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Outdoor Lights: What are Net Lights?

The Best Uses for Net Lights in Your Landscape

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lighted cactus for christmas

Cactus decorated with lights at the Ethel M Botanical Gardens.

Photo © Lisa Hallett Taylor
When they were introduced in the early 2000s, net lights seemed like a lifesaver for home lighting designers and do-it-yourselfers. Looking like, appropriately, a net, these lights are uniformly spaced into a preformed grid or net. Equipped with a male plug in one corner and a female receptacle in the opposite corner, net lights can be strung together to create square, tapered or triangular shapes.

However, if you think you can buy a box of net lights, give the strings a shake or two, then toss them on a shrub or small tree top -- think again.

Even professional lighting designers, like Steve Bowdoin, take time and planning before hastily covering a hedge or tree with net lights. Bowdoin is landscape designer for the Ethel M Chocolate Factory and Desert Botanical Garden in Henderson, Nevada, just outside Las Vegas. For five years, he and a small crew have carefully designed the spectacular holiday display at the cactus garden -- no easy task.

It takes two people, holding and stretching the corners of the net lights -- like preparing to fold a sheet or blanket -- to cover or wrap even low-growing succulents and cacti that measure approximately 2' by 2'. With net lights, "you want to make sure that every part of the cactus is covered completely," says Bowdoin.

Still, for certain applications and types of plants, net lights do make the job easier, Bowdoin says.

Brad Finkle, author of Holiday Hero: A Man's Manual for Holiday Lighting (Chronicle, 2003, San Francisco), suggests the pros and cons of net lighting.

Advantages:

  • If treated correctly, can be tangle-free and lights are uniformly spaced.
  • Easy to install and take down.
  • Usually available in three display modes -- steady, blinking and chasing.

Disadvantages:

  • More expensive than "regular" lights, even LEDs.
  • Often hard to find and the first to be purchased during the holiday season, which could result in an inconsistent look.
  • Because nets are available in a limited range of sizes, it may be a challenge to cover all of your shrubbery.

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