You might also consider a lattice type enclosure, set far enough from the
unit to not affect air flow. Using any kind of growing plant opens the possibility for
trouble down the road when the plants get large.
thank you all for your helpful responses! Dawn, that link is fantastic, i need to read through it again.
i was thinking maybe Florida uses special units because they have them in completely open southern exposures. hmm. i will let you all know my decision for feedback.
as for what type of a plant or vine to grow near a unit, something deciduous could work slightly better if you have a heat pump. That way, sun is shaded from the unit in summer, but allowed thru in winter. (of course, much depends on actual placement of the unit in regards to the south or west)
Englemann's Ivy (Virginia Creeper, Woodbine) I believe loses it's leave in winter.
I have considered extending my fence such that our unit would be in my 'backyard' where the dog is. Could probably position the end panel to shade the unit. Help protect it from copper thieves as well.
Dunno if it violates zoning or other rules - some folks may need to check with their HOA or local code enforcement.