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Dos and Don'ts of Septic System Landscaping

Cement septic tank for waste water.
Leach field landscaping can either help or harm your septic system. When done right, it can prevent erosion, protect your septic system from catastrophic freezing, assist in evaporation, and look great. When done wrong, it can actually cause damage by introducing thirsty tree roots that will pry open your pipes and leach lines.
Here are some dos and don'ts for landscaping in these areas.

Do Install Risers First

Risers are tubes that let you and your septic contractor access your septic tank from above without digging down to the tank itself. They're topped by a manhole-like cover that's often made of hard green plastic. Making sure that you have a riser on every access point will help save your landscaping from upheaval later.

Don't Plant in Winter

If your septic system has just been installed and winter is coming on, you'll want to wait until spring to plant. Instead of planting in winter, simply mulch over the septic tank to protect against freezing. Then plant in spring so the plants will have plenty of time to become established and form their own insulating layer before the next cold season.

Do Choose Mat-Forming Plants

In addition to providing a layer of insulation for your system, your landscaping plants should also control erosion. If the dirt washes away from above your tank, it will be left exposed to the weather. This is another way the plants above your septic system can help protect it. Strong masses of roots near the surface of the soil are a good thing.

Don't Choose Woody Plants

Bushes and trees are very bad for septic systems. If you really want some height in your planting, consider a very tall ornamental grass clump for this purpose; some types of ornamental grass can grow to 10 feet or more in height.

Do Check Root Type and Depth

Research each type of plant before you decide to use it. If it's considered a water-loving plant, its roots may seek out your septic pipes at all costs. Or if its roots typically grow down to the depth your tank is buried at, you could have a problem.
If your tank is a newer one and very close to the surface, this could limit your options considerably. You can also mound up more dirt over the tank to allow plants with slightly deeper roots. Talk to your septic contractor about this possibility — it may affect your septic tank's riser and other aspects of the system.

Don't Start Until You Know Where Everything Is

Check your as-built diagram so you know just where all leach lines, pumps, access points, tanks, and other parts of the system are located. The last thing you want is to accidentally damage something and have to pay for repairs just because you were trying to install some plants. Once you start digging, be cautious, and stop if anything seems suspicious.

Do Consult Your Septic Contractor If Unsure 

If you're considering a type of plant and you're not sure it fits the criteria, talk to your septic contractor about it. They've probably seen lots of septic systems damaged by roots and can give an expert opinion on whether you'd be taking a risk by planting that type of plant above your septic system.

Don't Plant Edibles

Your leach field or septic tank area is not the area for your vegetable or herb garden. Although septic systems are a great way to process waste, you don't know for sure what's in the soil, and the area can easily become contaminated if the system malfunctions or leaks. 

Do Let the Leach Field Evaporate

Plants growing above the leach field can help it evaporate water into the air, which is why you should always have a good groundcover in this area, such as grass. However, don't use landscape fabric, plastic, or heavy mulch, which can impede the evaporation process. 

These dos and don'ts will help you navigate your septic tank and leach field's landscaping needs. Drainage Solutions - Septic Repair & Service is standing by to help if you need advice, emergency septic repairs, or even just routine maintenance. Contact us for assistance.

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