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Topped Up: Keeping Your Septic Field Healthy

If you're moving into a home that uses a septic tank, you already know you're not supposed to plant trees with aggressive root systems or use the land for a root vegetable patch. But leaving bare ground over such a wide swathe of land isn't exactly helpful -- in fact, it could be destructive and unhealthy. Planting the right types of plants can keep your septic system in better shape both inside and out of the tank.

Bare Ground Blues

Open ground with nothing planted in it is prone to erosion from wind and rain. The eroded soil brings with it possible contaminants, so you don't want that soil landing on cleaner ground, crops, or even on people. Open ground also compacts and dries very easily, which can make it more difficult for bacteria in the soil to get oxygen. It's also harder for water to soak into the soil, meaning the chance of runoff that erodes the soil is now larger.

Grass Isn't Always the Best Option

A simple solution is to cover the field with a drought-resistant grass. That would certainly help with erosion and make the ground look a lot better, too. However, that open lawn is very tempting, especially to children and pets. If they run around on the lawn, they risk picking up that contaminated soil on their hands and shoes, possibly tracking it into your home. The extra foot traffic also compacts the soil, making it harder for the grass to survive, and re-introducing the problems with lack of oxygen and extra water runoff.

Stop People From Walking Over The Field

Septic workers will have to access the tank occasionally, so leaving a path is a good idea. Other than that, though, covering the field in something that people don't want to walk on is a sound move. Low, fast-growing groundcovers that don't have aggressive or fast-spreading roots are very good choices as long as they aren't too dense. Thick mats of plants can create shady, moist soil conditions that are also bad for the bacteria-oxygen exchange needed by the septic system. Yarrow, periwinkle, and thyme are examples of good groundcovers for septic areas. Whatever you choose, it should be hardy and not need a lot of care because if you have to keep walking over the septic field to care for the plants, you'll end up with the very compaction problem you were hoping to avoid.

Low Water and Low Care Needs

Another type of plant that you can place in the field is a native wildflower or an assortment of native wildflowers. These are not going to need a lot of attention, nor will they need a lot of water to thrive. Echinacea and black-eyed Susans both work quite well over septic fields.

Bulb Questions

It is possible to plant bulb flowers like dahlias over a septic field. Just be sure that the bulbs do not need to be planted too deeply. You don't want any plant that requires you to dig past the very top layer of topsoil because septic system components are sometimes located in shallow areas.

If you want more information about gardening and planting over a septic field, talk to Honest John's Septic Service Inc or the company that is installing or maintaining your system. Ask them about how deep the parts of the system are and how big the tank is. The company should be able to help you determine the size of the field so that you know where in your yard you can safely start planting trees and edible plants.


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