Lighting Your Water Garden: A Complete Guide


I was at an outdoor barbecue party last week at a friend’s place. The ambiance by her lighted water garden was mesmerizing. It lent a whole new dimension and heightened drama to the outdoor setting. I was so captivated that I immediately decided to add a lighted water feature to my water garden. This set me up for a detailed research on how to go about it.

So, what are the ways to light a water garden? Water gardens are lighted externally as well as underwater. It is best to determine lighting prior to construction if possible. External lighting accentuates surroundings. Submerged lighting accentuates aquatic life and adds to ambiance with the effects of underwater light diffusion.

Light installation in a water garden adds new dimension and depth to the outdoors. There are a lot of variables and options for lighting a water garden. One might have a vision of how their water garden ‘ought’ to look after lighting. The designing and layout has to be thought of keeping this in mind. However, exactly how much light is good underwater, or which areas or surrounding features need to be highlighted, as well as landscaping requirements might need expert opinion to get the look right.

How does lighting enhance a water garden?

Gardens have been a source of visual and artistic delight for ages. Man’s need to be in proximity with nature and surround oneself with natural beauty has been the motivation for creating gardens. From personal gardens to public ones, this need has found expression over centuries. To this day, beautifully designed gardens attract people from all walks of life.

It is not only the plants and blooms that make a garden. There is a whole different ecosystem at work here. In the undergrowth, on the branches and treetops, from fungi and insects to butterflies and birds, a garden attracts and nurtures an immense variety of life. When there is a water feature in a garden, it only adds variety to the ecosystem. Aquatic plants and animals add a different dimension to such gardens. They also play a role in deciding what kind of lighting solutions one may opt for.

Lighting helps highlight particular features of the garden topology. For example, a mound or a slope can suddenly become mysteriously appealing with proper lighting. Rocks add to the appeal of gardens and lighting them up can create stunning effects of reflection in a water garden.

Artefacts that you have placed in the garden add to the visual appeal when lit up artistically, contrasting the dark background. This is particularly true of statues and other art objects that take on a life of their own when lit up.

Lighted water features encourage outdoor activities around them. One can enjoy the serenity and proximity of water long hours after darkness. The soothing sound of lapping water is the ultimate relaxation that one may aspire to.

Strategic lighting with insect-trapping mechanism helps combat pest menace that originate from water gardens. Flying insects like mosquitoes are a real problem outdoors, especially when it gets dark. Special lights that attract mosquitoes in conjunction with traps help in solving this problem.

Tips for lighting your water garden

The correct angle: A vital factor in creating the right effect with light on water is the angle. The point in having a lighted water garden is to enhance and highlight features that accentuate the beauty of your garden in the dark. Similarly it is also a fact that light refracts and diffuses inside water in different ways. Not being aware of these can lead to uncomfortable glares, making it difficult for people to enjoy. How to place them correctly and best places for seating around the water body will need an experienced eye.

Location of light fixture. Given that outdoor water garden lighting is being done primarily for aesthetics, location of fixtures becomes important. One has to strike a balance between hiding the fixtures and wires, while keeping them accessible. Outdoor lighting needs regular maintenance since it is exposed to the elements. This makes it all the more important to be able to access them. Rock lights are a good choice for garden lighting. They blend easily into the surrounding and get a degree of protection too with the rock surface outside.

Location of transformer. Another necessity of a water garden is a transformer. To power all the light fixtures and any other moving fixtures like fountain or pond cleaner, this is needed. Just like light fixtures, the transformer needs to be located in a place away from sight, sheltered from the elements and accessible at the same time.

Flora and fauna. The type of lighting you choose for your water garden depends to a large extent on the aquatic habitation in the water feature. If there are plants, fish and other aquatic life in the water body, the kind of fixtures that may be used, becomes a bit restricted. Using LED lights and fixtures that are not toxic to the flora and fauna becomes a necessity. Even with such aquatic-friendly lights, you need to make provision for some dark areas away from light so that fish in the water feature have a place to rest.

Submerged or external lights. Right at the design phase, a decision has to be made regarding the nature of lighting. You might choose to highlight your water garden with external lights; for example, down lights from nearby trees or rocks or sculptural installations. Alternatively you may choose to install submerged lights that will highlight underwater features. Diffusion and refraction of light creates beautiful effects that can be best advised by waterscaping experts. It is important to keep in mind that submerged fixtures are more difficult to maintain, costlier, and require regular maintenance.

Ambiance and mood. The kind of lighting you choose for your water garden also depends on the ambiance you want to create. Water features in a garden impart a very relaxed atmosphere. People normally choose to sit by a lighted water body at the end of a day, and enjoy the serenity and calm that water sounds tend to create. This naturally calls for subdued white lighting. For some, the area next to an outdoor water feature might invoke the desire for a rocking party. Naturally you will need lighting that changes color, goes on and off for effect and is in sync with music. Installation in that case has to take into account the requisite hardware and software.

Best stage for installation. Installing lights for your water garden should ideally be done at the designing stage. It helps if you have a clear idea in mind as to the final look. Refinement of the idea and minor changes can be made in consultation with your water garden community, lighting experts, landscapists, and aquaspacists, if needed.  In case you are one of those who realize the need for a lighted water feature long after the feature is in place, let that not be a deterrent. Lighting can create an enjoyable impact and change the whole ambiance of the water feature. It may be messy to undertake an already created water garden, but the results are worth the effort.  If you are not happy with your first attempt, time and patience will get you to the desired stage.

Safety features. While it is great to have lighted water bodies in an outdoor setting, one must remember that water gardens do pose a safety risk. To ensure safety, it is a must to install path lights or downlights nearby as to ensure that even at night potential hazards are lit.

Depth of lighting fixture. In the case of submerged lighting fixtures for your water garden, another defining factor is the depth at which you place the fixture. Water has diffusion and refraction properties which play a role in the final visuals. Greater depth will mean more diffused light effect as seen externally. It might be advisable to seek the advice of a professional waterscaper to perfect the final effect of your lighted garden. Of course one can go for it alone and try out different combinations to see which works best.

Direction of lighting. There are different types of water bodies in a garden. The commonest one is a pond, of course. This is the form in which most people choose to have their water garden. The ease of maintenance might be one of the primary reasons. However, waterfalls and fountains are other options that add to the beauty of gardens. Whatever your choice of water feature to add to your water garden maybe, there are multiple directions of lighting up each.

Our discussion just preceding this applies majorly to ponds. The depth at which one installs the fixture and the type of aquatic life therein dictates the lighting effect. In case of waterfalls and fountains, where there is a moving water body in question, one may light those from above, below or the sides, or even have an arrangement that creates a combination of these options. Different colors of lights will only enhance the feature. Change in direction and color will highlight the water movement and bring out the best. In each of these cases, hiding the fixtures effectively remains a necessity for aesthetic reasons.

Cost of lighting. Going in for lighting your water garden can be a costly affair. As discussed in brief earlier, submerged lighting works best with LED lights compared to halogen lighting. Solar lighting is not really a viable option for water gardens. LED lights last longer and are more effective for this purpose. They are costlier initially but last longer, thus balancing out in the long run.

It is good to remember that planning, designing, installing and enjoying a lighted water garden are all the good parts of the whole experience. Any good thing needs regular maintenance in order to remain that way. This is especially true of areas like outdoor gardens that are exposed to the elements at all times. Provision has to be made for regular cleaning, checking wire connections, and waterproofing status of submerged fixtures. Additionally, maintenance involves keeping the aquatic ecosystem in top order. This means checking that fixtures are non-toxic (copper is toxic for fishes), un-rusted and at temperatures that are compatible with a thriving aquatic life.

Remote controlled lighting. Remote-controlled lighting is an option to be considered for water gardens. It is certainly not a necessity but is a useful choice to have. This is especially true in the case of changing colors and timed lights if you have chosen to go with that. The control lies in your hands, to dim the lights, to switch from one sequence to another, or to switch it off from the comfort of indoors.

Optimal lighting. One must keep in mind that the objective of a lighted water garden is to provide visual delight. There is a fine line between pleasing and overwhelming, and water is a medium that refracts and diffuses light to amplify lighting effects. You might have a particular intent in mind but incorrect execution may lead to a jarring effect at times. It is advisable to go the underwhelming way, and one may always tone up if needed. Less is indeed more.

How does lighting affect aquatic life?

Where there is water, there will be life. This means when anyone opts to include a water feature, like a pond, waterfall or fountain, in their garden, they are ready for a whole bunch of flora and fauna. Like it or not, certain kinds of aquatic plants and animals will grow in the water body. You can control what kinds of plants and animals ought to be present and engage in controlled growth of the same.

This aquatic ecology is very delicate, though. The quality of water, the amount of water in the feature, and the temperature of the water will dictate the health of this ecosystem. When you choose to light your water garden, these factors need to be considered.

Temperature: As stated, the aquatic ecosystem is very delicate. Lighting, especially submerged lighting, can lead to rise in the water temperature. Granted that the rise will be marginal but it could be enough to disturb the fishes, crustaceans, plants, and algae within the water feature. It is advisable to use lights that do not heat up easily. Dimming or switching off lights also helps keep water temperature in check.

This is especially true for underwater lighting fixtures. Being submerged in water, if any metal in the fixture is liable to react and turn toxic for aquatic life forms, one must strictly not use such products. For example, copper is known to be toxic for fishes. Only such fixtures as are safe for aquatic creatures may be used.

Excess light. It is okay to enjoy a relaxed evening by your water feature, with lights turned on for enhanced effect. This, however, might not be okay with fishes and other crustaceans. By design one needs to include some dark spots in the water feature where fishes might go for some respite from the artificial lights if they so wish. Remote controlled lighting system helps in dimming lights or lighting up alternate areas of the water feature.

Professional waterscaping versus self help

Like landscaping, water or aquascaping is a profession unto itself. Water, electricity, leakages, plants, fishes, an entire range of topics needs to be taken into account when creating a water garden and lighting it up. In addition to this, there is the question of how light behaves under water and the resultant effect when viewed from the surface. All of this is time-consuming. Theoretically all of this can be done on one’s own. There are enough DIY tutorials online to guide one. If one has prior experience, nothing like it! If this is going to be the first time, there might be a couple of experimental trials needed before one gets the desired effect right.

Calling in a professional aquascaper will mean simply presenting your ideas and leaving them to execute the same. The necessary research has to be done by you so that you are ready for the professional. Of course their services come at a price that needs to be taken into consideration before placing a call to professionals.

After all, the satisfaction that is to be gained from having done a job on one’s own can never equal that of someone else doing it for you. The decision is entirely one’s own to take the call.

Maintenance of water garden lights

The following tips will help maintain your water garden lights, whether they are submerged or above the ground. Regular maintenance helps prolong the lighting effect, reduces costs, needs less frequent changes, and allows many more moments of enjoyment in the outdoors.

– Clear debris. Old leaves, fallen branches, mulch, insects, fish food, water plants, anything at all can accumulate around lighting fixtures. This will not only keep your water garden clean and free of mosquitoes and other pests; it will also brighten the lights.

-Trim plants. Aquatic plants that grow in a water body help add beauty to the overall effect. They also support a delicate ecosystem within the water feature. Same is the case with trees and plants around the garden. However both of these types need regular trimming so that they do not obstruct the light fixtures in any way.

-Check fixtures. The combination of outdoors, seasonal variations, water, and electricity is a potent one. You need to keep a constant eye out for damaged wiring, corroded metal or broken parts. Timely replacement of damaged parts helps in upping the efficiency of lighting and prolongs life of fixtures.

-Clean metal and glass parts. Regular cleaning of metal and glass parts and replacement of broken or damaged components is essential in order to get the best lighting effect. It is a good idea to check with the manufacturer in order to use the correct cleaning method. Soap and water or a wax rub, decide based on the product details.

-Position properly. The outdoor environment is a dynamic one. Wind, snow, heat and rains, as well as movement of people, animals and equipment may cause a shift in position of these fixtures from their originally installed areas. Periodic checking and re-positioning them will help maintain the lighting effect of your water garden.

How compatible are water and electricity?

When talking of lighting a water garden, we are bringing together two components, water and electricity (unless of course one opts for solar lighting). This combination of water and electricity is not considered very friendly unless handled carefully. In order to safeguard fittings, human and aquatic life in a lighted water garden, it is important to use low voltage light fixtures. 12 volt LED lights are ideal for use in a water garden. If anything does go wrong, this low voltage will ensure minimum damage to fittings, plant and animal life, as well as humans. This also means one needs to install a step-down transformer in the garden to lower the household standard voltages.

Regular checking and maintenance of light fixtures and replacement of damaged parts will also ensure minimum accidents. These are fixtures and wiring that remain exposed to elements all the time. However much of waterproofing they come with, erosion and damage over time is most likely. Checking for exposed wires or damaged parts on a regular basis is a must. It is extremely possible to have a harmonious coexistence of these two disparate elements and create a thing of beauty out of them.

Which lights are better for water gardens – Halogen or LED?

There has been an ongoing debate on the nature of lighting that works best for water gardens. The main contenders for this are halogen lights versus LED lights. Both of these are low on maintenance; however, it is upon the user to decide which has longer life and choose. Water garden lighting is not easy on maintenance and changing lights here is not the same as indoors. There might be access issues in a water feature, and this exercise might not be feasible if it happens once too often.

Halogen lights are definitely easier on the pocket as far as lighting is concerned. However, they need more frequent replacement compared to LED lights, which does not help its cause.

Heat dissipation. Halogen bulbs heat up more easily compared to LED by virtue of its mechanism. This is one reason for its reduced lifespan. It also affects aquatic ecosystem.

Energy efficiency. LED lights are much better energy efficient and use lesser energy while producing more light.

Halogen lights come with less attractive warranty terms compared to LED lights.

Color output. Halogen lights generally emit light of a yellowish hue. LED lights were initially too white but now come in warmer tones, which give users more choice when deciding upon lighting options.

Halogen lights last from 2000-5000 hours whereas LED lights can provide light for as long as 40,000 hours. The difference is stark and immediately decides for the user.

Different kinds of water garden lights

Lighting up your water garden requires three different light categories:

Submersible lights. These kinds of lights are used underwater, as the name suggests. They light up the water feature from within water, helping to illuminate the water. If there are fishes in your pond, it creates a beautiful effect. One may enjoy the sight of swimming fishes in a lighted pond. The diffusion and refraction properties lend special beauty too. In addition one may choose to go for ripple effect lighting using special equipment to enhance the visual effect.

Floating lights. These add a unique quality to any water feature at night. They come in a variety of colors and can be remote controlled to the desired color combination. It is advisable to opt for solar powered ones to avoid strings and wiring.

Landscape lights. Water garden lighting effects can be very effective with landscape lighting. These include highlighting features like rocks, trees and pathways. Use these lights to accent stand out features of your garden. These are also available in solar format to avoid wiring problems.

Recommendations for lighting solutions

There are multiple choices available for lighting up water gardens. Listed below is a comprehensive list to provide some direction in this matter. Depending on what kind of lighting you have in mind, budget and requirements, one may make the final choice.

SMIFUL Pond Light Submersible Spotlight

This is a waterproof fixture useful for indoor and outdoor pond lighting. It has memory to remember last settings. There are 6 LED chips for bright color lights. It gives off low heat. Its 180-degree rotatable stand helps point the light source in any direction one wishes. Along with pure white, it comes in 15 solid colors and color change modes. Remote controlled choices for dimming, color change, and speed are available. To be noted is that the power button, remote and adapters are not waterproof. Buy it at Amazon.com here.

UBEGOOD Submersible LED Lights

These waterproof LED lights come in 16 colors and 4 different modes. They can be used in any submersible water feature, indoors as well as outdoors. These battery-powered LED lights are wireless and easy to replace. Use these remote controlled lights for lighting decor at your water garden. Buy them here .

ZUCKEO LED Landscape LightsThese easy-to-install landscape lights are good for highlighting garden features as well as pathway lights to illuminate your water garden. These low voltage lights give off bright lights. Their body is designed to withstand rain and snow. Installation is as easy as driving the stakes in the ground. The rotatable heads make it easy to focus the beams in the chosen direction. Available here.

Water Wave Lights Projector

Wave lighting brings a different dimension to water gardens. These come in 15 colors that can be used singly or in combination using remote control. The projector is weather proof and so is the light itself. It is easy to install and comes with a projector timer. One may set the ripple speed at three variable settings. With low power consumption and silent function, it is a good buy for the garden. Buy it at Amazon.com here.

ACMEE LED Floating Light

Floating water lily lights in 7 color changing choices, these add an attractive feature to water gardens. They are soft and flexible. Completely waterproof lights, they come with 48-hour battery life and can be easily changed. Buy them at Amazon.com here.

Related Questions

Are mosquitoes a menace in water gardens?

Keeping the water from getting stagnant is the best way to prevent larvae. Certain fishes like guppies do a great job of consuming mosquito larvae. Chemicals can also be used, but sparingly, since they might disturb the aquatic ecosystem. In addition, insect traps installed in the garden help too.

How much sunlight do aquatic plants need?

The amount of sunlight energy that an aquatic plant can absorb is much less than its land counterpart. The more the depth of the water feature, the lesser sunlight plants there will be able to absorb. They are endowed with the mechanism to sustain in these conditions.

How to maintain optimum water level in ponds?

Ensuring optimum water level is a must for a healthy water garden. This can be done by making sure there is no loss of water due to leakages. Installation of level valves also helps keep the level at the desired mark. Regular inspection and maintenance helps keep water levels just right.

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