When the days are warm, people love gathering in backyards and on patios to take advantage of the beauty of being outdoors. But when the sun goes down, the most beautiful backyard can become gloomy and bleak. If you're tired of moving the party indoors so that your guests don't trip over their chairs – or you just want a relaxing area to read under the stars late at night – then you need to step up your outdoor lighting.

And with the availability of solar bulbs, many outdoor lights no longer require hooking up to your electrical system, expanding your options greatly. So rather than resign yourself to the harsh glare of plain white lamps, consider these ways of adding some interest to your outdoor décor through lighting:

Hanging Globes Make an Ethereal Space

If you have an awning, overhang, roof, or even tall trees, you've got a good setup for hanging globe lanterns. Hang a large group of them, and vary their heights – at night, they will look like floating orbs of light. They can be dim, so combine them with subtle lighting at lower levels – candles or lamps on tables, for instance – if you need more light.

Choosing white or cream paper lanterns accentuates the ethereal look, but you can also make this a very festive kind of lighting by opting for brightly-colored lanterns, choosing lanterns in different shapes or with tassels, and mixing and matching sizes. If you already have a color scheme for your outdoor décor, you can match the lanterns to that, too.

Accentuate Plants For a Natural Look

There are a few ways that you can use the plants in your backyard as part of your decorative lighting. If you're lucky enough to have many trees, they make excellent support for hanging lanterns; another alternative is wrapping strings of lights around the trunks and branches of thinner trees. To avoid this looking like holiday decorations, look for strings of small, round lights rather than elongated bulbs.

Ground lighting that is placed among low-growing plants or flowers is also an attractive option, lighting them from within and creating interesting patterns of shadow.

And for a very unique look, consider coating some planters with glow-in-the-dark paint. At night, the shapes of the planters will light up; placing them along a pathway makes for an interesting border that will help people see where to walk.

Define Space By Lighting Along Railings

Even if you don't have anything tall to hang lights from, you can still get that lantern look at a lower level by hanging lanterns from railings around a deck or patio. Choose a style that matches the look of the railing; for example, simple metal railings go well with plain glass lamps or lamps with simple metal frames.

Adding lighting around the railing creates a beautiful border to your outdoor area, and the light cast outside it expands the sense of space slightly. For small decks, the contrast between the lit railing and the shadows outside can be very cozy!

Don't Forget The Lights Themselves

No matter how you choose to light your outdoor area, don't overlook the design of the lights themselves. Lamps, lights, and decorative hanging lanterns are available in so many different forms and styles now, so don't give up if you haven't found the right design yet – the perfect lighting is out there somewhere, waiting for you to find it.