Sunny Side Up

Try solar power to enliven your garden

By Dan Vierria
November 2023

Wind and sunlight allowed grandma to dry clothes on an outdoor line. Passive solar architectural principles were used by ancient cultures to warm and shade homes thousands of years ago.

Today, housetraining the elements of weather stirs a dust devil of options for gardens. Wind and the sun deliver clean, renewable energy for gardening tools and decorative outdoor products. Some are utilitarian, others save energy. Many are simply art.

As gift-giving season approaches, neighborhood nurseries and home centers stock a variety of jaw-dropping options powered by nature and created by clever minds. And you thought sun was for tanning, and wind for flying kites?

Movement is a key piece of garden design. It can be represented in a serpentine pathway or a plant that bends in the wind, like one of my favorites, “Morning Light,” an ornamental grass. Whatever keeps the eyes moving in a garden adds to the enjoyment.

Wind moves the wings of life-like decorative birds, such as owls, eagles and flamingos for gardens. The wings and motions are eye-catching. Debbie Woodruff, owner of Fair Oaks Boulevard Nursery, stocks a variety of nature décor, including those wind-activated birds, wind chimes and rain chains, a fetching alternative to the gutter downspout.

Wind chimes can be soothing with sound and motion, but annoying to some neighbors. When I was garden writer for the Bee, I drew calls and emails with each mention of wind chimes. Readers complained about “the noise!” Choose wisely, my friends.

Kinetic wind spinner sculptures are movement art. They are focal points and can deter some garden pests. Green Acres Nursery in Elk Grove and other locations have large selections of wind spinners and solar mobiles.

The solar panel, soaking up sun power, enables an impressive line of garden products. Solar landscape lighting began as a novelty but now fills store displays with choices. Panels gather sunlight by day and shed LED light at night. They can be moved as needed.

Like solar garden lighting, the solar fountain eliminates the costly installation of wiring an outdoor power outlet. Energy from the sun, not a utility company, powers the fountain pumps.

Solar fountains are available in a dizzying selection of prices, options and styles. Basically, kits come with a solar panel, cord, pump and spray pattern nozzles. Should you decide to place the fountain in a shady area, purchase a longer cord model that allows the solar panel to be set up in direct sunlight. A long cord will stretch 15 feet or so.

Some solar fountain kits don’t need a cord. The solar panel and pump are in a single piece, often shaped like an oversized donut. The units float or can be attached to the bottom of your water basin of choice. Instant fountain! Certain models store energy and operate into the night, some with lighting.

The solar fountain is ideal for apartment balconies and smaller outdoor areas, offering visual candy and the relaxing sound of water. Unfortunately, solar fountain kits are difficult to find in nurseries, but online is a different story.

Pond pumps and garden art pieces are additional solar-powered items that charge with a panel in daylight and glow at night. Greenhouses, insect-repellent lights and sheds can be illuminated with solar. The installation of a single, large solar panel can light everything.

Solar also recharges robot lawnmowers. The technology for these mowers continues to improve. Prices remain high, but you may find them cheaper than a gas riding mower. The benefits: No more polluting gas mower, no need for a lawn maintenance company, much quieter and they can be managed with a smartphone app. Solar robotic mowers require blade maintenance and battery replacement, among other expenses.

Solar power also can make shade in the backyard. Select models of retractable patio covers and awnings use stored solar power to open and close and keep us cool and sheltered.

Invite the elements of weather to your garden parties.

Dan Vierria is a University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardener for Sacramento County. He can be reached at For answers to gardening questions, contact the UCCE Master Gardeners at (916) 876-5338, email or visit Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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