Tree options for septic field - SC

NekokaMay 2, 2005

I just bought a house with a chestnut treee planted practically on top of it in the back yard. It's SO beautiful, but after stepping smack dab on a thorny hull from hell last year and considering it's proximity to the house it's going away!

I don't want to take a tree out without replacing it with another. Here's the problem... my house has a septic tank in the back yard.

What are some tree options for a house with a septic tank? The yard is about 1 acre, but I want to be very careful with the drain field. I know willows and the like are out, as they'll just grow right up into the house :)

My only real concerns, other than septic safety, are that a) the new additions don't drop spiky landmine-like seed pods of doom, and b) they don't drop anything poisonous my doggie brood might eat!

I am researching to plant this fall... is that a good time to plant a new tree?

Any help you can offer would be great.

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gcmastiffs(z10 Florida)

Septic drainage fields aren't all that big. You could have a septic company come out and map out exactly where it is, or, it should be drawn on your site plans.

Personally, I'd go with dwarf or semi dwarf fruit trees, berry bushes or if you want to plant directly over the drainfield, use pots/half whiskey barrels. I had many fruit trees in pots for years until we had our orchard area cleared.

Most fruits are safe for pets. I have 13 dogs and over 100 fruit trees. They are fine together.

I'd visit local nurseries and ask what grows well in your area that doesn't have invasive roots. If you don't like fruit trees, there are sure to be some foliage trees that will work for you.


    Bookmark   May 2, 2005 at 7:13PM
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FariesAngel(z8 S AL)

I am really shocked at the above suggestions. Having lived with septic fields on different properties for over 30 years I can tell you emphatically NOT to grow anything on TOP of your field lines!!!! Any trees should be planted at least 50' from tank and lines unless you wish to pay BIG BUCKS for a new system. My current system is a raised system because of the high water table and is 30' X 90' long. It was designed by the county engineer for our two bedroom two bath home. You can well imagine what a larger home would be. Septic lines are not small if they are done right and all septic fields should be planned out and then checked at different stages in the work to make sure that it is being done to code. People that don't know anything about them take them way too lightly and then run into a lot of expense...I'm talking huge $$$.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2005 at 8:08AM
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My house is pretty small and about 60 years old... I will have to have someone come and map it out for me. I really need to know specifics anyhow.

Planting far from the field shouldn't be a problem as the back yard's pretty large. I don't plan to plant any trees on top of the field anyway. I would be worried about planting fruit trees nearby since they'd be feeding off the septic materials... that worries me. Wouldn't it be dangerous?

I'm mainly looking for tree suggestions that can be planted in the vicinity of the field. I thought y'all could suggest some pretty trees that don't have root systems that will travel across the yard seeking out the septic tank...

Thanks for any help.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2005 at 1:32PM
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gcmastiffs(z10 Florida)

FarieAngel, glad to know I am still capable of shocking someone(G). I've lived in homes with septic systems far longer than you, and know what it costs to get them built, drained, and rebuilt, having experience with older homes.
After a while (years) the fields can clog with sand/hair and have to be dug out or pumped out. Haven't had any root invasions yet.

In Florida, in the rural homes I've lived in, septic sytems are covered with concrete. It is perfectly fine to put "potted" plants on top of them, as I suggested, and trees with small root systems much closer than 50'. I have many fruit trees on dwarfing rootstocks and they have small, shallow root systems. My Pink Lemon tree is about 12' from the drainfield. My raised bed veggie gardens are about 10' away.

A 30' by 90' septic field is HUGE. Our 3/2 house does not have one even half that size. Maybe they are smaller in S. Florida due to the sandy soil? The code here is that the WATER pump/well has to be 100' from the septic system. That means on a lot of an acre or so, the well is on one side of the property and the septic on the other. If you can't put trees closer than 50', you will have a very bare yard.

Nekoka, many popular fertilizers are sewage sludge. Manure is a popular fertilizer. If your septic sytem leaks, the nearest plants will grow like crazy. But, I would NOT expect shallow rooted trees to tap into your septic field at all. Unless they can burrow through concrete. Here, the only area open to the earth for roots to invade is the very bottom of the drainfield, which is lined in brick/rock or other filtering materials. It is like a deep pit, with sides and top of concrete. Maybe they are different in other states..


    Bookmark   May 4, 2005 at 9:09AM
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I wouldn't plant a willow or maple anywhere close to my septic tank or leach lines, but just about any other tree I'd be inclined to plant would probably be just fine. There is an online Cooperative Extension Service Bulletin entitled "Planting on your Septic Drain Field" which may be of interest to you, so far as recommendations, etc. are concerned.
Also, there are copper sulfate preparations that can be flushed into your septic system once yearly that will kill any roots that may have found their way in - and these preps do not have any adverse effect on the microbial population in your septic system, nor do they damage the trees. I have a friend who owns/operates an arboretum in IL, and their septic leach field is in a heavily wooded area - they use the CuSO4 treatment yearly, and have had no problems whatsoever with their septic system in 20+ years.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2005 at 11:36AM
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Kathy547(z8 AR)

We have lived here for about 8 years & in that time have had to have a plumber out 3 times...mostly due to the fact that my husband dumps his cigerette butts down the toilet. Since we live in a small town & out in the sticks, we have problems finding people to come out.

We had to have a plumber come out within the last 2 weeks because stinky water was coming up from the ground & was disgusting. He charged $70 an hour, for a total of $140. He said our tank was full of tree roots. He gave us the number of his brother who pumps out tanks but didn't know if he could pump out the roots. We haven't called the guy yet because I bought some copper sulfate ($13 for a 4 lb. bottle)& used alittle for 2 days. We're trying to give the copper sulfate time to work (& to build the checking account back up).

I want to cut down the trees & plant further away but my husband says no. Within 2 or 3 feet of the septic tank & our house, we have a mimosa tree, a cataba tree, & a southern magnolia tree. I don't care at all for the mimosa or cataba because they grow all over. The magnolia I would like to have but it's also near the transformer & the light company cut the top off so now it looks (to me)ugly.

The septic tank is between the trees & my husband's grape vines. The vine closest to the tank has died, from the leak or something else we don't know, but it was there for at least 15 years.

We have been told to expect pumping out the tank to cost $100-$200.

I will miss the shade from the trees but think if I made flower beds I would get over it. Maybe ornamental grass? Having trees that close just doesn't make sense to me, in my personal opinion.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2005 at 1:36PM
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gcmastiffs(z10 Florida)

There is a big difference between 50' and 2-3 '. I agree that 2-3' is far too close for trees, since they will be in the way if any work has to be done in the future.

Grass and potted plants should be fine, easily removed if needed.

I have no worry that my Lemon tree planted 12' away from the hill of the septic system will do any harm.


    Bookmark   May 12, 2005 at 9:36PM
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roseyp8255(z8 - SC AL)

Here is the link for the above referenced document titled "Planting On Your Septic Drain Field" - I wanted to look it up and bookmark it, so I thought I would post it for anyones future reference.

My DH planted a weeping willow about 30' from our septic tank - i am hoping and praying no problems. I told him not to plant it there - b/c of their root systems. He of course didn't listen....There may come a time when i say "I told you so" . And trust me, if is costs us $$$, I WILL say that to him! However, i wasn't going to argue with him, there is no sense doing so - at times he is a "typical man" (no offense to any of you men) and insists on showing me that he knows more than me...

Here is a link that might be useful: Planting on Your Septic Drain Field

    Bookmark   May 15, 2005 at 11:11AM
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gurley157fs(zone 7/8sc)

I live in a house built in 1947 that has two septic tanks. Our yard is an acre. Although we have replaced the pipes leading to the septic tanks and the concrete covers (due to people driving over them :( ) we still use the original septic and drain fields.
If you would like a list of what we have planted and any info based on our experiences please feel free to e-mail me - my address is on 'my page'.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2005 at 9:42PM
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I wouldn't take any chances, especially with a willow. I'd be doing a copper sulfate treatment at least once, maybe twice a year.

Here is a link that might be useful: CuSO4 septic treatment for root control

    Bookmark   May 20, 2005 at 2:10PM
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I noticed yesterday that a fig tree I planted last year near my drain field has decided to grow back (my dog ate it down to a nub over the winter). Does anyone know if its roots will be a problem? I don't know about moving it since it is struggling to recover from being eaten. (A gingko I used to have suffered the same fate. After Isabella ate it down to the ground it shot back up more healthy and beautiful than ever!)

Any advice?

Also,I'll be taking out the chestnut tree as soon as I have a day off with nice weather. Would a dogwood tree be ok near a septic line?

What do y'all think? I know to avoid willows and river birches.

Thanks for all of your responses. I'm glad to know I'm not the only one with this problem!

    Bookmark   May 20, 2005 at 2:32PM
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JJeane(7/N Ga)

The guy who installed our septic tank and drain field removed allmost all the trees.... he left a couple of white oaks that were not directly over the drain lines. He cautioned me about letting willows and red maples grow in the area. As the ground is extremely rocky (with boulders) it took him a while to install the drain lines 36" deep... and I surely don't want anything to interfere with those lines if I can help it.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2005 at 11:48PM
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knoto55(Z7 MD)

I just moved into a new home and we have a septic system and drain field. I checked out the Virgina COOP Extension and they have good advice. But, my drain field is on my front lawn - and I know exactly where it is because when they seeded and mulched my front lawn, you can see where the drain field is because it was dryer and the seed didn't sprout as fast as other places. Our soil here is good but filled with small rocks. It has a lot of clay, but not as much as my old home.

So far I'm planting shrubs and perennials near the house - which is over the pipe going out to the septic tank. I've also planted a Bald Cypress about 50 feet up hill from the septic tank cover and a Dawn Redwood about 70 feet up hill from the septic tank cover. I feel they are both far enough away from the drain field. I'm also planting some smaller varieties of maples at the end of my lot - and that's about 50 - 60 feet from the end of the drain field. From what I've read I should have no problems. The main drain field will only have grass over it - that's all. But if I have a problem with the grass there, I think I'll put in a bed of Daylilies or something that will cover and add beauty to the area.

Good luck with your Chestnut tree - they are beautiful trees and I hate seeing it cut down, but if it's screwing up your septic system, you have to do it.


    Bookmark   May 25, 2005 at 2:59AM
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junequilt(z8 SC)

Nekoka, it's your life and your property, but -- can we talk you out of taking down that chestnut tree? Your post indicates that your reason for wanting to get rid of it is that you stepped on a hull. Isn't there some way to safely get rid of the hulls? I'm thinking of my chipper-shredder, which originally had a hose attachment that allowed me to vacuum stuff directly into the hopper (unfortunately, I left the vacuum hose in an outdoor lean-to and discovered that it wasn't made of plastic designed to resist UV deterioration). Something like that might work very well for your yard and would be a lot cheaper than having a tree removed -- not to mention that you could use the chipper/shredder to mince a lot of other stuff for mulching, composting, etc.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2005 at 5:02PM
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Oh, I've made up my mind. I'm sorry. I didn't just step on it and get a splinter, All of my weight was on that foot and I ended up with a pretty severe infection (If you haven't ever seen a chestnut hull, oh nelly). They are like huge maces with very long sharp spines that will stick you through gloves and will break off under your skin like the worst sort of splinter.

They are large and green and drop when they've dried out. When this happens, the nuts fly out into the yard and the hull breaks into pieces and lands somewhere else. Last year I found them pretty far from where they started. The other problem I have is that the thing is planted really close to my house - about 10 feet. I think it's probably best to get rid of it now, while it's still a relatively small tree. I dread to see how many hulls it will drop when it's reached a mature size.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2005 at 4:45PM
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I'm a nut tree enthusiast, but there's no way I'd plant a chestnut tree in my yard - especially if I or anyone else would ever be walking in that area in bare feet - or even thin-soled or open-toed shoes.
In the right spot, chestnuts are wonderful trees, but they are not a good 'yard' tree, due to the spiny burs they drop.
I support your decision to remove it.
Your choices for a replacement tree are not as limited as some would have you believe, but I'd still shy away from willows & maples, though even those might be tolerable with regular CuSO4 treatments.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2005 at 5:00PM
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Thanks for the support!

I love the shape of this tree. I hate to take out any tree, actually. Well, that's not exactly true... I'm looking forward to taking out a bradford pear... :)
But this one's just too dangerous for the kiddies and doggies. I'm still researching. In the mean time I'm dreading hunting and collecting all of the hulls when they fall!!!!

    Bookmark   June 29, 2005 at 4:10PM
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In answer to your original question, the risks posed by trees to septic tanks is somewhat exaggerated. They CAN clog the system with their roots, but they can also suck up water and use waste as fertilizer, making the system work better.

Blueberries have shallow roots and should be fine. Small trees like American holly and flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) should be fine.

Check out:

Make sure you regularly use a bacterial product and have your tank drained to stretch out it's life expectancy.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2013 at 2:08PM
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