Tips from the experts on an ultimate landscape design challenge: How to minimize your propane tank’s profile — and maximize your curb appeal.
Above-ground propane tanks present unique landscaping challenges. They can impact not only your home’s curb appeal, but your own enjoyment of your backyard. Landscaping with underground propane tanks comes with its own challenges, too: Is it safe to plant over the tank? Will root systems affect an underground tank?
To answer these questions and offer some tips on how to camouflage your propane tank —creatively, tastefully, and safely — we consulted experts in planting around propane. Here are their tips on how to design your landscape in a way that enhances the look of your garden, not your propane tank.
First things first: plan for safety — and beauty.
Right up front: Just as there are strict safety regulations around where your tank is placed, the rules for safety, use, and access when putting anything near the tank are equally important. Here are the rules you’ll need to be aware of:
- Do not paint your propane tank. For your safety, tanks must remain their original manufacturer color — typically white or gray.
- Do not plant or place anything less than five feet away from any part of an above-ground tank. This keeps objects away from the tank that might restrict ventilation and allows technicians to access the tank when needed.
- Do not fully enclose the tank. No matter how far you place the walls of the enclosure from the tank, it is never okay to enclose your propane tank. Don’t place it in a fully enclosed fence, box, crate, or other device designed to hide a propane tank. These methods restrict ventilation of propane fumes and pose a safety hazard.
- Do not block tank access. If you have an underground propane tank, the lid must be clearly visible and accessible. For above-ground tanks, make sure nothing restricts access to any visible tank valves or openings.
- Always leave clear access to the propane tank. Technicians need an open path to the tank, for both maintenance and repairs and when refilling.
Don’t worry. That still leaves plenty of room to make something great.
Now that you know the lines you have to stay inside of, you can get creative. Take a walk around your tank. Look at it from the curb, from your driveway, and from inside your home. Which views do you want to improve? Also, think about how the tank fits into the surrounding area: How will what you place around the tank work with other trees, plants, outdoor furniture, or other features of the yard? A little planning and imagination up front will save you a lot of time, effort, and possibly expense in the end.
What not to do: Try to hide your propane tank.
It’s one fact we have to face: There’s no hiding an above-ground propane tank. There it is, in all its industrial glory, in your yard, for all to see. Naturally, there are countless tips and tricks that try and hide the propane tank — many of them completely misguided. Here are some of the most important don’ts:
Don’t plant directly around the edge of the tank. This common strategy not only violates safety standards, it also makes it harder for technicians to get to the tank. And from a gardening standpoint, it’s not much better: Rather than providing camouflage, this approach actually creates a frame around the tank, making it even more conspicuous than if you’d just left it alone.
Do not paint your propane tank. We said this up front, but we’ll say it again because creative tank painting can be very tempting. You’ve seen them online: the ear of corn, the caterpillar, the submarine, the Van Gogh landscape. Again, this strategy is both unsafe and unsightly. It’s similar to the framing idea, but bigger and bolder. If you can’t hide it, make it a whimsical conversation piece… right? Wrong. For your safety, tanks must remain their original manufacturer color — typically white or gray.
What to do instead.
It’s ironic: When it comes to landscaping, sometimes trying to completely cover something only makes it stick out more. Instead, the best camouflage blends into the background more gently.
Plant a “privacy screen” around your propane tank. When designing your landscape with an above-ground propane tank, this means breaking up a large, solid white object on a field (typically) of green.
One reliable creative solution that we like is to build a natural screen with plants that have enough size and volume to “support” the tank, but that have lots of branches and foliage moving in several directions so as not to emphasize the bulk of the tank itself.
Some excellent candidates for the job:
- Flowering shrubs like forsythia, viburnum, and flowering quince
- Tall, lush grasses and sedges like Mexican feather grass, Japanese fescue, and flax
- Tall, branchy flowering plants like spirea and lilac
All of these provide the volume, texture, and height to beautify your landscape while tastefully keeping your tank from view. Because they can repeat and magnify the shape of the tank, conical evergreens like juniper and arbor vitae can work against your goal of concealing the propane tank. It can be done, though, and ultimately what you decide to plant is all about what you like. Have fun and experiment!
Place an actual fence in front of the propane tank. Another popular and effective strategy is to block the propane tank with a fence or other barrier. Here, too, remember the safety guidelines about enclosures, and be mindful of the idea that less is more: Fencing your tank inside four walls will only draw more attention to it. Alternatively, a single wall — or two walls, either parallel to each other on either side of the tank or forming a corner around one end of the tank — can add an elegant, rustic, quaint aesthetic to the garden while preserving your home’s curb appeal.
Again, safety is paramount here. Do not enclose the tank entirely. We also don’t recommend boxes or crates for hiding the tank. These methods restrict ventilation of propane fumes and pose a safety hazard.
Leave plenty of space around the tank — and around your plants
How many plants will you need to camouflage your above-ground tank? Simply follow the general guidance for planting shrubs. If you’re planting a group of large plants or shrubs, place them a good distance apart — at least three feed, depending on how large the plants will grow and spread. For advice specific to your plants, climate, and growing conditions, consult your local garden center or an online source like Garden Design’s guide to planting shrubs and large plants.
IMPORTANT: Keep in mind you’ll need to maintain five feet of clearance around the entire tank for safety and access, both when you plant and as they grow (so be sure to keep them trimmed back from the tank.
Clear a path.
You’ll also need to clear a path to the tank from the driveway or other access point. This can be achieved simply by leaving open space, or designing a more elaborate but still subtle pathway leading through shrubs, tall grasses, or other plantings.
What about planting over underground tanks?
When landscaping over underground propane tanks, you have even more freedom. “You can plant almost anything except trees next to or over a propane tank,” says Patty Reddenbaugh of City Plants, an award-winning garden and landscape design firm in Philadelphia. “The tanks are placed deep enough into the ground that most root systems aren’t likely to affect them.”
As with above-ground tanks, Reddenbaugh notes the importance of access to underground tanks as well. “You have to leave room for filling up and for the release [valve],” she says.
Plus, she reminds us, access does not necessarily mean keeping the area bare, especially when it comes to landscaping over underground tanks. Hardy groundcovers such as pachysandra, mondo grass, creeping thyme, or phlox provide beautiful color and texture that will help cloak your tank cover — and they’re tough enough to step on occasionally. Paired with taller plants like chokeberry and milkweed, you can create a sustainable, fragrant garden space that’s attractive to both visitors and butterflies. (Check with your local nature conservancy, garden center, or online to learn about what plants will work best in your area.)
In the landscape design for her own home, Reddenbaugh placed lamium and sedum all the way up to the edge of her propane tank lid. This area is close to the border and near the driveway, offering the best of both worlds: plenty of camouflage for the hardware, easy access for technicians.
Want more tips on propane safety? Start with our guide on propane tank basics.