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Guidelines for Planting Over Septic Systems and Septic Fields: Homeowner Guide to Planting of Trees, Shrubs, Gardens, Grasses, Ground covers over the Septic Tank, Drainfield or Leachfield. This article explains the types of plants that should or should not be planted over or near septic fields or other septic system components.
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Planting Guidelines for Septic Drainfields, Mounds, Raised Beds, Septic Tanks and other Septic Components
This is a guide for homeowners who are planting trees, shrubs, gardens, ground cover, or other plants near a septic system and who need to know that can be planted near or over septic system components like the septic tank, distribution box, and drain field or soil absorption system.
Planting the wrong things or in the wrong places can lead to the need for expensive septic system repairs.
Planting trees, shrubs, and even some ground covers over septic system components are causes of septic system failure in the drain field, leach field, seepage bed, or similar components.
Planting fruit trees, or vegetables (or anything else edible) over the septic drainfield might produce food that is unsafe to eat:
See SEWAGE CONTAMINANTS in FRUIT / VEGETABLES for details.
An explanation of greener or more brown grass over a septic tank or drainfield is
at SEPTIC TANK GRASS or SNOWMELT.
Guide to planting grasses or flowers over septic drain fields or leaching beds
Many people have written to ask what
can be planted over a septic field. Grasses, weeds, flower are OK:
The best answer is grass or native
grasses and weeds.
Flowers are ok so long as they are not varieties
which send down deep roots. In the photograph above these relatively shallow-rooted flowers were set around
a septic tank cleanout cover.
They won't cause any damage to the system. But when planning your planting arrangement for flowers over a septic
tank, remember that if you plant valuable flowers too close to the
access cover to a septic tank or distribution box, those plants may be damaged or destroyed when you have
to excavate to open the tank or D-box cover.
Basically, any shallow-rooting planting
will be fine to plant over the surface of or near septic tanks, distribution boxes, or septic drainfields.
The photograph abve shows typical grass and a few native wildflowers and dandelions growing in a lawn over a septic
system drainfield at a Poughkeepsie New York home.
These plants are not likely to be harmful to the system, they stabilize the soils in the
area, and they do not interfere with soil transpiration or evaporation.
Their roots are relatively shallow so
these plants are not likely to invade the septic drainfield piping. Grass and native wildflowers are fine over
the septic tank or drainfield, and also they are fine over septic mound systems.
Grasses Recommended as Suitable for Planting Over / Near Evaporation-Transpiration Septic Systems
The following table of native (to New Zealand) or introduced species of grasses lists species that are considered suitable for planting over an evapo-transpiration system and should be acceptable over a mound system or conventional drainfield as well. Note that other native species local to your area might also be suitable. 
Table of Grasses Suitable for Planting Over / Near Evaporation-Transpiration Septic Systems 
|Jointed twig sedge
||use native species to your area,
not invasive pampas grass or other invasive species
Original source: "Looking after your household sewerage system," New Plymouth District Council, Taranaki NZ, 
Separately at Trees or Shrubs we provide a similar table of suitable trees or shrubs that can be planted near or in some cases on soakaway beds, drainfields, evapo-transpiration systems. .
Using a Roto Rooter to Remove Roots from Sewer Lines and Septic Systems
Power augers or Roto Rooters™ for plumbing drains can be an effective way to remove a blockage or
clog in a drain line.
But if your plumber shows you a tangle of roots when s/he pulls
the augur back up the drain line, you should expect that additional repairs will be needed
Even if you pull roots out of the blocked pipe section, the fact that they were
in there means a tree, shrub, or other plant has invaded the area and its roots remain
outside the just-un-clogged pipe. You can count on the roots re-invading the pipe
(and getting at those nutrients) soon. So de-rooting a clogged drain line is a temporary
Continue reading at GARDENS NEAR SEPTICS or select a topic from the More Reading links shown below.
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PLANTS & TREES OVER SEPTIC SYSTEMS at InspectApedia.com - online encyclopedia of building & environmental inspection, testing, diagnosis, repair, & problem prevention advice.
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
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Question: flowers at the septic field borders burn up
(Mar 5, 2014) BJ said:
Why do the flowers planted at the very end of a septic leach field eventually appear to have 'burned up' and what can be done to prevent this? Are there any particular flowers that will work better (perennials for sun)?
Thanks for the question, but sorry, I don't know but I suspect that your drainfield is sending a higher concentration of nitrates and nitrites to its borders - which is common as the leach lines slope down towards their ends. Check the soil nitrate levels to see if they're out of bounds.
Thinking in an opposite direction, also check moisture levels; it would be odd but possible that at your property that area is just too dry for the plantings, OR the opposite could be the case - excessive septic effluent may contain detergents or something harmful to the flowers.
I can't recommend specific plants partly because it's not my expertise and partly because it would be risky to recommend something without inspecting and testing the soil in the area you describe.
Question: playing horseshoes over the septic leaching bed or soakbed
(June 23, 2014) Anonymous said:
I want to put in a horseshoe court and it may be over part of my septic leach bed.
My question: I have to drive two steel stakes about a foot down in two places. Will this damage my bed or make it not work?
(June 23, 2014) DanJoeFriedman (mod) said:
Anon you're probably OK, as I'd expect the septic soakaway bed or leachfield pipes to be more than 12" down in the soil. Certainly if you punch a hole in a pipe that's not good - breaking the pipe and inviting a leak.
If you can see the actual location of the trenches by noting the depression lines that often mark their path, be sure to locate your horseshoe court stakes between rather than over the trenches.
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