“Unless you are a duck or a tropical annual unversed in northern ways, nature’s agenda in the fall garden is hard to miss: Prepare for winter.” - Michael Pollan
While leaf-peeping season reminds us that winter temperatures are on the horizon, it’s also a great reminder to take out your landscape lighting maintenance checklist.
Although professional grade landscape lights are sturdy and durable, they do require maintenance from time to time. Making a list and checking it twice is the best way to remain proactive, keeping your lights in tip-top shape before the winter weather is in full effect. Now you can spend more time huddling over those s’mores and less time huddling over your fixtures on those chilly winter nights.
At least once a year, follow this checklist so that proper maintenance can be performed on your fixtures:
Take a Walk: If you like long walks in the park or around your yard, this step is likely natural to your daily routine. At dusk or dawn—assuming your lights aren’t on an automatic timer, walk your property, making note of any lights that aren’t functioning. Remember that the life of your bulbs is subject to the outdoor environment. There are a host of variables, but it is typical (in a landscape lighting application) that 10,000 hr. lamps last (on average) from 18 to 30 months, while 5,000 hr. lamps last from 12 to 24 months. Of course, it's not uncommon for some lamps to burn out sooner or last longer than this. In addition to making note of lights that need replacement, look for plants or trees that are interfering with your fixtures. This is your time to start the list that fits your specific landscape lighting plan. If it’s helpful, bring a notepad with you and draw a small map of your property with notes on each space that requires maintenance.
Wipe and Clean Dirt and Debris: Make sure to clean the dirt and debris from the surface and under cover of your landscape lights. Lenses also need to be cleaned with a CLR solution, which will help to restore their transparency. If you're fixtures are already going through the patina process, you can regularly apply WD-40™ with a rag every three months. If you do this in the warmer fall months (October/November), you won’t have to apply it again until February and then again in May.
Consider upgrading your light fixtures to a more durable material like cast bronze, especially for those in the Northeast if you aren’t already using bronze. Since bronze is composed of both copper and tin (as well as zinc and lead), it is a stronger metal that’s impervious to corrosion. An added bonus for many homeowners is that the metallic bronze will darken to an old penny brown and then to a greenish-blue patina that complements the outside. This is especially true for lights that are installed in the fall, changing color perfectly by summer.
Remove Plant Material: We’re fall-ing for the vivid colors this season, but it’s also time to pull out those leaf blowers and rakes. While you’re cleaning up your leaves and clearing out your garden, remember to look for plants that are contacting or covering your fixtures. Pay particular attention to low ground cover plants, tree limbs, and many other perennials that may have shifted shape or grown in prior seasons. Do the same for your transformers.
Perform Transformer and System Maintenance: As part of your upkeep, you’ll also want to check your transformers for the following:
Make sure terminal block set screws—top and bottom—are tightened securely.
Inspect any exposed wires for damage.
Bury any lighting wires that may have become unearthed over the summer months.
To keep up to code, bury wires 6 inches deep.
Check the time clock programming and replace the battery.
While we dream about our spring and summer gardens, maintenance and planning can start in the fall. Making sure to do these annual maintenance checks, in addition to some upgrades, is the best way to enjoy those fall festivities and your landscape lighting year-round.