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Planting trees DESPITE septic tank/leach lines

Posted by fenix 7 (My Page) on
Thu, Oct 29, 09 at 17:08

Hi all,

This past summer I purchased a home that sits on an acre in upstate South Carolina. Due to the size of the lot the home features a septic tank and leach lines - I've always had city sewer in the past. Because I did not have any experience with septic tanks I gave little thought (as in zero) to potential problems when I began to landscape my place. Long story short I planted several trees in a backyard that was in desperate need of them; now I am finding out about the damage they will inevitably cause.

Here's my question: Do I absolutely have to remove the trees or is it reasonable to think that a proper maintenance program such as flushing copper chloride will keep the lines clean? I am a huge tree lover and am almost willing to risk the future expense of the tree-root damage for the beauty that the tree will provide in the years leading up to it and after it, but am having an attack of conscious thinking about future home owners (if I were to ever sell it that is).

What do you guys think? Can I keep them or do they have to go? FYI...planted a nuttal oak, two october glory red maples, legacy sugar maple, green vase zelkova on the left side of the property (closer to the tank itself, with the oak being the only one within twenty feet of the tank) and a willow oak and autumn blaze maple on the other end near the part where the leach field drains.

PS. I'm only asking here b/c extensive internet research led me to the answers I expected. I'm hoping one intelligent, like-minded soul out there can offer me hope!


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Planting trees DESPITE septic tank/leach lines

  • Posted by jean001 z8aPortland, OR (My Page) on
    Thu, Oct 29, 09 at 19:48

I'd suggest you remove the trees ASAP. If they destroy the leach field, you have to have another place to install another one. (Unless of course, you can install a sewer line.)

Then for shade, plan something structural -- awnings, patio overhead and the like.


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RE: Planting trees DESPITE septic tank/leach lines

The previous owner of my house had to spend thousands of dollars to have their septic tank redone a few years before I moved in most likely due to a huge white ash and oak tree planted ten and fifteen feet off the system.

Were the trees worth it? Were they worth it when a japanese maple, redbud, or dogwood could have probably been planted in their place?

For me I've decided to live with the trees. They're too big now for me to remove so I'll be out a $$$$'s to have them removed. Compared to the $$$$ they'll cause in damage again maybe in a number of years I'm taking the chance I'll be gone by the time they cause problems.

Oh, and I wouldn't trust any miracle mix you dump in your pooper to keep the trees away unless the owner of the company backed up the claim with dedicated secure funds.


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RE: Planting trees DESPITE septic tank/leach lines

On top of everything else, most of the trees that you planted are some of the worst offenders as far as aggressive root systems especially the Autumn Blaze. I can guarantee you that it will be a formidable problem by itself. Throw in two red maples and a zelkova and it's not a matter of if but rather when your septic system fails.


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RE: Planting trees DESPITE septic tank/leach lines

Proximity and root behavior is everything.

Here is a link that might be useful: In case you haven't seen this


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RE: Planting trees DESPITE septic tank/leach lines

I feel your pain. Why don't builders take landscaping into consideration when they build homes? Never mind, I already know the answer to that!
I live on a farm site, built in 1948. The farmer who built it ran the water main from the well, which is 50 feet east of the house and ended it at the southwest corner of the house. The main lays 10 feet south of the house.
The propane tank and a root cellar are also to south of the house, maybe 30 feet south.
Then they ran the septic tank straight out from the west (back side) of the house 20 feet out and the leaching field extends another 50 feet out.
Id love to ask the farmer, "Why all this blocking of prime tree spots?" Makes me nuts! I was young and dumb when I bought this place. I didn't consider shade, I just found a place I could afford with enough land to keep my horses. Compromises and acceptance.
I have compromised by planting an ash tree 20 feet west of the southwest corner of the house. It's probably 25 feet from the water main and 20 feet from the septic line. I planted a maple 20 feet south of the ash. Last fall I added a hawthorn 10 feet from the propane tank. I'm getting braver. Or crazier. Our leaching field is ancient and when it goes I WILL steal some more tree room.
I would sketch out where your leach lines go, see what you planted within 20 feet of it and talk to a septic guy. I don't think the chemicals will save you from tree roots.
I'd be most worried about roots in the connection from the tank to the leech lines or the center of the field than at the end. How long ago did you plant the trees and what size are they?


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RE: Planting trees DESPITE septic tank/leach lines

The trees were planted this past summer (planted in July, in South Carolina, which was dumb in and of itself but I couldn't wait - I babied them and they all good). They were large trees at the time of planting - all 13-16' tall and 2' caliper.

So, I know the Nuttal oak has got to go (absolutely breaks m heart) due to its proximity to the tank itself, but what about installing root barriers to redirect the roots away from the tank and lines?

If/when it does fail what would I be looking at for a cost in terms of repairs? Does anybody think it would be a risk worth taking?


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RE: Planting trees DESPITE septic tank/leach lines

when the neighbor had his field re-done .... here is what they found ...

grass in .25 inches of sand .... and then 12 to 15 inches of maple roots ...

you know what to do... now take care of it... or else.. put about $10,000 in savings for the re-do ... and dont forget to give it to the next owner, should you sell the nightmare you have created ....

good luck

ken
Photobucket


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RE: Planting trees DESPITE septic tank/leach lines

The previous owners planted trees everywhere on this 1.25 acre lot 40-something years ago, including the front yard where the septic system is. This yard was SO overgrown that one next-door neighbor called it the "Forest" and the other thought it was an undeveloped lot because they couldn't see the house! There were 2 enormous oaks along one side of the septic system within 15-20 feet (removed), and there is Silver maple about 25 feet away on the other side of the tank (not removed).

Fast foward to 8 years ago before I bought the house. To prepare for sale, previous owner removed numerous large trees in front yard and had to have major septic work done to pass septic inspection in our state - the pipes and Dbox were infested with roots. Then a couple years ago I had to call Mass Sewer & Drain to roto-rooter the main drain - tree roots in the pipe! I suspect it was the Silver maple, which has also heaved front sidewalk.

If it were me (and I manage property for a living), I would NOT plant any trees within a specified distance from a septic system. You can call your local Board of Health and ask for recommendations. For those who already have trees near septic - I've read you can put a dose of Aluminum sulfate down the main drain periodically, and that will kill invading roots.


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RE: Planting trees DESPITE septic tank/leach lines

Can you hook up to city sewer? Have you checked recently? The last place I lived, the neighborhood had just got city hookups and people that had septic systems hooked up to the city for sewer only but kept their well water.

If not and you decide to remove, I think you should wait until the trees are dormant to do it. Dig the new planting holes before you dig the trees up that way they aren't sitting out of the ground for very long.


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RE: Planting trees DESPITE septic tank/leach lines

Just wanted to add, after approx 35 years of operation, I would guess the previous owner spent about $5-10K on repair to the septic system due to trees. In addition, she spent $3-5K on 1.5 days of tricky tree removal in the front yard (close to the house, wires, road, etc.). Total: $8-15,000. This expense and hassle can be completely avoided by landscaping the yard according to the most conservative recommendations by your local or state health department. The area above the septic tank and leach area is a great place for turf grass and a play area.

Since your trees were just planted, it shouldn't be too much trouble to move them. IMO it's worth the effort to do it now and have them be sited where they can be enjoyed for a long time and avoid the head/heartache of yourself or any future owner having to do septic repair or remove some beautiful trees.


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RE: Planting trees DESPITE septic tank/leach lines

fenix,
It's not really so dire a situation as the helpful folks have made it seem.
You can control root invasion by flushing copper sulfate down the toilet 2-3 times a year. See the linked article below.
My old friend and mentor Guy Sternberg, who operates Starhill Forest Arboretum, has had his septic leach field running out through a heavily wooded area for decades, with no problems - but they do 'treat' with CuSO4 at least twice yearly.
The maples will tend to be the most problematic of the species you've planted; oaks are not much of a threat.

Here is a link that might be useful: Controlling Root Invasion with CuS04


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RE: Planting trees DESPITE septic tank/leach lines

i note the link is CONTROLLING root invasion ... not SOLVING ...

i am leery of snake oil claims of prevention ... or solution ...

if in fact it can KILL a root in the zone .... yet not kill the tree .... how can you prevent the otherwise aggressive tree from growing new roots into the system ...

oh i know... dump $15 of solution down the drain 3 times a year ... FOREVER .....

now if you insist on trees ... as noted way up top .. there are much better ... smaller... slower growing trees that you might be able to stay ahead of... as compared to maples ...

ken


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RE: Planting trees DESPITE septic tank/leach lines

Ken,
Neither you nor I would have planted the maples - regardless of whether there's a septic leach field or tank involved; neither of us are maple affectionados. The oaks pose minimal to no threat.
I'd gladly spend $50 bucks a year on some CuSO4 to flush down the system and have some nice trees, rather than have a blazing hot shadeless lot or be relegated to only small wannabe trees.


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RE: Planting trees DESPITE septic tank/leach lines

If you buy the copper sulfate in bulk its not expensive.
I do know that if you use it after the trees have plugged your lines it will kill them.


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RE: Planting trees DESPITE septic tank/leach lines

I've found this thread very interesting; my wife & I bought a house this past summer & planted a 14.5' October Glory red maple in the backyard. I'm pulling a night call shift now so I'm not in a position to measure it now, but I'm thinking the tree is a good 40-50' from the septic tank. I hadn't known squat about 'leach fields' for the most part. I believe there are 3 drain lines, and the prior owner indicated pipe doesn't run all the way through them since drainage is good (basically, the pipes don't run the full length of the gravel trenches).

Which raises a question. Is the problem with tree roots & leach fields solely an issue of roots invading pipes & such, clogging them?

So it's not about roots altering soil properties so in-ground effluent waste doesn't 'percolate' (or whatever) properly through the soil?

I've been Googling & checking out varied web sites on leach fields tonight. It's the first house we've owned, and it seems there's always something else old/new to get up to speed on.

Richard.


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RE: Planting trees DESPITE septic tank/leach lines

I'd gladly spend $50 bucks a year on some CuSO4 to flush down the system and have some nice trees, rather than have a blazing hot shadeless lot or be relegated to only small wannabe trees.

Nor is the situation as dire as having a blazing hot desert in the back yard! The original poster has 1 acre of land - surely he has plenty of room to plant trees that will eventually provide plenty of shade and not threaten the septic system.

How often are trees sited inappropriately, causing all manner of problems aside from just roots in drain pipes? Many people seem to have a problem envisioning how large tree become upon maturity. Copper sulfate may be appropriate when there are already existing mature trees that the homeowner wishes to preserve, but it's not without its risks to the septic. Not to mention how many homeowners remember to do such maintenance faithfully? It is a control measure for a PROBLEM - why not avoid that problem in the first place if possible?

A quick google indicates the usual recommendation is that planting distance from the septic system = the ultimate height of the tree.


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RE: Planting trees DESPITE septic tank/leach lines

Despite all of the "advice" I still do not think I'll be able to remove the trees - I would much much much rather have them there than not. I still haven't had any comments/responses with regard to the root barriers, which is how I see the procession of the situation.

Lucky P - Thanks.

Ken - I don't see you and I going fishing together anytime soon. Lighten up my man; life is short.


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RE: Planting trees DESPITE septic tank/leach lines

Pecan trees have been growing near my septic field for over 30 years. I'm not sure I would risk it with the maples, I've seen red maple roots practically growing on top of the ground. I would at least replace the maples with hickories or some other deep rooted tree.


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RE: Planting trees DESPITE septic tank/leach lines

Does this Copper Fungicide CuSO4 stuff come with a full repair your septic tank for xxx year guarantee or do it's seller's have no faith in the product?

New cars come with warranties.


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RE: Planting trees DESPITE septic tank/leach lines

IF you are willing to shell out the hefty expense that could be needed to repair the septic system and IF you are willing to treat religiously with the copper sulphate, then go ahead and leave the trees in place. But I think you are just asking for trouble. Root barriers are a possible short term solution - they will only delay the inevitable and can just as easily negatively impact the health of the trees if needed to be installed too close to the trunk or current root ball.

There are very good reasons why it is advised to plant trees well away from septic systems - it just creates very costly problems that can impact not ony your plumbing, but a well if you have one and groundwater. Tree roots spread out a great distance, some much further than others -- a good rule of thumb is 2-3 times the mature spread of the tree. And several of those you have planted are considered no-no's within a 100' of a septic system. But it's your choice.......:-)

Does this Copper Fungicide CuSO4 stuff come with a full repair your septic tank for xxx year guarantee or do it's seller's have no faith in the product? New cars come with warranties.

That's one of the sillier questions/statements I've seen in awhile! Copper sulphate is a chemical with a host of different usages - it was not invented or intended specifically to "cure" root problems with septic systems but has found to be moderately effective in doing so. But when you are dealing with living organisms (trees) there are NO guarantees about anything -- these are not new cars. The only 'guarantee' you can expect to realize when it comes to dealing with tree roots potentially damaging a septic system is to NOT plant them anywhere close.


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RE: Planting trees DESPITE septic tank/leach lines

  • Posted by jean001 z8aPortland, OR (My Page) on
    Sun, Nov 1, 09 at 12:39

OP said "I still haven't had any comments/responses with regard to the root barriers,"

Root barriers will buy you time. Perhaps several to 5 years. You will ultimately have to pay!

It will be easy to remove the two trees now, then either replace with "well-behaved" kinds, and/or build a protective structure -- an overhead with clambering vine can be very attractive.

You need professional advice about septic systems.
Here's a page of informational links from Oregon:
http://wellwater.oregonstate.edu/septicsystems

Here is a link that might be useful: professional advice re septic systems


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RE: Planting trees DESPITE septic tank/leach lines

People have been planting trees near septic lines for several generations now, hoping and wishing that the roots won't screw up the system. Some have their hopes realized. Most do not. Roll the dice if you wish, but set aside some money for when your wishes don't come true.

Dan


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RE: Planting trees DESPITE septic tank/leach lines

Jean, I read the link that you sent me and interestingly it says that "Less risky are maple and fruit trees"...huh; conflicting.

So, I've been thinking a lot about this and still feel like taking the risk given where most of the trees are planted. I know I've got one of the nuttal oaks planted too close to the system/tank itself and it will have come out. I'm thinking about removing the ABM and planting the oak there.

Does anybody have any thoughts about the others? After the ABM the one closest to the leach field is a Willow Oak. The Sugar Maple, Zelkova, Red Maples and Overcup Oaks may be far enough away. They are not 25', but they are a good 15-20'.


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RE: Planting trees DESPITE septic tank/leach lines

"Does this Copper Fungicide CuSO4 stuff come with a full repair your septic tank for xxx year guarantee or do it's seller's have no faith in the product? New cars come with warranties.

That's one of the sillier questions/statements I've seen in awhile! Copper sulphate is a chemical with a host of different usages - it was not invented or intended specifically to "cure" root problems with septic systems but has found to be moderately effective in doing so. But when you are dealing with living organisms (trees) there are NO guarantees about anything -- these are not new cars. The only 'guarantee' you can expect to realize when it comes to dealing with tree roots potentially damaging a septic system is to NOT plant them anywhere close."

We agree entirely. This chemical is NOT as reliable as a new Yugo was. I agree, no one is silly enough to guarantee it will work. Lloyds of London won't even give you a policy on it and they ensure ridiculous things like the vocal chords of drug Bob Dylan.

Here is a great link about septic systems. The fields and all their wet nutrition have to attract tree roots.

Here is a link that might be useful: About septic systems


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RE: Planting trees DESPITE septic tank/leach lines

Does anyone on this forum have (or has had) a septic system on a wooded lot? Obviously, that concept is far from unique. How do those individuals manage it?


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RE: Planting trees DESPITE septic tank/leach lines

Doesn't it all come down to how deep your leach field is placed and how deep the roots of the given tree are? It's all relative.

I've got 3 October Glory's planted on one side of my yard. They are about 35 feet from the tank, and the last tree furthest from the tank, ends up being 10 feet from a pipe (because the piping is diagonal), but the piping is 10 feet down at that particular area, based on the slope of the system. Our septic tank is at 5 feet below and the piping slope down to around 10 feet or so before it is all said and done.

October Glory's specifically aren't known for aggressive root systems, and most of their roots are in the first 18 inches of soil, right?

When we bought our home the new owner had just put in an entire new septic system and it cost them $3k, around here if it is just piping it is $1500. I'll keep my October Glory's and take the chance. Heck, my next door neighbor lives on a postage stamp, ;literally, not even a 1/4 acre, and he has a mature willow oak within 5 feet of his septic system. It hangs about 30 feet over the other neighbor's property who doesn't say anything about it. I am totally serious. I don't know if it is because of our sandy rocky loam, well drained soil that keeps that willow in check but whatever the reason it isn't. interfering.


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RE: Planting trees DESPITE septic tank/leach lines

$3K for a septic system? Wow, that is cheap! In Massachusetts, we have strict state septic regulations - some towns have imposed additional regulations on top of the state. To sell a house, you must pass a septic inspection and new systems usually start between $10-15K.

If a new system cost only 3K, maybe tree roots are not such a big deal. On the flip side - a new system may NOT cost only $3K 15 or 30 years down the road. Your local/state regulations may change, adopting stricter requirements. You may need to remove those wonderful trees to have adequate space for a new system (new systems generally can't be built in the same spot as the old). Also, a system that apparently works fine, may be contaminating a nearby well. Etc. Etc.

People will plant what they want. I love trees too, but take a conservative approach due to experience, and the current regulatory environment.


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RE: Planting trees DESPITE septic tank/leach lines

I've been doing some reading up on the subject online, as I find it applies to me (and our 14.5' October Glory, planted back in July or thereabouts). I sent a letter to the previous home-owner asking for a refresher on how the leach field lines run behind our home, and I'm hoping to track down just where the gravel leach field lines run - you can do that, from what I understand, with a T-handled pipe probe like this one:

http://www.lowes.com/lowes/lkn?action=productDetail&productId=91700-85223-P27-003&lpage=none

And hopefully dig a long, 2' deep trench and put down a root barrier like the 2'x2' section carton of 20 for ~ $150 listed on this web page - http://www.berkeysupply.com/root-barriers.html?gclid=CLXtweys650CFQtM2godw0LwKw

While I recognize that putting trees nowhere near leach fields is the most conservative risk-free option, the layout of many peoples' home properties do raise a need for some alternatives.

I'm guessing paying somebody to come dig up, move and replant a 15' tree wouldn't be cheap, either, and we really want that maple tree where it is (about 50' behind the house), to become a large shade tree someday.

Richard.


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RE: Planting trees DESPITE septic tank/leach lines

fenix,
Visit the Starhill Forest Arboretum website, linked below, and contact Guy - their septic leach field runs out through a heavily-wooded area. I'm sure he'll be glad to shoot straight with you about any problems they've had - as well as what they do to keep root invasion under control. I'm pretty sure he's the person who first pointed me toward the CuSO4 treatment info.

Here is a link that might be useful: Starhill Forest Arboretum


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