Placing plants around an air conditioner is more than just a great way to hide unsightly units; it can also help the air conditioner work more efficiently. Air conditioner condensers located in shady areas don’t have to work as hard and can be up to 10 percent more efficient than units located in direct sunlight. There is, however, a right way and a wrong way to garden around an air conditioning unit. Just as good plant placement can hide the condenser from view and make it operate more efficiently, incorrect plant choices and placements can actually hinder the unit’s performance. Specific plant selection will vary based on climate and growing conditions, but the basic principles of gardening around an air conditioner are the same everywhere.
Leave at least 2 to 3 feet of clearance around the unit for airflow and to make future servicing easier. Restricted airflow will make the unit less efficient and more expensive to run. Remember to take the plant’s mature size into consideration. A small bush planted a few feet away from the air conditioner today may easily overwhelm the unit after a few growing seasons.
Choose plants that grow up rather than out. This makes it easier to leave the necessary 5 feet of clearance space above the unit while still allowing you to provide the condenser with shade while blocking it from view.
Install a trellis a few feet away from the air conditioner and train ivy or climbing roses onto it. This allows you to add vertical interest to your garden, quickly hide the unsightly air conditioning unit and keep plenty of air circulation space between the plant and the air conditioner.
Avoid plants that create a lot of debris, such as fruits or large seedpods. Frequently rake up any leaves or spent blossoms that fall around the air conditioner.
Grow plants around the air conditioner in containers that can easily be moved if repairs need to be made. Keeping the plants in containers also allows you to move them away from the warm air coming out of the air conditioner if it is stressing them or drying them out.
Plant a grouping of fine-textured plants with small leaves in front of the air conditioner and slightly off to one side. Then, plant a larger, bolder, more colorful plant with large leaves further away to create a focal point. This planting arrangement won’t hide the air conditioner completely, but it will trick your eye into looking past it as you focus on the bolder plant.