vacation home by the ocean

daphnexduck(Z8 Tacoma, WA)August 30, 2012

I recently purchased two lots with a manufactured home on them, surrounded by native trees and with a couple of rhodys and a hydrangea. It's close to the ocean - may be IN the ocean one day!

I've never gardened where the water comes from a well, or over a septic tank or where I don't live full time. HELP!

I know it's not a good idea to use any chemicals that will pollute the well water, but I have a zillion dandelions I'd like to get rid of. Is hand digging my only option?

And I know I'm not supposed to plant trees or shrubs with deep root systems on the drain field.

Are there any good websites that would give me good info about plants that would be fun for my vacation home but would survive a month at a time with no care. Any tips?

Thanks so much,

Daphne in Tacoma

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In designing your landscape, do a bubble drawing and design the 'rooms' in your yard. Draw in the buildings and permanent features, then draw a bubble in the yard where the kids' play area will be, or where your barbeque pit or hot tub will go. Once you know what the functions of areas of your yard will be, plan the features you want in each area - a swingset in the play area, a fountain in the meditation garden, etc., then start drawing in the paths to connect the 'rooms'. Next, start drawing circles where you want trees to be, and smaller circles where you want shrubs to be, then freeform, flowing shapes where you want flower beds to be. Look at some landscape design websites, or check out some books at the library on landscape design. Start with a good landscape design, and it pays dividends.

I've attached a link to a list of plants suitable for growing on septic mounds. Mounded septic systems are common where I live in Thurston County in places where the soil doesn't perk, but the plants listed are fine for planting on any drainfield, since their roots don't run deep. The drawback of this list is that it only lists native plants - but that can also a benefit for properties that are unattended for long periods of time, since they are suited to our climate, and once established, won't need supplemental watering. No matter what you plant, though, it will need to be watered regularly during the first year. I recommend that you plant your landscaping in the fall, when mother nature will help you water it. Non-native plants that may be well-suited to your site include (off the top of my head) thrift, sedums, yarrow, cactus (we have a couple of native cacti), blanketflower, echinacea, candytuft, ornamental grasses (avoid running bamboos), yucca, pampas grass, red hot poker, sneezeweed, coreopsis, sunrose, rock rose, creeping thyme, wooly thyme, iceplant, shasta daisies, poppies, lavender, Russian sage, beach strawberry, lambs ears, and Meditteranean herbs, to name a few. If your lots are exposed to salt spray, the choice of plants that can tolerate salt is a lot shorter.

For help in choosing plants put 'Xeriscaping plants' in your search engine. Here are a few websites:

(PSA) If you have room on the edge of your property, seriously consider planting madrona trees. If you already have them, don't put too many plants around them, as they need good air circulation, low humidty, low soil fertility and low soil moisture to help prevent blackspot. Madrona populations are seriously threatened, and they need all the help they can get. If you do plant madronas, I recommend you get them from Sound Native Plants Nursery in Olympia, or another nursery that marks their exposure. Madronas should always be planted with the same side facing the sun as when they were grown, so Sound Native Plants marks the south exposure of the plants to aid in planting it with the same side facing south. This practice prevents sunburn, which can severely injure the plant and contribute to its decline. (End PSA)

In addition to making wise plant choices, you should also mulch to help retain moisture. Liberal use of hardscapes and non-plant features such as fountains, statues, benches, sundials, etc. help reduce the area you need to plant (or weed). If you want to install an irrigation system, I recommend a drip system under the mulch - another term is 'microirrigation'. You run an irrigation hose around the garden and puch a hole in it exactly where you need it to water a specific plant. And, being under the mulch, you don't lose any water to evaporation. You can go to for help in designing your irrigation system. When I was getting my degree in Horticulture, you could send Rainbird a drawing of your landscape and they would design a system for you, and tell you what you need to buy to install it. I don't know if they still do that, but you can check out their website or call them. Microirrigation (drip) systems are very simple to do yourself.

To get rid of the dandelions, the easiest, most eco-friendly choice is to smother them. You don't want to lay landscape fabric over your drainfield. Instead, cover it with cardboard or newspapers (several pages thick - the Daily Olympian is printed on unbleached paper with soy ink if you are seriously serious about reducing environmental impact), then put your topsoil or material for your paths directly on top of that. The paper or cardboard eventually decompose, but by then, hopefully, your landscape is established. Edge your paths to keep the soil and path material from mixing.

If you are looking for plants for your yard, you are welcome to come to my plant trade on Sept 15 in Olympia (check out my posting here: You don't have to bring anything to trade, and I'm going to have a whoooole lotta plants to give away. If you do come to the trade, look for me, and I'd be happy to discuss your landscaping options with you in more detail.


Here is a link that might be useful: Plants for Septic Mounds

    Bookmark   August 31, 2012 at 3:39AM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Some that stand out when you go to the ocean beach are evergreen huckleberry, Hooker willow, Pacific wax myrtle, salal, Scouler's polypody, shore pine and twin-berry honeysuckle.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2012 at 11:18PM
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