10 Ideas for Stunning Holiday Lights

Go all out this year with these techniques to light up your house and garden for the holiday season

By Lauren Dunec Hoang

As anyone who has untangled a snarled string of lights or come up 5 feet short on the roofline can attest, the process of hanging holiday lights is more complicated than it looks. A satisfying result depends both on having the right products on hand as well as proper installation. Let us help take the guesswork out of your holiday light setup this year with tips from lighting professionals, including tricks for hiding cords, the best lights for tree-wrapping and how to evenly hang lights along the eaves of your home.

Private Sunken Walled Garden

 

1. Wrap shrubs: Adding just a few lights to the landscape can make a big difference in making the garden an inviting place to walk through or gaze at. In this walled garden in Manchester, England, a pair of clipped shrubs wrapped with white lights makes a lovely entrance to a garden room.

Get the look: To evenly cover outdoor shrubs, pick up “net lights,” which have bulbs distributed over a square or rectangular lattice of cords. Energy-efficient LED net lights often have a more true-white or bluish-white color than those with incandescent bulbs. Read the packaging to be sure the netting is large enough to wrap all the way around your shrubs.

 

Front Porches

2. Deck out your front porch. This front porch in Atlanta — done up with festive garlands, strings of lights and a Santa figurine — looks lavishly festive without being overwhelming.

Get the look: Concentrating outdoor decorations in a single area, such as the entryway or a garden bed, can be a great way to go all out with holiday exuberance without turning your front yard into Disneyland.

 3. Showcase trees. Gardens this time of year are primarily quiet. Highlight the branch structure of deciduous trees by wrapping the trunk and individual branches with white lights. Choose a single tree as a specimen, or illuminate a cluster of trees for greater impact.

Pro tip: To get the professional look in this photo, Ryan Morici of Heritage Oaks Landscaping recommends swapping regular holiday lights for LED mini lights to save on power consumption. “The LED lights allow you to use many more lights per circuit versus the incandescent lights,” Morici says.

4. Line a pathway with luminarias. Welcome guests this year with an enchanting walkway lined with glowing luminarias.

Get the look: You can purchase luminarias or make your own with paper bags weighted with a handful of sand at the bottom. If you’re thinking of a large display, gather some helpers to place tea lights in each one — or use battery-powered candles — and light just before guests arrive.

5. Hang snowflakes. Trade traditional string lights for a set with glittering snowflakes. Hang them where they have room to stand out, such as just below the eaves or along large branches of a tree in the front yard.

6. Illuminate potted branches. You may not have small trees or shrubs to wrap with lights along driveways or paved entryways. But you can light up container plantings instead.

Get the look: Pick up branches from the backyard or a florist, and set them upright in containers filled with sand or gravel. Wrap the branches with lights of your choosing, and use conifer trimmings to hide the plugs and containers.

7. Add magic to snowy landscapes. Lights twinkling like tiny stars hovering over a snowy garden are just about as magical as it gets. To mimic stars overhead, wrap branches that overhang garden walkways or beds to create a softly lit canopy.

8. Light up a treehouse. As if a backyard treehouse weren’t magical enough, this one is fully decked out for Christmas. A Houzz favorite for the past few years — with good reason — the treehouse was built by a Dallas couple, with the help of an architect, to give their grandchildren a place for imaginative play.

A Magical Tree House Lights Up for Christmas

10. Outline the eaves of your home. Perhaps the most classic style, perimeter lighting along a home’s eaves and roofline creates an inviting arrival. Pelham McMurry from Light Up Nashville shares these tips for getting a professional look at home:

  • Upgrade your lights. “Even the most expensive sets of LED lights at box stores are cheap-quality,” McMurry says. “Commercial-grade LED lights purchased from specialty retailers is the way to go if you don’t want to repurchase your lights year after year. Quality lights cost more, but in the long run, you’ll save time, frustration and money by not having to repurchase every year.” To get those perfectly straight lines, where every bulb seems exactly aligned with the next one, attach lights to your trim with commercial-grade clips.
  • Consider a professional. “There are many reasons to hire a professional to install your holiday lightings, but maybe the most important is safety,” McMurry says. To avoid the risk of falling from a ladder or slipping on an icy roof, consider hiring a local lighting professional.
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