16 Landscaping Rules For Your Septic System

June 29, 2021

The main purpose of your septic system is to manage wastewater produced in your house. This is done through an intricate network of underground tanks and pipes, hidden from public view by a layer of soil.

So, whatever landscaping you do above the septic system, you need to ensure the objective of properly managing household wastewater isn’t compromised. Here are 16 landscaping rules for your septic system.

1. Don’t Plant Trees Nearby

Trees are known to spread their roots underground to distances you might not even believe. If these roots grow around and into the perforated pipes, the smooth flow of wastewater would be obstructed. This means the septic system wouldn’t drain water as required. Sooner or later, the main septic tank would get filled to capacity and even overflow.

If the roots are woody enough, they could break the pipes into pieces and crack tanks. That’d cost you thousands of dollars in repair work.

To avoid such problems, try not to plant trees like sweetgum, weeping willow, cottonwood, and acacia near your septic system. If you must plant trees in your yard, spare a distance of at least 9 meters from the periphery of the drainage area. Just try to avoid some specifically notorious trees and shrubs like the following:

  • Pussywillow shrubs
  • Tulip trees
  • Elm trees
  • Birch trees
  • Beech trees
  • Lombardy poplar trees
  • Japanese willow shrubs
  • Ash trees

Nevertheless, there are a number of trees that are considered safe for septic systems, given that their roots don’t invasively spread longitudinally but rather grow deep into the ground. These include the following:

  • Cherry
  • Palm trees
  • Crabapple
  • Olive
  • Dogwood
  • Pine trees
  • Oak

2. Avoid Plants That Require Watering

If you have plants growing on your septic system that you need to water on a regular basis, you’d end up waterlogging the soil within no time. The wastewater beneath would then have no dry soil into which it can get absorbed. If this happens, the septic system may no longer do the job it’s supposed to do.

3. Take Care Of Your Septic System

Landscaping goes hand in hand with maintenance. Whether you grow grass or a flower garden on the drain field, you need to regularly check the status of the septic tank and pipe network.

You also need to empty your septic tank after every three or five years. Of course, this isn’t a maintenance procedure you could carry out on your own. You’d need to hire the services of professional sewer companies, like AAA Sewer Service and similar service providers. Doing so would help you have a functional wastewater drainage system that’d serve you for several decades without any need for expensive repairs.

4. No Veggies, Please

There’s no denying that the soil covering your drain field contains a wide range of nutrients. In fact, if you grow vegetables like kales, spinach, and tomatoes, they’d flourish to a degree you’ve probably never seen before.

But the problem lies with the contaminants that would find their way into the plants. As much as the soil treats the effluent to completion, the treatment process can’t be said to be complete within the topsoil. The effluent in this zone is very fresh and could cause great harm to your health if ingested through food. Root vegetables such as carrots and bulb onions could pose even more harm since the edible parts are in direct contact with the contaminated soils.

Sewage may contain various toxic substances. And these include the following:

  • Heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead, mercury, selenium, and antimony
  • Volatile organic compounds like bromoethane, chloroethane, and vinyl chloride
  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons such as fluorene and pyrene
  • Pharmaceuticals like ciprofloxacin, diphenhydramine, and triclocarban
  • Steroids and hormones
  • Flame retardants

Most of these substances don’t biodegrade but rather bioaccumulate. If their levels in your body reach a toxic level, you could suffer from serious health conditions like cancer. What’s worse is it could even be fatal.

5. Don’t Use The Drain Field As A Grazing Field

You may be tempted to grow pasture grass on your septic drain field and allow your livestock to freely graze there. This would be a grave mistake. Remember, a healthy cow could weigh up to 700 kgs. That’s even heavier than the lawnmowers you’re advised not to use on the drain field.

And to add to that, livestock would subject the ground to even more pressure. Thus, they could easily and haphazardly wreak havoc on the underground network of drainage pipes.

6. Forget About Parking Your Car There

The fact that septic systems could eat a sizable portion of your land may perhaps make you think far and wide about how to make use of this idle piece of land. Probably one of the options you’ve brainstormed is placing paving blocks for parking a car or two. But this would be a no-no.

Vehicles are very heavy. A medium-sized saloon car weighs as much as 2 tons. Imagine that kind of weight on top of plastic drain pipes. There may be no chance of survival, and they could all be broken into pieces within a short time.

In addition to breakages, vehicles could considerably compact the soil underneath. Compacted soils don’t adequately drain the effluent due to the reduced volume of interparticle spaces. The reduction of oxygen within the soil could also reduce the activity of organisms on the effluent, and this may result in poor treatment of the wastewater. Therefore, it’d be a good idea to just forget about using the drain field as a parking area.

In this same way, try to avoid the creation of walkways that typically attract high foot traffic. Continuous pounding of human feet on the drain field has the same implication as the vehicles described above.

7. Plant Grass

When all is said and done, grass is probably one of the safest plants to cover your drain field. This is because grasses could absorb lots of water from the soil and pass it to the atmosphere. This would be great for a drain field since your aim is to get rid of the wastewater you generate.

Go for grasses like fescue, lawn, ornamental grasses, and wildflower meadow mixes. You could also try native ground covers like bunchberry, lady fern, chameleon, sweet woodruff, wild ginger, wintergreen, periwinkle, ground ivy, carpet heathers, cotoneaster, and bugleweed. If you wish, you could also add shallow-rooted perennials like marigold, impatiens, zinnias, salvias, petunias, and geraniums.

Given they’re safe, perhaps the only worst thing you could do is overwater them so as to make them grow faster. This would clog the ground and make your septic system struggle to drain water away. A good approach is to plant them during the rainy season, when it’s inevitable to have water from outside sources falling on the drain field.

8. Place Drought-Tolerant Plants

Drought-tolerant plants usually have shallow root systems and would require very little water once they’re established. Thus, they wouldn’t force you to water them regularly, which could, in turn, saturate the soil with water. Good examples of drought-resistant plants you could use are the following:

  • Aloe
  • Artichoke
  • Fountain grass
  • Kangaroo paw
  • Pride of Madeira
  • Pencil tree
  • Agave
  • Jade plant
  • Cactus
  • Blanket flower

9. Avoid The Use Of Heavy Machinery

For whatever plant you grow on your septic drain field, restrain yourself from using heavy machinery for their maintenance. Instead, keep your lawn maintenance activities as light as possible.

Using a heavy lawnmower would subject the pipes beneath to undue pressure, and you might end up breaking the pipes that convey wastewater. This would impair the drainage system and cost you a lot of money in doing repairs every now and then.

10. Don’t Construct Ponds Near Septic Systems

You might be pondering about building a pond in your yard for reasons like visual appeal, mental health benefits, auditory charm, or simply a place to relax. If you construct it near your septic system, chances are high the effluent would be seeping into the pond.

This could be dangerous, especially since the pond remains open. Anybody touching the water of the pond would risk contracting waterborne diseases. The plants that grow and the animals that live there are also filled with toxins. You’d have to exercise unnecessary extreme caution to avoid the contamination of food and water. Therefore, consider shelving the idea of having a pond near your septic system.

11. Forget About Build A Swimming Pool Around The Septic

Similar to ponds, swimming pools would not be a good idea to place. Depending on the quality of construction, groundwater may seep into the pool from underneath or the sides. Imagine how it feels to swim in water mixed with sewage effluent. It’s unthinkable.

The water infiltrates every nook and cranny of your body. You may also ingest the water as you swim. This would expose you to swimming pool diseases like bacillary dysentery, schistosomiasis, and giardiasis.

12. Direct Surface Drainage Away

Your yard would surely flow with surface runoff during the rainy seasons. Some of this water would come from the roof of your house and hard surfaces like the driveway. Usually, depending on the amount of rain that falls, surface runoff could amount to thousands of liters every day.

Directing such an amount of water to the drain field may not be wise. The whole area could be clogged with water, rendering the system nonfunctional. Therefore, consider channeling all surface drainage away from your septic area.

In the same sense, try to locate any irrigation systems more than 3 meters from the drain field. This includes garden sprinklers.

13. Raised Gardens? Forget About It

You may think about having raised gardens around the drainage field. In a way, this could prevent the contamination of plants by the raw effluent since the roots don’t reach deep into the soil.

However, the problem is the weight of the soil heap. A raised bed that stands half a meter high has enough weight to compromise the integrity of the pipes below. Soil becomes even heavier when clogged with water. Therefore, to be safe rather than sorry, consider abandoning the idea of raised gardens on septic fields.

14. Mark Components For Access

As earlier elaborated, regularly inspecting your septic system is important to ensure it remains functional. These periodic checks could be made easier by appropriately marking components. When the inspectors come to your home, they wouldn’t spend an eternity trying to locate access ports for your septic tanks.

Also, you may want to use lawn ornaments like birdbaths, sculptures, potted plants, or sundials near access ports for quick identification. Another cool idea is to camouflage the ports with a movable bench or planter box.

15. Space Your Plants Close To Each Other

Bare soil is perhaps the last thing you’d wish to see on your drain field. This is prone to erosion, which would dangerously expose the perforated pipes. Should any person, animal, or machine tread around the area, the exposed pipes could easily be crushed.

Bare soil also lets out unpleasant odors from the ground. Plants have a way to minimize odors emanating from the ground through the process of photosynthesis. They release oxygen into the air as well as sweet scents. Hence, you may want to cover the ground with plants as much as possible and ensure plants are close to each other.

16. Have A Truck Access In Mind

Time after time, you may call for sewer experts to pump your septic system. Therefore, ensure that whatever landscaping element you use on the drain field doesn’t hinder the access of septic pumper trucks.

For instance, don’t fence the drain field and install a gate at the entrance. The heavy hoses used for the pumping job would disfigure your priced fence if they go over it. So keep the septic area open and as simple as possible.

In Summary

You now have at your fingertips the dos and don’ts of septic system landscaping. The restrictions, as numerous as they seem, are meant to preserve the functional integrity of your septic system.

You don’t want to have a structure that doesn’t serve its purpose. Therefore, try to diligently adhere to these guidelines. In addition, in case you have any technical questions regarding your septic system, always ask the sewer company of your choice. They’re in a better position to understand your specific issue and advise you accordingly.


Carlos Diaz
I believe in making the impossible possible because there’s no fun in giving up. Travel, design, fashion and current trends in the field of industrial construction are topics that I enjoy writing about.

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