Landscaping and other outdoor plants can add beauty to your yard, but they can have a downside, too. Plants that grow too close or even on top of the outdoor air conditioner condenser can restrict the airflow to your system. If the airflow becomes severely restricted, the system can even shut down altogether. Plant materials such as grass clippings and small leaves can also get sucked into the condenser, much as cottonwood seeds can early in the spring. (link) The condenser has a series of metal fins that can trap small particles and also cause the unit to work less effectively.
The before and after images in this video demonstrate about how far back the grass and other plants need to be trimmed to allow for proper air circulation. And while you’re trimming grass and other plants, be very cautious when working around the air conditioner condenser. The metal fins around the condenser can easily become bent damaged by lawn mowers, weed trimmers, and other yard tools. Our technicians have also seen serious damage and deterioration of the metal fins caused by dogs that are allowed to urinate on the condenser over a period of time.
If you wonder if providing shade to your condenser might prevent it from becoming overheated and work more efficiently, the answer is probably not. The unit is less affected by direct sunlight as it would be by the overall outdoor temperature. Air is drawn into the system from all around the unit, so the shade provided by a random bush or tree probably has little overall effect. A grove of trees nearby the condenser would certainly have enough of a cooling effect to make a difference on how hard your air conditioner has to work to create cool air.
In short, you can keep your outdoor condenser in good working order if you allow it to have plenty of breathing room. Keeping plants and yard waste away from the condenser and avoiding damage to the condenser fins will allow for unrestricted airflow, and help keep your air conditioning unit running efficiently for a long time to come.