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Rhonda J. Ferree

Rhonda J. Ferree
Former Extension Educator, Horticulture

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Rhonda Ferree's Horticulture Blog
Landscaping lighting at Ziker Botanical Garden in Austin, Texas

Light Pollution

Some of my most memorable life moments happen at night when looking at a starry sky. For me those moments happen on camping trips, while boating down the Illinois River, and when canoeing the Canadian boundary waters. They also occur regularly in my own backyard while swimming at night or sitting in one of my favorite gardens. Especially breathtaking and memorable, are the winter skies that I've seen from our outdoor hot tub. Fortunately for me, my home is located in the country away from any city lights and the light pollution they emit.

What is light pollution? According to the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), light pollution is defined as "excessive and inappropriate artificial light." They categorize light pollution into four types. Urban sky glow brightens the night sky over inhabited areas. Light trespass puts light where it is not intended, wanted, or needed. Glare causes excessive brightness which causes visual discomfort. And, clutter refers to bright, confusing, and excessive groupings of light sources.

Why is light pollution a problem? Most people recognize that they can see more stars in a dark country location than they do in town. Bright night lights are also said to impact wildlife behavior and plant growth. Research done at Purdue University and University of New Orleans found that light pollution directly affects plants' growth cycles and indirectly affects trees by interfering with the lifecycles of their pollinators.

What can YOU do to reduce light pollution? The IDA recommends using a strategy that saves money while also reducing the impact of artificial light at night. Shield your outdoor lighting and only use it when needed. Use timers and dimmers and shut off lights when you can. Use only enough light to get the job done.

I have been interested in outdoor lighting for several years. Last year my husband Mark and I installed a new wired outdoor lighting system to safely light the main paths in our outdoor rooms with soft, indirect, beautiful light. All of our lights are on timers, including brighter lights at the main entrance to our home. We prefer the more dependable and softer light of a wired system over solar lights.

When entertaining in the summer, we add light with tiki torches and lanterns. In the winter, we add subtle, stringed lights near the high use outdoor areas such as the hot tub and covered gazebo. And, when we want to view the stars while soaking, we turn off the tub lights or use the less harsh red ones.

I invite you to go outdoors and marvel at a twinkling starry sky. You might find that you agree with Vincent Van Gogh who said this about his famous Starry Night painting, "I often think that the night is more alive and more richly colored than the day."

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