As gorgeous and inviting as a garden is during the day, it becomes a magical place at night if it's properly lit. Garden lighting can illuminate a patio for entertaining, showcase a dramatic planting or guide the way along a path.

But installing landscape lighting can be time-consuming and costly. The lights themselves can be pricey, and a licensed electrician needs to install all but the simplest do-it-yourself kits.

Solar-powered lights are a cheaper alternative, simple to install and safe to use. They can be moved easily as your landscape changes, and give a bright, reliable light for most any application. Solar lights used to glow with only a dim incandescent bulb. Modern units use light-emitting diodes (LEDs), which put out light without hot, glowing filaments or fragile glass shells.

They can reliably run upward of 100,000 hours. Solar landscape lighting can perform year-round, even in the cold, short days of winter. In fact, as temperatures drop, solid-state LEDs generate an even brighter light.

Today's solar cells and rechargeable batteries are also more efficient, and the prices of both are falling. Rechargeable solar batteries now use nickel-metal hydride, and stand up to more charge cycles, last longer and can be disposed of without harming the environment.

For best effect, match landscape lights to their application. Consider how you use your yard. Do you entertain outdoors or sit on a deck? Are you concerned about the safety of pathways? Are there a few favorite focal points you want to highlight?

There are three basic landscape uses for solar lights: pathway, accent and spotlighting. Pathway lighting illuminates driveways, walkways and steps, and marks the edges of areas like ponds and patios for safety. These lights come attached to ground stakes, hang from hooks or are flange-mounted, and primarily focus their medium-bright light downward.

Accent lights generally define a place with a muted ambience that shows off nearby plantings, illuminates pergolas and built-in benches. They're usually in the most noticeable locations, so choose a style that complements your overall decorating scheme.

Spotlights are the brightest solar lights and usually the most expensive. They cast a focused beam on plants, focal points, statuary, entryways or other special features. They're not as decorative as accent lights, so tuck them behind plants, rocks or small structures so they cast light and draw your eye directly to the element you want highlighted. Their solar panels can be mounted away from the unit itself, to collect sunshine even if the fixture is in shadow.