Over the weekend, I started on a new outdoor project. I know, it’s shocking for me to start a new project before having finished others. And not only that, but I also managed to get dirt caked under my fingernails, work a large knot into my back, and injured myself. Again, these are not exactly the kind of activities that belong on my “Things That Never Happen” list, but hey — at least I can be reliable about some things. ;)
What prompted me this time was mainly a sale going on at Lowe’s and simple seasonality of needing to maintain the space around my air conditioning unit outside (before cranking it up for the summer, spring is a good time to have a pro check the coolant levels and to remove anything growing too close around it for efficiency’s sake). Then, with a tiny bit more effort, I found a couple more ways to save myself some additional cash (detailed below) and work in some long-term low maintenance. It’s just one of those things that I knew it would cost me a few more bucks if I waited, and if I could both knock out the majority of the project and save myself some money in the process, it seemed like a win-win.
After first nixing the area as a possible place to stash my trash bins (more on that here), I’ve been thinking about removing the pine straw bed and adding landscaping gravel around the air conditioning unit. This side of the house is almost totally shaded during the day, which is great for the A/C unit, but it’s also prone to weeds and relatively unappealing-looking, so it could use some sprucing.
For one, if covered over correctly, I don’t have to worry about weeding the area as much or about the vines that keep trying to climb up the side of the house. For another, the cedar siding is vulnerable to termites if mulched right up against the foundation. Generally-speaking, I think 15 inches away or more is what’s recommended, and mulching too closely can even void the warranty of a termite bond. So, even though I like mulch a lot more than beds of pine straw aesthetically, I knew this wasn’t really the way to go (I could do rubber mulch like I have in other spots that were close to the house, but I just like the idea of stone over here instead). Also, after taking out the pine trees last spring and seeing how much of a difference it made for decreasing the amount of pine straw maintenance I have to do to the front yard (see the HUGE difference here), it also just seemed like something fun and new that I might have a chance of not getting completely covered up like in years past. So, away to the store I went, hoping for a good deal. If I found something, I’d go for it; if not, I’d wait.
(*Links may contain affiliates, which sometimes happens when I link to stores I shop at*) Egg rock isn’t necessarily the decorative rock I would have noticed right away if it hadn’t been for the sale, but compared to the others I liked stylistically (marble rock looks particularly pretty to me), I realized that it was a really good choice for both my budget and that the color variation matched pretty closely with the reddish, orange, and gray hues in the stonework in the front of the house (the living room fireplace has the same stone).
After loading up a couple of bags, the guys restocking the section informed me that if I wanted, I could grab any of the broken bags and get them for half off the sale price. The broken bags didn’t contain the full 0.5 cubic feet as the label said, of course, but each contained well more than half, so I’d get a few extra square feet (basically) for free. They even rebagged them so that the stones wouldn’t fall out in the car. Score!
I had a rough estimate of how many bags I needed, but I also didn’t want to haul around more than necessary. If I ran out (which I did), I could simply return for a few more by the end of the day. But, with plenty of bagfuls at the ready, I headed home and raked back the pine straw. After first using scrap cardboard to help kill grass and block weeds in the raised garden beds in my back yard last year, I decided to use it again for the same purpose for this project. It’s easy to collect pretty quickly if you have regular shipments of things to your house, but two things:
- If I plan to keep the cardboard for this purpose, I do so temporarily and keep it away from water. It’s worked really well for weed-blocking in my garden beds, but cardboard is also known to attract roaches (and a place they like to hide), so you don’t want this sitting around in your house for a long time!
- I also try to remove any tape and shipping labels from the cardboard so that when it breaks down in the soil, I don’t have a bunch of trash under my mulch.
The air conditioner itself sits on a cement slab, so after sweeping out any pine straw from underneath the unit, I sprayed down any remaining vines or plant bits I saw with brush killer and put down the cardboard. Then came the visually fun part: adding about an inch of the decorative stone on top. This gives me approximately 6 square feet per bag, so I was able to knock out the main area around the A/C unit pretty quickly. I didn’t have to do much leveling out of the ground either, but I made sure I filled and packed down any low spots with dirt before the stones went in (since I don’t want to have any puddles where mosquitoes can breed). The stones are good for erosion, too.
I worked panel by panel, bag by bag, until I got to about this point:
Then, I took a careless step and put my foot directly on top of a small piece of discarded siding… that had a nail sticking straight up! Luckily, I was wearing some thick soles and the nail didn’t actually pierce all the way into my foot, but I was quickly glad I’d remembered to get my tetanus booster the last time I visited the doc (not to mention, let this be a reminder to always wear safety equipment and look where you step!).
The board with the nails had been buried by a little pine straw, but I wound up accidentally covering it even more as I raked all of it to the side to start laying down the cardboard and rock. My guess is that the board was likely part of the discarded material from when I hired out last year’s siding repairs on this side of the house, but of course I can’t know for sure. Regardless, my back was starting to hurt from hauling bags of gravel anyway, so I figured that nearly jabbing through the ball of my foot was enough of a good reason to call it a day. I also ran out of rock altogether, so I needed to go back to the store to grab the remaining bags before the sale ended. I still need to fill in the area closer to the fence and in the corner next to the chimney, but it’s off to a great start, and now you know what to look for the next time you want to get a little more gravel for the money!
I’ll have a final reveal soon, but I’m also not planning on filling in the whole area with gravel, so I would love to hear some of your suggestions on what to plant. I’d like to put some shade-loving shrubs on the left side that don’t defoliate or otherwise shed in a way that could potentially blow into the A/C unit (that would kind of defeat the whole low-maintenance goal of the project). So far it seems like monkey grass, holly, and hostas are common suggestions, but none of them really strike me as a favorite yet. What would you plant?