Planting over septic drain field

freedeeDecember 28, 2008

I re-did my septic drain field this year and did not replant a lawn. My home is on a heavily wooded lot and the septic drain filed is in the front of the house, and is the only sunny area we have. I was going to plant ground covers and perennials. I understand that I can't plant shrubs because the roots will reach down to the water and cause damage to the stuff that I just spent lots of money to install. Here's my idea, what if I plant shrubs in their pots within another pot. Perhaps I could re-pot a new shrub in one of those paper pots that are bio-degradable, and plant that pot, into a larger plastic pot. I would fill the space between the two pots with soil. Every couple of years, I would take them out and prune the roots to make sure they didn't escape. I would be careful not to plant any particularly aggressive plant like bamboo, of course.

Is this a bad idea? Has someone done this before? What could go wrong?

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tibs(5/6 OH)

Call your local health department or whoever it is you got the permit from to do your system. They should be able to give you some advice. You don't want to compact the ground over your leach field.

    Bookmark   December 28, 2008 at 9:50AM
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madtripper(5/6 Guelph)

I've read that most shrubs should be OK, because they have shallow roots compared to trees. But why take a chance? Grow a sunny flower garden and enjoy it.

    Bookmark   December 28, 2008 at 7:39PM
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Tibs is absolutely correct. It really depends on the design of the system and how it is supposed to work.

There are lots of different ways these are designed and are almost always based on standards set by the state and approved locally. That means that in some areas or some states, almost every "drain field" is very similar in design which can lead to accurate generalizations that you can do "this" or can do "that". But, you really don't know unless you find out from the designer (engineer or sanitarian) and/or the local health department who should know the design of that particular system, what is required for it to function properly, and what the legal requirements are for it.

Anything else is speculation.

If there is a failure of the system, things that you have done can be blamed for contributing to that failure whether or not they actually did, so it is important to document what you are told and who told it to you.

    Bookmark   December 29, 2008 at 7:21AM
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davidandkasie(Z8 MS)

here the state law says that nothing other than grasses may be planted on teh field. no hardscape of anykind. other areas you can put shrubs though it is not recommended. i have to agree with tibs, call the health dept and see.

    Bookmark   December 29, 2008 at 1:03PM
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Our health dept. has no restrictions on what can be planted in the leach fields. (They restrict everything else, arrg.) I think their approach is that it just has to work. If my roots damage my system, that's my problem.

I think I'll call the contractor who installed it to see what he thinks. I suppose he'll say only grass, why does he need the responsibility if something goes wrong. I wonder if that will let him off the hook if the system fails, even if it's not due to what I planted over the field.

Ah, I don't believe in guarantees anyway. I just have to gather info and figure this out my self.

    Bookmark   December 29, 2008 at 1:21PM
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