Proper landscaping around your outdoor air conditioning unit both enhances the appearance of your yard and can help reduce energy bills by shading the unit so it doesn’t have to work as hard to cool the air. With the proper placement and selection of groundcovers, vines, shrubs and trees, you can keep an air conditioning unit out of sight and shaded, while improving the appearance of your landscape.
Before planting anything around your outdoor air conditioning unit, plan your landscaping so that you leave a minimum of 2 to 3 feet of open space all the way around your unit to ensure there is adequate airflow for efficient operation. Don’t plant anything that will block the access panel, which is typically located on the wall of your house near the unit, and don’t build decks or patios above the unit. Leave at least 5 feet of clearance above it for proper airflow and to allow easy access for maintenance and repair. Clean the area around the unit regularly to keep it free of debris such as leaves and dead vegetation, and sand or dirt, which can splatter up on the unit when it rains and is drawn into the unit when it dries.
Narrow or slow-growing shrubs are ideal for landscaping around an air conditioning unit because they’re easily maintained and add color and texture to the area. Blue holly (Ilex meserveae) is an evergreen shrub that is hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 7, and it grows to a manageable height of 8 to 12 feet. Common boxwood (Buxus sempervirens), which is hardy in USDA zones 5 through 8, grows to about 15 to 20 feet tall and wide, but its slow growth and high tolerance to pruning make it simple to maintain its short, narrow shape.
Trees planted near your air conditioning unit provide shade, which cools both the unit and your home. Broad-leaf evergreens such as Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora), which is hardy in USDA zones 7 through 9, provide year-round shade and color. Trees will drop leaves at some point in the year, so regular maintenance, which includes pruning back overgrown branches and clearing away fallen leaves, prevents debris from dropping inside the unit’s coils and impeding its efficient operation.
Ornamental grasses add color and texture as they draw the eye away from your air conditioning unit and prevent weeds from growing around the base, while their wispy blades allow air to flow freely. For example, Japanese silver grass (Miscanthus sinensus) is a clump-forming, warm-season grass that is hardy in USDA zones 5 through 8, with reed-like stems that effectively draw the attention away from your air conditioning unit. Common fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides "Hameln"), which is hardy in USDA zones 5 through 9, is another attractive ornamental grass that draws the eye up and away from the unit.
Climbing vines conceal your air conditioning unit with vibrant color and texture, but must be properly maintained and trellised. Install trellises a minimum of 2 to 3 feet away from the unit to allow for sufficient air flow and prune vines regularly to maintain size and to control growth. Clematis vines (Clematis spp.), which vary in hardiness but typically thrive in USDA zones 3 through 9; boast colorful flowers and rich foliage. Coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) is an attractive and fragrant vine that grows to moderate heights of 10 to 15 feet and is hardy in USDA zones 4 through 9.