side view landscaping around ac unit

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Hey folks! I know it’s — well, Friday — but I want to update you guys on last weekend. Specifically, how I added some beautiful landscaping around my exterior air conditioning unit!

landscaping around air conditioning unit

Long story short: I got the majority of the side of the house done! Doesn’t it look so much better than where I started? I’m about as excited about this transformation as I was after I installed the kitchen backsplash.

side of house before
where it all began

You guys might recall from my last update that I still needed a few more bags of gravel and then to fill in the middle spot between. Which looked like this:

filling in stones and creating garden bed

And over the weekend, that’s exactly what I did. Right down to the very last bag of gravel, mulch, and plant I had available. I’m super pleased it turned out so well… one of the few times that something just worked the way I wanted it to right away!

landscaping gravel around air conditioning unit

I also figured out that if I’m going to bother putting gravel around these spots, I might as well do the whole area that’s tucked away on this side of the chimney (thus why I even ran out of the gravel in the first place). The pic below is to the right of the A/C condensing unit, so I filled in this area too. More scalloped edging will divide this whole section between the gravel and the holly planted out in front of the house (it’s not my favorite, but we’ve talked about this).

adding more landscaping stones

I need to scrub that green gunk off the house, but it’s already looking so much cleaner and low-maintenance-y. WIN. I considered going on in more detail about each part, but since people like to skim sometimes, I broke it down a little further below.

side view landscaping around ac unit

Choosing landscaping around the air conditioning unit:


I first came up with the idea for adding gravel mainly because I read that while shade around an A/C condensing unit (the outdoor part of your A/C) is good for energy savings, you also don’t want to plant anything too close. Plants can grow into the unit and decrease its efficiency, and anything that sheds flowers and leaves, or “defoliates”, during off-peak seasons is generally a bad idea (restricting air flow around something that’s purposefully trying to remove heat is kind of the opposite of what you want). A good rule of thumb is one to three horizontal feet (so says this site and others). You also don’t want to cover over the top of the condensing unit by a good four to six feet, but that’s not really a problem here (just more info for ya).

I wouldn’t say that the pine straw and low plants in the “before” picture were really much of an issue in terms of horizontal crowding, but honestly, thems a whole lotta ugly, and I didn’t want to run the risk of making things pretty only to have done it with less efficiency than I started with!

One more thing I was careful to measure off was adding some distance around the back of the little garden bed I created, too. This is mainly because the house has cedar siding, and to prevent termites, you also want some good spacing between the bottom of your siding and any mulch (I’ve read about 15 inches or so; fewer could result in voiding a termite warranty if you need one for your home). I’ve used rubber mulch for this purpose before when I need to blend it with regular mulch, but since I was using egg rock around the A/C already, I didn’t need to do any fancy mulching combinations. The spacing up against the fence was just for visual balance with the rest of the area.


I got a great discount on egg rock, but you can find out all about how to score this stuff on the cheap here. To separate the stones from the new garden bed and help me (hopefully) keep things tidy in the future. Since rocks and landscaping pebbles are known to spread around when you’re not looking, I also added some of the scalloped edging that exists elsewhere on my property. I gave myself a break while I went to go grab more cardboard to help kill off the grass, and in the meantime, a bird seemed to have assessed my progress:

birds showing approval of my project

Does that mean they hate it… or like it?

The scalloped edging may not be the prettiest IMO, but I have a ton of it after removing a bunch from the backyard mound where I had a bunch of trees cut down, and doing anything further with it would just mean more time or cost (even turning it over to the flat side would just emphasize the other places that haven’t been changed, and I’d rather have it all consistent instead of doing the labor to all of the other spots).

Plant picks

Like I said above, good plants to put near the A/C condensing unit are ones that don’t shed flowers or leaves regularly, so my typical shade-loving favorite, hydrangeas, was out. I’m not crazy about hostas in general, but when I went to my local gardening center to choose something that would work well in the shade without flowers, I decided that a good variation of colorful leaves was the right answer. And let’s face it — hostas are really easy to keep.

air conditioning unit landscaping

For each plant, I measured spacing on the higher end (so when the tag said 18 – 24 inches wide, I went with 21-24) so that it has room to mature and fill in over time. I used the tip of my gardening trowel to mark the center spot for each plant, and my mattock came in handy for digging deep holes with minimal effort.

measure and mark plant spacing with a trowel

After everything was in and covered with mulch, we get a nice little bed that I hope I have to maintain exactly zero times for the rest of the year.

side view landscaping around ac unit

The red plants are an annual (coleus, and thanks to Vanessa and others for making that suggestion in the last post!), and my intentions are just to have it fill in the negative space while the hostas grown in a little more. The shrub in the back is called Andromeda (I think – I actually bought it over a year ago and it stayed in a pot while I decided to plant… which makes this the lowest-maintenance plant I’ve ever bought at a nursery and actually survived! I considered just leaving it as a potted plant since it seemed content to stay that way, but the pot size would have kept it tiny). It flowers, but only teeny tiny white buds, and it’s a slow grower. Putting it at the back and with space to grow near the fence will give the bed some height, but not risk crudding up the condenser.

whats next

  • Get one or two more bags of gravel (I had allllmost enough and took advantage of a good sale on the landscaping rocks, but I wound up covering more square feet than I originally planned)
  • Patch & paint that band along the siding (I want it to be the same white/cream color that I painted the trim)
  • Build a weather-resistant screen that will hide the A/C unit visibly from the street (already started!)

I know, that last one sounds like I’m immediately going to violate the whole “keep things away from the unit” rule above — but I’m actually still planning on giving it the proper distance, just giving me something more pleasant to look at in the process (and it might help keep any stray vine roots that exist under the soil from growing into the unit, too).

In truth, I completed this on Saturday morning, which meant I had all of the rest of the holiday weekend to run that first errand, but I still need to pick up those extra bags. I pretty much spent the rest of it visiting the zoo (Atlanta’s “Brew at the Zoo”) and getting poked in the head by a well-meaning bearded guy…

Which, by the way, it’s his birthday today, so I’ll be heading out this evening for some Moroccan food and relatively ignoring the long weekend of labor ahead of me. Happy Friday, folks, and tell me your weekend DIY plans if you’ve got ’em!

landscaping around AC unit before after

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  1. Really interested in what you decide for the screen. We have a AC unit and natural gas Generator that the previous owner put in in weird locations and we are thinking of building a screen on three sides to hide the ugly. Thrid side would be the side that faces the house and have full open access. Good luck!

  2. I really like how this turned out! I’m not a visionary, so I wasn’t sure at first from the beginning exactly what look you were going for but it looks really awesome. I love me some before and afters :)

  3. Looking great! We went to Brew at the Zoo in Providence RI last fall. It was awesome. We are thinking about going again this year.

  4. Looks fantastic! I want to imagine something like that for mine, but we haven’t edged our pebbles. I really wish that we’d chosen white pebbles instead of yellowish ones, even if the yellowish ones were cheaper.

  5. Looks great. I was sceptical about the use of gravel because experience has shown me that it makes for great shrapnel when mowing the lawn. The scallops should be a great preventative measure, saving your shins from some nasty wounds.
    My biggest concern is “low-maintenancy-y”. Is this the right time and place to start making up new words for our back yards? Will this help make America great again?

        1. It’s one thing to be creative and playful with language (as writers do), it’s quite another to use those words for bigotry or to encourage stupidity. Equating one with the other IS how that guy wins (and I’m going to go ahead and remove the name from the comment – ick!).

          1. Ok. Phew, I immediately clicked on the link to assure you I was joshin’. We don’t have those problems in Canada. We just have snow.

          2. Ha, no – not at all! It’s amazing how quickly conversations down here (especially in a state like Georgia, where I live) can turn into opposing sides. I try my best to stay out of them, but the things that come out of people’s mouths can make them look like they’ve grown a second head.

    1. Yep, already building one that doesn’t have a trellis look. I’m also staining it. I can’t wait to see how it turns out once it’s finally installed!

  6. your gardening skillz just keep getting better and better, Sarah! i remember when nothing stayed alive and now you’re like a gardening pro mixing and matching plants and flowers for efficiency and use! love the stones and the garden square in the middle. wonderful!

  7. Wow! This is something that I need to do and probably a lot of others. I have been looking at different ideas on pinterest with wood fencing but the rocks and flowers add a nice touch. We recently just had our air conditioner replaced so that took away some of the ugly but it still just needs hidden or something done to it and this has given me some inspiration. Thanks for the post.

  8. What a beautiful project this turned out to be! It looks absolutely amazing and has turned the area around the A/C unit into something attractive. I think the plants that you choose to plant next to your unit are exquisite and really complement the area on the side of your home. Beautiful project and your hard work definitely paid off! Thanks for sharing your process and your results!

  9. I’m curious how this looks now that it’s been a few years and had a chance to grow in! I was looking for inspiration for my own A/C unit area, and what you did seems like it would do nicely and save me work from what I was originally thinking (which was to extend the patio area).

    1. I neglected it a good bit after planting and some of the hostas died off, so I mixed it up by planting a white hydrangea (my favorite color) and kept the hardier hostas in place. It’s generally an area I forget about because of the screen I put around the AC unit but it’s really easy to maintain and clean up whenever I remember!