Feb. 22 2019 05:57 AM

Mounting fixtures in trees can provide beautiful moonlighting and strategic up-lighting effects, but the process can be challenging.

Last month we looked at ground mounts, and this month we’ll explore tree mounts. For centuries, people have hung lanterns in trees to create a festive atmosphere. The first tree-hung electric lights appeared in the 1930s when Frank B. Nightingale began manufacturing 120-volt landscape lighting fixtures. He created several downlights for hanging in trees.

Mounting fixtures in trees can provide beautiful moonlighting and strategic uplighting effects, but the process can be challenging. Using the correct mounting system will lessen that challenge, especially if you carefully consider the types and weights of the fixtures and the applications you’re using them for each time.

Threaded tree spike – A single, threaded spike for installing lights into trees, this mount has a ½-inch national pipe thread with a wire passthrough hole on the side. A 5/16-inch hex head on the inside allows an installer to rachet or drill right into a tree’s bark. The spike is made of stainless steel and has a standoff over 3 inches. Since it requires only a single wood screw, it’s less likely to cause infection, making it a clean and easy way to mount a fixture on a tree.

Mounting canopies – Most manufacturers offer some style of mounting canopy, normally round, with three mounting holes for screws, a fixture thread in the middle and a small cutout on the side through which to pass the cable. This style usually requires the use of wood screws to mount. A word of caution when installing this type of mount — be sure not to pinch the cable, as it could cause a secondary breaker on the transformer to trip. Some manufacturers offer this type of mount with a rubber bungee instead of screws to fasten the unit to the tree.

Tree boxes – Many contractors prefer using tree box mounts. This type of mount allows an installer to make the cable connection in a dry junction box on the ground. An ample amount of cable can be attached to reach the mounting point. Tree boxes are manufactured in two different styles. One type is a single L-shaped box with a cover, with staggered holes on either side for the standoff screws.

A strain-relief connector is inserted at the bottom and a ½-inch threaded outlet is ready to accept the fixture. Two-piece styles include a mounting plate that can be strapped to or screwed into the tree in the correct position for installation. Both styles can accept more than one fixture with a wye fitting.

Tree-ring mounting systems – Primarily used in commercial applications, a tree-ring mount allows a contractor to mount a multiple number of fixtures in a tree at a single point. It normally consists of two half-circles of aluminum, brass or a composite material. Some are equipped with a hinge or a two-bolt point opening.

Compression rods are mounted around the inner circle. The rods can adjust to the girth of the trunk without puncturing the bark. It’s common to see a junction box mounted to the side of the ring. This allows for a clean central-point connection and a place to connect the main cable from the transformer. Tree-ring mounting systems are manufactured in a variety of different sizes. The most common size will hold four to six fixtures at a time.

Mounting lights in trees is often met with controversy because the fixtures do put some stress on a tree. When in doubt, consult with your customer’s arborist. Exercise caution when mounting fixtures in trees; avoid trees with thorns and with power lines running through their canopies, and be sure to invest in proper safety equipment and climbing gear to keep your installers injury-free. Don’t forget to include extension ladder and cherry-picker rental charges into your bid.

The tree mount types discussed in this article can be effective with your lighting designs. If you need assistance in selecting a product, contact your local distributor or manufacturer’s representative.

Kevin Smith is the national technical support and trainer at Brilliance LED LLC, Carefree, Arizona, and can be reached at kevin.smith@brillianceled.com.