Landscaping and Lawn Care around Your Septic System

Landscaping with a Septic System
Landscaping with a Septic System

We talk a lot about the ways to ensure septic system health from inside the house, but we also need to think about how our landscaping and lawn care affect our systems. We know all about the things we shouldn’t flush down the toilets or pour down the drains. To ensure the health and longevity of your septic system, we also need to be conscious of how to properly landscape and care for the grass around the system.

Landscaping Around Your Septic System

When considering landscaping around your septic system, one of the most important factors you must consider is the root structure of the plants you install near your holding tank and drainfield. Shallow-rooted herbaceous plants (such as perennials and grasses) well-suited for the climate in which they’re planted are the best options for landscaping around a septic system. However, plants with aggressive, deep, water-loving root systems tend to clog or displace pipes within the system. You’ll want to avoid planting trees and large shrubs that have woody stems that do not die back to the ground in winter, as they are more likely to have root systems that will damage your septic system.

Willows, red and silver maples, beeches, birches, elms and poplars have the most aggressive root systems and should be avoided in the landscaping around your septic system. Less aggressive trees include cherries, crabapples, dogwoods, hemlocks, and oaks. You’ll want to be sure these are planted at least as far away as their estimated root spread at maturity, but ideally, they should be planted further away. Roots typically spread out two to four times the diameter of the canopy or one to three times the height of the tree. For example, if you are planting an oak that will grow to be twenty feet tall, you’ll want to plant it no closer than sixty feet from your septic drainfield. You also want to remember that your drainfield functions best in direct sunlight and avoid creating canopy that will keep it shaded.

Lawn Care and Your Septic System

While some homeowners may be rightfully cautious about planting anything around their septic systems, grass planted over a septic drainfield can actually be quite beneficial when certain precautions are taken. Grass will prevent soil erosion, helping ensure your property’s drainage grading is maintained, and will help regulate soil moisture levels, both of which limit the strain on your drainfield. By directly oxygenating the soil and creating a root system that prevents the soil from becoming compacted, grass will also improve the exchange of oxygen, which feeds the microbes working to cleanse the effluent filtering through your system.

As with the landscaping planted around your system, there are some guidelines for planting and maintaining grass planted over your drainfield. First, select a low-maintenance grass species that is well-adapted for the climate in which you live. Doing so will reduce the need for excessive watering or fertilization, both of which can negatively impact your drainfield’s functionality. In Northeast Ohio, our most septic-friendly grass species include Kentucky Bluegrass and Perennial Rye. Often a mixture of these will produce a lush, nicely textured lawn. Second, you’ll want to limit fertilization and irrigation over the drainfield as much as you can. In fact, we recommend any irrigation system in your yard does not spray within 10 feet of your septic system. And finally, when planting grass (or any other shallow-rooted herbaceous plants), avoid adding excessive top soil or mulch. Doing so will interfere with the moisture levels of your drainfield.

The grass above your drainfield may clue you in to what’s happening below ground. If you notice the grass becoming suddenly lusher than the surrounding area, it may indicate a leak in your system. Similarly, a sudden patch of burnt grass may indicate a problem lurking below. If you notice either of these, you’ll want to give us a call so we can diagnose the potential problem.