How to choose solar lights for your garden

Solar technology is now prevalent throughout the home, from rooftop panels to mobile phone chargers. An eco-friendly alternative to using traditional electrics, solar lights run on solar-powered batteries and are therefore particularly effective in lighting outdoor spaces, since they don’t need to be near any power points. What’s more, you can have your pick of decorative outdoor lighting in all colours and shapes for parties, or use more practical pathway lighting to provide a safe route through your garden or driveway. Some solar lights will work in different seasons, while others are better suited to the spring and summer months. Take a look at our guide so that you can choose the best lighting solution for your space.

How do solar lights work?

Solar garden lights use solar photovoltaic technology to convert sunlight into energy to light your garden. This process works using solar cells, positioned on the top or at an angle on the light, to charge a built-in battery. Energy is stored throughout the day while the sun is shining and once the light falls below a certain level, a photo resistor in the solar cell will activate the battery and turn the light on, powered by that stored energy.

Solar light options

There are a few different battery options for solar lights, with many basic models simply using standard AA batteries. However, nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) and lithium-ion (Li-lon) batteries can be longer-lasting and a little more durable, though Li-Ion batteries are sometimes more expensive.

Solar lights also come with various types of bulb, although the newer, LED solar lights are more energy-efficient, illuminate a larger area and tend to stay on for longer.

Because they depend on sunlight, you will need to think of landscape lighting options that fully utilise the best of the sun’s rays. Try to install outdoor lights in a south-facing direction, and look out for any trees or buildings that may shade the solar cells from the sun.

It’s also important to get an optimum angle for catching the sun. An angle between 30 and 50 degrees is best for year-round coverage, but if you have flexible garden solar lights, you can re-position them so that the solar cells follow the path of the sun at different times of year – if possible, adjust them to 45 degrees during autumn and 60 during winter, when the sun hangs lower in the sky.

Types of solar lights

The amount of light you will get from a solar lamp depends on how much sunshine your garden receives, but also how many cells there are on the model. The average solar cell produces .45 volts and most outdoor solar lights have between four and six cells, depending on size and type. During the summer when the garden receives the most sunlight, you should get 8 - 10 hours’ worth of light from solar systems at night time.

Motion sensor solar lights

More of a practical choice than decorative garden lighting, this type of solar light comes with a motion sensor attached to the fitting. They’re particularly useful for security lighting so are generally used on garden paths, or for illuminating large garden areas and utility buildings like sheds after dark.


Spotlights can be both useful in lighting a path through the garden when it’s dark, and making a garden feature stand out. You can find wall-mounted solar lights, as well as ground stake models, and you can also get more flexible lights that clip onto fixtures wherever you choose. For spotlights, LED is probably the best and brightest type of bulb.


Floodlights can be connected up to a complete solar lighting system for your garden, with several solar lamps able to illuminate multiple areas at once. They usually come with a control panel that you can use to set the amount of hours you want the lights to come on for. These systems tend to use a separate solar panel and battery box, rather than built-in solar cells, and they are great if you need to brighten an area that is out of reach of household electrics.

Decorative solar lights

Solar power is perfect for decorative outdoor lighting, as twinkling lights strewn throughout the garden can really set the mood for a social gathering, and you’re not restricted by location. Hang strings of coloured solar bulbs through trees for an instant party atmosphere, dot anything from gnomes to meerkats through your flowerbeds, or install faux ‘rocks’ that blend in with the rockery during the day but shine bright when you need them at night time.

Solar light maintenance

You shouldn’t need to do much to maintain the efficiency and look of solar lights, but there are a few keys tips you can follow to get the most from them.

Make sure you wipe down the outside of the panels and the inside of light fittings to ensure they’re dust free, particularly at the end of a period of high-use such as the summer. Avoid chemical cleaners as these can damage the cell’s surface and don’t soak them with water, as most models are water-resistant, rather than waterproof.

When you’re not using outdoor lighting so much, such as mid-winter, it’s a good idea to store lights away from moisture and changes of temperature to boost their life span.

Note when to change the batteries. During peak sunshine periods, if your solar lights are being properly exposed, they should give out maximum light when it gets to evening, so if your lamps are looking dim, it may be time to replace the batteries.