For all intended purposes we'll only be considering trees between the range of 5' and 15' for this article. There’s a good chance that your customer's landscape is filled with trees this size, especially if its a new construction home. These small trees should be strongly considered as a viable part of your overall lighting design; they help your lighting designs pull the architectural features of a property into the landscape. Small trees can also add an interesting visual foreground.
The Challenges of Lighting Small Trees
A few common challenges to landscape lighting small trees often include the following:
- Your landscape may be filled with so many small trees that it would be impossible to light them all. Doing so would take away from the larger trees’ lighting as well as make your property appear too visually cluttered. This means that you’ll need to carefully consider which of these smaller trees to light and which ones to leave as is.
- Because small trees are only five to 15 feet tall, their impact is often underestimated. This can lead you to either under-light them or light them unevenly, which could end up creating a very unintentional over or under done feel to the properties overall landscape’s lighting design.
- Because smaller trees often have low branching, you’ll need to be very careful about your light sources and the placement of your lights in order to avoid hot spots. Hot spots, meaning hard uneven lighting with very distinct bright spots surrounded by very dimly lit areas. Landscape lighting hot spots are a true hallmark of an amateur.
- Many properties use smaller trees to accent or frame walkways and entrances. Be extremely careful not to create glare zones in areas of high traffic or were people may congregate. More new designers get hit with bad reviews after installing a complete system because of annoying "glare bombs" than any other I've witnessed. A system with glare is worse than no system at all.
Tips for Lighting Small Trees
While keeping the challenges of lighting small trees in mind, you’ll also want to use the following tips:
- Choose a softer, wash-type of light or a directional type of spotlight when lighting small trees. Choosing between the two will depend on the size and width of the tree you're lighting, in addition to how dense and thick its leaves and branches are.
- If you’re lighting a small tree that boasts lighter-colored leaves - such as light green, variegated, or yellow - you’ll need a lamp that has fewer lumens (not as bright). This is because lighter-colored leaves have higher reflectivity and translucence.
- Trees that have darker leaves, such as ornamental pear trees or southern magnolia varieties, will need brighter light source. Their darker leaves absorb light, which is something you’ll need to offset with a more intense luminaire.
- Consider cross-lighting your small trees using two to three lower powered luminaries. This will provide soft even lighting ensuring you eliminate dark zones, which could otherwise create a unbalanced look from certain vantage points.
- I like to use a small wash light with an omnidirectional three-watt, G4 LED lamp in a reflective fixture with a frosted lens on small but wider trees that are between four and seven feet tall. This will gently illuminate both outer and inner branches without creating any hot spots.
- Use five-watt, 30-degree LED lights for any trees that have a moderate spread, are between eight and 15 feet tall, and have dark, thick leaves in a denser canopy. For trees this size that have light-colored leaves and more open branching, go with 3.6 watt, 30-degree LED lamps.
Keep in mind that small trees vary in both size and shape. This means that you should approach each one individually when it comes to the number of fixtures you use and where you place them. The primary factor for where you place your light fixtures will be the branching habit of the tree.