News & Opinion

Landscaping Around a Septic System


The Do’s and Don’t’s of Planting Around The Ol’ Honeypot

More than likely, the area around your septic system is devoid of any large plants, patios, or other fixtures. After all, the prevailing and common wisdom is that you should really avoid both building and major landscaping around a septic system. As a broad, general statement, this is a good rule of thumb for you to follow when moving forward with your landscaping projects.

If you like it when your septic system runs properly, placing swimming pools, patios, and large trees are surefire ways to ruin your day eventually. But, since plants do a great job of absorbing excess moisture and slowing erosion, doing some landscaping around your septic system might not be the worst idea in the world. But, there are both good ways and bad ways to go about it, and that’s what we’re talking about now.

10-Second Summary

Should I include some landscaping around the septic system?

  • Grasses: Yes, provided the grass species doesn’t require maintenance with heavy machinery
  • Gardens: Yes, if we’re talking about flower beds. But no, if we’re talking about woody plants, raised gardens, or crops.
  • Trees: No. Keep trees at least 30 ft from your septic system.
  • Be sure to have your septic system inspected and pumped regularly, and check for root systems infiltrating your septic system

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The Grass is Greener…

Grass is great for the area around your septic system. It happily absorbs extra moisture from around the soil, allowing your septic field to continue to process wastewater effectively and efficiently. Most grass types are fine, but you’ll want to make sure that it’s easy to take care of with a regular, light mowing. Ideally, you’ll want to keep the maintenance to a minimum. Basically, you don’t want any sort of maintenance that requires you to drive heavy mowers or other machinery over any pipes that lie close to the surface.

While grass is good, you’ll probably want to stear cleer of planting gardens. It’s likely that you, or your customer, will look out to the big open space surrounding the septic drane field and think that it would be perfect for planting crops, but resist that urge. Here’s why: anything that grows there will have used wastewater to grow, and do you really want to scarf down that tomato that sprang forth from the fruits of your bowels? I mean, the circle of life is cool and all, but gross.

Raised beds present an alternative here, but again, this might not be the best idea. The weight of the raised garden bed could compromise the integrity of any pipes or the drain field itself. It’s best to set them off to the side of the drain field and away from the septic tank.

Putting Down Roots

But what about plants that aren’t for eating? Can I plant a garden in the area that just looks pretty? Well, maybe. But, you’ll still want to avoid any plants that need a lot of water to thrive. The problem with super thirsty plants is that if they don’t get enough to drink, they’ll send deeper roots that could mess with your pipes.

What about plants that aren’t gluttons for hydration? Well, you’ll still have to water them, but adding extra water to your drain field could get in the way of the job your septic system is already doing. Do you really want to gum up those particular works?

If you really want to work some landscaping around a septic system, choose plants that are known for their shallow root systems, and which tend to be more drought-resistant. Flowering annuals and perennials are a good idea, just avoid plants with woody stems.

Trees + Your Septic System = Bad News

As you can imagine, if planter boxes and heavy machinery can cause problems to your drain field and septic tank, the chances are pretty good that trees are generally a bad idea too, right? That’s correct. Just like with your house’s foundation, roots can cause a lot of damage to your pipes and septic tank. Particularly, trees that grow deep roots can wreak havoc, but it’s best to keep any trees at least 30 ft away from your drain field and tank.

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Preventative Maintenance

Your septic system requires regular maintenance. Likewise, the landscaping around your septic system requires the occasional inspection as well. That means that you’ll want to have your tank inspected every three years, and pumped every three to five years. While you’re having that done, take the time to look for any rogue roots that might have crept their way into dangerous territory. The last thing you really want is for a network of roots to wind their way into your system and infiltrating your pipes or tank. Fixing root damage can be costly.

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