This blog is about growing tropical-looking plants in the Phoenix, Arizona area

July 20, 2015

Lighting your backyard plants

I just love the look of tropical plants at night at a resort. It's called uplighting, and it's an art form in and of itself. And so when I started planting in my backyard, I also did some research on lighting for the best effect.

I went to the Phoenician Resort in Scottsdale one evening and just wandered around. And every time I'm somewhere with beautiful lighting on tropical plants I look to see how they do it. And it's all about the art of uplighting.

Uplighting isn't something that most people think about. After all, most of the lights we use send the light down, like our lamps, or lights on the street. And if your main concern is to light up something, like a stadium, you need to have the lights above. But in a garden, you can have the lights below. I'll tell you what I have.

Uplighting a cycad.

My garden has two 100-watt low-voltage light transformers. They're behind my tiki bar on the patio, and I just turn them on and off with a simple switch on a power strip. One line runs halfway around the garden going in one direction, and the other line runs halfway around in the other direction. And the lighting comes from 20 watt spotlights.

20 watt doesn't sound like much, but it's much, much, brighter than most lights that people use outdoors. So you have to know how to place them. They need to be low, obviously, and they need to be pointed at plants. If you make the mistake of directing one of those spotlights at your window, or at a neighbor's, you've made a serious mistake! They're bright! If you don't have much growing yet, you may want to wait on uplighting. They look best, and work best, when they have something to bounce off.

The spotlight you see at the top of this post, which I just installed, is typical. It's an ordinary metal Malibu spotlight and I keep them slightly hidden behind rocks (which also discourages people from accidentally kicking them - and by people, I include me!). As you can see by the shadow, it's late afternoon, so in a few hours I'll turn on the system and do the fine adjustments. It takes some effort, but it's a darn cool effect!
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