulbs). At 30 lumens per bulb, they’re on the brighter side, but are dimmable if you prefer a moodier garden.

Best electric string lights for large areas

$46

Brightness: One watt per bulb (LED) | Style: String light | Power source: Electric

Another string-light option, recommended by Searle, Feit Electric’s LEDs are a bit more expensive than the Svater option. They have a thick, heavy-duty cable and a warm white glow of 2,200 Kelvin — and, especially useful for those hosting events, can be combined with as many as 44 other strands of lights for an incredible 2,160 feet of length. There’s also a small loop at the top of each socket, which facilitates easy hanging.

Best incandescent string lights

Brightness: 5 watts per bulb (incandescent) | Style: String light | Power source: Electric

With 25 lights spread out over a 25-foot cord, these incandescent string lights are the favorite of Brooklyn terrace gardener Marie Viljoen. She wraps them around a wrought-iron railing to create a “simple, old-school ambience” for outdoor meals. For larger spaces, you can connect up to two strands.

Best solar-powered string lights

$40

Brightness: 100 lumens | Style: String light | Power source: Solar

Strategist staff writer Jeremy Rellosa included Mpowerd’s solar string lights in his ranking of the best camping lanterns. The 18-foot cord is connected to a solar battery that can provide up to 20 hours of illumination at the dimmest setting. (It can also be charged more quickly via USB.) Plus, it’s portable, with a built-in storage system: The lights can “wrap around the unit and store neatly inside of it,” Rellosa says.

Best solar-powered rope lights

Brightness: Not listed | Style: Rope light | Power source: Solar powered

For highlighting structures in your garden, these affordable 72-foot rope lights can work similarly to an indoor LED light strip and are a favorite of Florida garden influencer Corey Paul of Gardening With Goo, who uses them to outline his garden beds. (He originally recommended a now-discontinued product by Opolemin, which has many of the same specifications as this Brightown option). They’re solar-powered, with a panel that adjusts up to 120 degrees to catch sun, and the tube contains copper wire with a thin waterproof coating, which makes the lights more easily posable. They have a high waterproof rating of IP65, meaning they can handle getting sprayed by a hose without being damaged.

Best pathway lights

Brightness: 2 lumens per light | Style: Stake | Solar or electric: Solar

Amber Grossman, the founder of BlackGirlsGardening, and Paul both recommend these solar-powered stake lights by Maggift, which can be driven into the ground to help you find your footing along a garden path at night. They are on the dimmer side, but come in a pack of eight to create a soft glow along your garden walkways.

Best flush pathway lights

Solpex Solar Ground Lights
From $30
From $30

Brightness: 5 lumens per light | Style: Stake | Power source: Solar

Grossman also recommends these pathway lights by Solpex, which are brighter than the Maggift lights. They come in a pack of eight or 12 in either white or warm white. They’re installed flush with the ground, which creates a streamlined look and avoids the risk of tripping or tangling up a hose or leash in the stakes.

Best wall-mounted garden lights

Brightness: 10 lumens per light | Style: Wall-mounted | Power source: Solar

This set of eight weatherproof lights, recommended by CaliKim, are solar powered and can be mounted on walls, fences, or other surfaces. (Installation requires two screws, so you’ll need a power drill to hang them.) They have a warm white hue, and if you’re having a party, there’s a setting to cycle through rainbow colors.

Best wall-mounted security light

Brightness: 2,500 lumens | Style: Wall-mounted | Solar or electric: Solar

CaliKim uses a variety of both solar and electric lights in her garden depending on the situation. For security, she likes this superbright Litom Solar Motion-Sensor light, which she says is “great for the side of the house and fits nicely under eaves or hard-to-reach places.” It has three modes (dim, medium, and high) and has a waterproof rating of IP67, which means it can handle wet conditions and could even be submerged in shallow water.

Best faux paper lantern

Photo: Retailer

Brightness: 3–4 lumens | Style: Hanging | Power source: Solar

Paper lanterns are beautiful, but rain will turn them to pulp. If you’ve ever rushed lanterns indoors at the first sign of drizzle, consider these ingenious outdoors-friendly faux paper lanterns made by garden-light company Allsop. They have a stainless-steel frame covered in perforated Tyvek fabric, a waterproof and UV-resistant synthetic textile used in construction. The lanterns come in a variety of sizes, shapes, colors, and patterns, from a lemon-printed globe to a navy-blue bell-shaped light. Lauri Kranz, a co-author of A Garden Can Be Anywhere and the founder of the garden-planning and organic-food-delivery service Edible Gardens LA, describes them as “both useful and beautiful.”

Best portable garden light

Brightness: Not listed | Style: Portable | Power source: Solar

If you want your light to travel around the garden with you, CaliKim recommends these portable faux candles that sit in durable metal lanterns. (The candles are solar-powered, with batteries that recharge via panels on the lanterns’ top.) They’re rain resistant, but don’t leave them out in extreme weather, which could damage the glass panes.

Best stylish portable garden light

Brightness: 3 watts (LED) | Style: Portable | Power source: USB-rechargeable battery

This petite, indoor-outdoor portable lamp was former Strategist writer Chloe Anello’s favorite purchase of 2021. (She was inspired by PIN-UP magazine founder Felix Burrichter: “I’m obsessed with cordless lights. They’re the future,” he says.) Anello loves its “vague mushroom shape” and a handful of useful design features — it turns on and off via a button at the base, which means you don’t accidentally switch the lamp off while carrying it, and it emits enough light to read a book. Plus, it looks cute anywhere you leave it: “The lamp looks like an objet d’art stationed on a table when not in use,” Anello says.

Best fairy lights

Brightness: Not listed | Style: String light | Power source: Electric

Fairy lights are low-voltage lights wired to flicker irregularly, mimicking “the movement of fireflies, randomly flashing, flickering, and fading for viewing fun on warm summer evenings,” says CaliKim. This strand from Firefly Magic, which can be connected with up to nine other light strands, are her favorite for decorating trees and shrubs with a whimsical touch.

Some more lights we’ve written about

Our experts

• Chloe Anello, former Strategist staff writer
CaliKim, garden blogger and YouTuber
• Amber Grossman, founder of BlackGirlsGardening
• Lauri Kranz, co-author of A Garden Can Be Anywhere and founder of Edible Gardens LA
Katie Parks, homesteader and content creator
• Corey Paul (Gardening With Goo), gardener and content creator
Becky Searle, botanist, ecologist, and kitchen gardener
• Jeremy Rellosa, Strategist staff writer
Marie Viljoen, forager and urban gardener

Additional reporting by Stacey Dee Woods

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The 13 Best Garden Lights