What Are Net Lights in Outdoor Lighting?

Pros and Cons of Net Lights

A Christmas Light Covered Cactus

Lisa Hallett Taylor. The Spruce, 2012.

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.

Take the Time to Plan

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 treetop, then you should 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 several years, he and a small crew have carefully designed a spectacular holiday display at a cactus garden, which is no simple task.

It Takes Two

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.

  • Net lights are easy to install and take down.

  • If treated correctly, they can be tangle-free and lights are uniformly spaced.

  • Nets are usually available in three display modes—steady, blinking, and chasing.

  • Net lights are more expensive than "regular" lights, even LEDs.

  • They're often hard to find and the first to be purchased during the holiday season, which could result in an inconsistent look.

  • Because they're available in a limited range of sizes, it may be a challenge to cover all of your shrubberies.