What can be planted near septic? Septic design included.

lindsrocApril 4, 2013

Not sure if this would be the correct forum for this, i am also posting it in the landscape designforum.

We have no landscaping in our backyard, and are new to septic systems. Just wondering with this septic plan- can we plant any trees and shrubs back there or should we just stick with flowers etc? The areas in green is where i would like to plant. Would like to do 2 shrubs against the house and then all along the fence.

Any help or advice is appreciated.

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NHBabs(4b-5aNH)

No woody plants near(on top of or near) the septic. Stick with shallow-rooted plants unless you want to have to replace the septic system when it becomes clogged with roots. Some trees that really like water such as red maples or willows need to be quite a long distance away from a septic field.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2013 at 11:31AM
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NHBabs(4b-5aNH)

Actually, looking at your drawing, I'm a bit unclear . . . cesspool? Do you not have a septic tank and a leach field?

    Bookmark   April 4, 2013 at 11:34AM
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lindsroc

ummmm, i have no idea. we bought our house last year and have never had any sort of septic before. we had to get a Title 5 clearance when we bought the house, so i am assuming it is a septic system? we were told it was a septic system. i honestly dont even know what the difference is. im sure i sound naive- but i grew up with public sewer.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2013 at 12:47PM
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lindsroc

So turns out we have a cesspool. Who knew?! When we bought the house, no one ever mentioned the word cesspool.....it was always septic system. But we also dealt with a very shadey realtor so who knows.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2013 at 2:02PM
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claireplymouth z6b coastal MA

Are you in Massachusetts? This is the Title 5 General Information: Frequently Asked Questions page from Mass DEP.

"What is the difference between a cesspool and a septic system?

A cesspool is a pit which acts as both a settling chamber for solids and a leaching system for liquids. The use of cesspools may overload the capacity of the soil to remove bacteria, viruses, and phosphorous, and to nitrify ammonia and organic nitrogen compounds. A conventional septic system has a tank where solids can settle and begin to degrade, a distribution box, and a soil absorption system (SAS) that further treats the effluent by removing some of the bacteria, viruses, phosphorous, and nitrogen. "

I'm surprised that you got Title 5 clearance and maintained the cesspools. When my father died and my brother and I inherited the property, we had to replace the cesspool with a septic system. It was a very old, very small cesspool and the new system has a septic tank that collects waste from the house and then distributes it to a leach field (in our case the field is small and lies under concrete arches).

Who did that sketch? Was it from the official inspection that gave you Title 5 clearance? If not, then you should get that report to make sure you're legal.

To play it safe, I'd contact the local Building Department and talk to someone who knows your system and can tell you what's reasonable to plant and where.

You need to know what you have because you need to maintain it properly, as well as plant sensibly. The cesspools or septic tank will need to be pumped out regularly.

nhbabs gives good general advice on planting, but the size and extent of the structures is critical.

Claire

    Bookmark   April 4, 2013 at 2:10PM
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tree_oracle(z6b MA)

I cannot believe in this day and time that there are still any homes with a cesspool. These are very dangerous and are simply not a replacement for a septic system. Rather than spending the money on landscaping, I would first have the cesspools filled in and a modern septic system installed.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2013 at 2:35PM
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lindsroc

Claire,
that sketch is from our title 5 certificate. im actually surprised it passed also because we did a VA loan and they were very strict with everything. I just spoke with a local septic service and they are going to come out and do a consultation. The gentleman has several clients on the street and said just about everyone on our street has the same set up.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2013 at 2:36PM
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lindsroc

tree oracle, that would be great if i had an extra 20k laying around.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2013 at 2:37PM
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carol6ma_7ari(zones 6 & 7a)

Not sure about this, but I thought it was THE LAW that cesspools had to be eliminated (pardon the play on words) and proper septic systems installed, when a house changed hands. And if it wasn't done before the title was passed, the seller had to give the buyer a discount equal to the cost of the installation of the new system. Yes, $20 K or whatever. If you haven't owned it that long, look into getting the septic cost paid for by the seller.

Carol

    Bookmark   April 4, 2013 at 3:43PM
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claireplymouth z6b coastal MA

If the cesspools are well-constructed and you maintain them properly (also be careful what you flush and put down the sink), then you can live with them. A modern septic system would be better but the cesspools worked for many people for a long time.

When we were kids there were strict rules about how long a shower could take to avoid stressing the cesspool, but it worked out fine (this was a summer beach house and everyone was encouraged to hose off the salt and sand outdoors before coming inside).

Make sure the septic service tells you how often to pump them out.

Good luck,
Claire

    Bookmark   April 4, 2013 at 3:51PM
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lindsroc

Carol, I did look into it today when i discovered this. This is what I found from the Mass.gov website

"Does Title 5 require every cesspool to be replaced?

No. Only those cesspools that exhibit signs of hydraulic failure, are located extremely close to private or public water supplies, or otherwise fail to protect or pose a threat to public health, safety or the environment will need to be upgraded (310 CMR 15.303). Also, cesspools must be upgraded prior to an increase in design flow (e.g., the addition of a bedroom to a home or seats to a restaurant)."

According to the Title 5...ours is in "great" condition. Now my main concern is if we were to sell in the future... would we have a hard time getting a buyer? We had no idea, but not sure that would happen again.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2013 at 3:57PM
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claireplymouth z6b coastal MA

The OP posted while I was preparing this post so she already found the FAQ:
.................................................................................................
Like carolma I also thought the cesspool had to be replaced when the property changed hands but the FAQ page I linked to above says:

"Does Title 5 require every cesspool to be replaced?

No. Only those cesspools that exhibit signs of hydraulic failure, are located extremely close to private or public water supplies, or otherwise fail to protect or pose a threat to public health, safety or the environment will need to be upgraded (310 CMR 15.303). Also, cesspools must be upgraded prior to an increase in design flow (e.g., the addition of a bedroom to a home or seats to a restaurant)."

I live in Plymouth and they're very picky, particularly since the soil is generally sandy and we're right on top of the big Plymouth Carver Aquifer. Hopefully your neighborhood has better ground conditions - it's a good sign that other people have the same systems.

Claire

This post was edited by claire on Thu, Apr 4, 13 at 16:01

    Bookmark   April 4, 2013 at 3:59PM
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claireplymouth z6b coastal MA

lindsroc: I hope you let us know the results of your meeting with the septic service; in particular, what they say about planting and maintenance.

Since most of your neighbors have the same setup you have a great topic for over-the-fence conversations, and their experience will be invaluable.

Claire (who just realized that the neighbors on either side of us probably still have the original cesspools - not much property turnover here)

    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 11:14AM
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blowell(5b)

If you do decide to sell in the future, your realtor will say the same thing to your prospective buyer, that you have a title 5 certificate. That's all, by law, they have to say. There is a don't ask, don't tell mentallity in the realty world. When we bought our house, we forgot t ask if they had basement water problems. They did not tell. The following spring we had 4 inches of water, and we had not unpacked everything. Lost photos, books, keepsakes from when the kids were little. It's not right, but it's the law.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 12:56PM
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lindsroc

Thank you for the feedback.

I will definitely update when we have our appt.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 5:58PM
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edlincoln(6A)

In answer to the original question...the risks posed by trees to a septic system is exaggerated. Roots can occasionally clog them, but trees can also suck up moisture and actually make the system work better. I've heard willow cause problems, so stick to shallow rooted plants.Blueberries should be fine. American Holly,

    Bookmark   April 8, 2013 at 2:46PM
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edlincoln(6A)

In answer to the original question...the risks posed by trees to a septic system is exaggerated. Roots can occasionally clog them, but trees can also suck up moisture and actually make the system work better. I've heard willow cause problems, so stick to shallow rooted plants.Blueberries should be fine. Small trees like American Holly and flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) should be fine.

Check out:

http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/426/426-617/426-617_pdf.pdf

Also, make sure you use bacterial additives in your ceptic system and have it drained regularly drained to stretch out it's useful life.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2013 at 2:49PM
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claireplymouth z6b coastal MA

A very nice, readable book to have is The Septic System Owner's Manual.

It's aimed more at conventional septic systems but the principles are similar for a cesspool. I have it.

Claire

    Bookmark   April 8, 2013 at 4:15PM
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lindsroc

Ok so we had the septic service come out on Monday and he told us everything looks great. In regards to being able to sell our house in the future... He said cesspools are grandfathered in so we wouldn't need to worry about it especially since ours is in perfect condition. As far as planting, anything with a shallow root system is ok. Also, can't plant anything too close because they had to dig about an 8ft hole to access it.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2013 at 8:37AM
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claireplymouth z6b coastal MA

lindsroc: What about maintenance? Do they have to dig that 8 ft hole to pump the cesspool? Or does it not need pumping?

Claire

    Bookmark   April 21, 2013 at 10:53AM
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