Planting around Air Conditioning

annie_376September 4, 2007

I have a shady, east-facing flat/level bed, about 25 feet long by 8 feet wide with a big ugly gray air conditioning unit/compressor/whatchamacallit smack in the middle. The bed is bordered by a very nice stone walkway. Right now, it's a jumble of overgrown hostas, pachysandra. There are also two sunken window wells in the foundation wall that can't be blocked by foliage. We have wooden siding, so nothing too close to the walls or climbing up either (so saith the spouse).

The electricity/telephone entrance box is on the wall of the house at this end. Basically this is a utility area, but it's right around the corner from the porch and a small stone patio.

My question is: Is there a good way to mask the a.c. unit and get some sort of interest in this area? It's very ugly now, but I think it has a lot of potential. It's the only really shady/cool/damp spot on my property.

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Annie, hi. You might consider putting a handmade screen around the AC unit. For example, I have a tropical back yard, and I'm going to string together bamboo sticks to hide the AC but look attractive.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2007 at 11:19AM
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Make sure you don't plant anything too close to restrict the airflow of the unit. It will take air in through the sides and out through the top so make sure you keep that in mind as part of your design.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2007 at 12:55PM
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I agree with fencing/screening. Keep it a foot away on all sides for ventillation and allow access to the service area for maintenance. The fence will keep the plants from encroaching and will lessen the noise generated. Paint/stain the fence to blend in and use it as a backdrop for your plantings.
Although I'm not a fan of whimsy, that can also be incorporated in the area.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2007 at 1:36PM
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AC and other utility units are like a Volkswagen; you can put a Rolls Royce hood on it, but it's still a Volkswagen. Until the industry comes up with units that are shaped like flowers or shrubs or garden art and can still function as intended, the utility area will continue to be many a gardener's nightmare.

Mine is East facing and has it's own cement slab to ensure nothing gets planted too closely up against it. To one side is a nice dwarf Globe Arborvitae that, with minimal attention, has made no attempt to advance on the AC unit and on the other side is a smallish bed of Hyperion daylilies, ostrich ferns and a couple of hostas I didn't know what to do with. This little bed and the Arborvitae seem to pull the AC unit into the background without making any attempt to disguise it.

But someone on the composting forum found some wrought iron(or wrought iron "look") fencing sections, corner posts, post caps, etc. at one of the big box stores and made a very handsome compost bin with them. No reason something like that wouldn't work - decorative, wouldn't restrict air flow, great for a climber.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2007 at 3:39PM
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thanks for all the good advice! Does anyone know, is it OK to paint an ac unit? I was thinking of doing a slightly "Asian" theme in that area. If I painted the ugly shiny gray ac box a mottled dark/light green (to resemble aged bronze), thus blotting out the name tags too, it might actually work as a bit of "minimalist" art. But will painting it harm it in any way?

    Bookmark   September 6, 2007 at 9:36AM
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davidandkasie(Z8 MS)

you can paint it, but shut it off first and do not use a sprayer, use a brush. also do not paint the model info plate. this has all the relevant info that a service tech will need when working on the unit. teh name plate that jsut say the manufacturer can be painted.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2007 at 1:54PM
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1. Consult the manufacturer's recommendations as to how close any surround, plantings, enclosure, etc. should be. This information should be available from a dealer who handles that brand unit. Mine's in the open, big & ugly, and that's the way it's staying. If yours is that ugly where it's located, you might consider relocating it to a better place...but it'll cost you.

2. Never, ever attempt to "protect" your A/C unit by covering it with plastic or anything else that is watertight. Moisture WILL condense inside the unit, accelerate corrosion, and greatly reduce its life. Most units have a open top, with the fan protected by a screen or mesh. A compromise is to take the lid from an old trash can that covers the top opening (ONLY!) and using that to keep leaves or other detritus from falling into the unit.

3. It is worth reinforcing what "davidandkasie" said: don't even think about using a paint sprayer on an A/C unit. The spray will tend to build up on the fins that surround the fan/compressor, and will retard the efficiency of the heat transfer, which is what air conditioners are all about. Another way of putting it is that the paint will insulate the fins and keep the unit from cooling effectively. Is my Lennox A/C unit pretty? Not especially; it's a machine. Does it match the house, garage, lawn, other plants? No. Is it staying A/C colored? Yes.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2007 at 11:57AM
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fish43512(Zone 5)

I planted a rhododendrun (not sure on spelling) between my airconditioner and the side entrance to my house and it helps conceal it from view. It is still kind of small but I am hoping within a couple of years the AC unit will hardly be noticable from the side entrance. The AC unit still has plenty of breathing room and is only concealed from a front view.

I too have all of my utility connections right next to my AC unit. I put bark mulch all through the area with stepping stones up to my gas and electric meter so the meter persons know where I want them to walk. Around the stepping stones, I planted some daylillies. The daylillies do not do as well here as they do out back of my house where it gets more sun, but I know they stay fairly small and I should not have to worry about them getting into the stepping stones. I plan on putting a walkway on that side in the future when money and time permits to connect the gate from the backyard to the front walk.

I wish I had a picture to show you. My neighbors have complemented me with what I have done. I wish the rest of my landscaping turned out as well as that side. I am far from a pro. DW and I have even discussed hiring a pro to redesign our front.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2007 at 5:53AM
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Thanks for all the good advice. I am planning on setting up two Asian-style screens (about 28" wide by 5 feet tall) at the outer CORNERS of the a.c. unit to visually block it from view. Im painting (with a brush) the outer cover a deep green. I'm placing an 18" border of river rock (big round pebbles) around the base of the a.c. unit to keep plant material away from it. Then I'm planting out from there and hoping for the best.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2007 at 3:24PM
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joepyeweed(5b IL)

If I were going to paint the AC unit, I would remove the hood/case and paint it in a location, probably in the garage, away from the mechanical/moving parts of the unit. You can put the hood back on after the paint job was done.

By removing the unit you can get it much cleaner and get a better finish on it, rather than trying to paint it while its sitting in the garden.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2007 at 4:43PM
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I guess if you're replacing an a/c unit, there are loads of color options. I was at a home show in the fall and one of the manufacturers will powdercoat your unit in solid colors, the colors of your fav sports team or college, or even Treebark camouflage- really. You may want to check with the maker of your a/c units. You may be able to purchase a replacement shroud. I can't imagine how annoying peeling paint on an a/c unit would be.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2010 at 8:50AM
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When I plant around an AC unit I try to keep the plant material soft and uninvasive. One selection I do like is the Nishiki Willow or the Artic Blue Willow. They are easy to purne are airy and easy to do maintain cleaning of the unit. They screen well and give an aisian feel. Depending on the size of the bed I like to layer with low growing perinnials. Just depends on the sun exposure the area gets. Stay away from thorny and heavy evergreens and you will do fine. Good luck and I'm looking forward to what you do actually plant in this space.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2010 at 3:17AM
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Brad Edwards

I used throw away pallets around mine to make a box because it was sitting in direct sunlight with no shade, and planted some legustrums next to it so now its getting the shade that helps it out and I can trim the legustrums to not restrict air flow.

I love the wrought iron idea, you could even get rebar, tie it into a pattern, and get grill paint then get a climbing vine like confederate jasmine, just a thought.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2012 at 3:09PM
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