The external HVAC unit is an essential element of your home’s climate control, one that many homeowners see it as a bit of a backyard eyesore. Landscaping is a popular way to conceal your HVAC unit, but trees and bushes can significantly damage your HVAC system if not properly maintained. Below, we layout some guidelines for the best ways to landscape around your outdoor HVAC system to keep it running efficiently.

How Far to Plant from an HVAC Unit

The most essential element to landscaping around an HVAC unit is to leave the proper clearance. Plants should be placed at least 2-3 feet away on all sides to ensure that airflow is unrestricted around the coils. Restricted airflow means the unit has to work harder to cool your house, which can lead to higher energy bills and a shortened lifespan for the unit.

When choosing your landscape design around the HVAC unit, it’s also advisable to leave at least one side of the unit easily accessible for maintenance and repairs. Even with a 2-foot clearance all the way around the unit, shrubbery should not be too dense for an HVAC professional to easily step around or through. If you have bushes or trees that grow above the unit, ensure at least a 5-foot clearance above it.

Landscaping Can Make Your Unit More Efficient

Direct sunlight on a condensing unit can make the equipment substantially hotter than outdoor temperatures. This extra heat means the HVAC unit needs more air flow to dissipate hot air from the house, again, making it less efficient.

Yet, directly shading the condenser using landscaping can be tricky and often ineffective. The best bet is to landscape a larger section of the yard around the unit with taller trees and shrubs to create shade for the whole area. This helps cool the entire yard and can help your air conditioner perform more efficiently.

Which Direction Does Your HVAC Unit Face?

Knowing which cardinal direction the yard your unit lies in faces can help you determine how much shade you need as well as what type of plants will grow best in the space. South- and West-facing yards benefit most from landscaping, as they can get 6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day. East-facing yards get several hours of direct sun in the morning. If the unit is on the North side of your house, the need for shade dramatically decreases. 

What to Plant Near Your AC Unit

Knowing how much direct sunlight your unit gets can help you determine what plants will grow best in the space, but there are some guidelines that apply universally:

  1. Go Evergreen: Landscaping that loses leaves in the fall requires a lot of maintenance to keep the HVAC unit clear of leaves, petals and pods. Pick evergreen shrubs and trees like boxwood or spruce that don’t shed a lot of leaves or needles. Avoid plants like cedar or magnolias that drop a lot of debris.
  2. Choose Plants the Grow Up: Plants that spread outward can quickly overtake your clearance zone around the HVAC unit and create a lot of long-term landscaping headaches. Choose plants that naturally grow upward like English yew or golden juniper.
  3. Opt for Slow Growers: Anything that grows quickly is going to be high maintenance around an HVAC unit. Opting for a fast grower like privet or forsythia to cover the unit quickly will require more long-term, consistent trimming than a euonymus or most types of hydrangea, for example.
  4. Beware of Thorns: Make sure you remember than there will be someone stepping in and around your HVAC unit twice a year when choosing your landscaping. Roses, holly or blackberry bushes make it difficult and uncomfortable for your HVAC technician to service your unit.
  5. Use Drought-Tolerant Plants: HVAC units dissipate substantial heat and extract water from the air as part of their cooling method. Using heat-loving plants near the unit will help ensure that your landscaping lasts.
  6. Avoid Pollinators: The HVAC unit’s controlled climate makes it an attractive habitat for bees and wasps. To ensure you aren’t inviting these insects to make nests inside your condenser units, avoid flowering, pollinator plants like goldenrod and bee balm.

Other Landscaping Options Near the AC Unit

Determining what landscaping to plant around your AC unit takes a lot of steps, including some we haven’t mentioned, like knowing your plant hardiness zone. If all the dos and don’ts seem overwhelming, there are a few other options for hiding your HVAC unit discretely:

  1. Build a Trellis or Fence: A trellis with vine plants can quickly and easily hide an AC unit while providing direct shade. Some excellent vine plant options include jasmine, bougainvillea or butterfly vine. If you don’t want to bother with vine plants, a simple fencing structure or even a set of old shutters can screen the unit from view—just make sure they’re removeable and/or allow access for maintenance.
  2.  Try Potted Plants: A mass of large, potted plants can disguise a unit well, and since they are removeable, you have many more plant options. You can also adjust their distance from the unit as they grow or remove them entirely if they become too large or require too much maintenance.
  3. Make a Gravel Garden: Surrounding your unit with gravel is an excellent way to protect it from debris, and a mini mulched bed in the center makes the choice more inviting and intentional. Although a gravel garden won’t conceal the unit, it can incorporate your HVAC system into a low-maintenance, decorative landscape element.

East Tennessee HVAC Installation and Maintenance

City Heating and Air Conditioning is here to keep your HVAC units running efficiently throughout the seasons no matter what you plant around them. Our experienced HVAC technicians know how to check for common debris and overheating issues and can easily identify landscaping risks around HVAC units. We will do everything necessary to make sure your HVAC system runs as efficiently as possible so that you can stay comfortable while keeping your energy bill in a comfortable range. To schedule a HVAC installation or maintenance appointment with a trusted Knoxville HVAC company, give City Heating and Air Conditioning a call at 865-938-1005 or fill out our online form.