Reducing tree root infusion in septic systems
If your septic system hasn’t been working right, check out what’s growing nearby. Sometimes trees will uproot your septic.
Urban Forestry Expert Susan Day says there are some trees that will bully your septic system.
"If you have a silver maple, which is an aggressively rooted tree, 10 feet from your drain line, you would have huge roots disrupting your drain line," Day says. "They actually move the pipes, so you definitely don’t want large, aggressively rooted trees close to the drain field."
It’s impossible to predict how long it would take for roots to disrupt a septic leach field because every situation is different. Your septic system could need replacing in as few as 8 years, or it could last 40.
That’s not to say that you can’t have trees near the leach field.
"I would just plant them in between the drain lines so you have to know where they are so you’re not directly on top of one," Day says. "And I would use small statured trees that don’t normally get to more than say 20 feet in height. I would always avoid any maples, willows, poplars, or any of those species that are aggressive water lovers."
It’s really expensive to replace a drain field, but if you insist on having trees nearby, at least plant them at the far end where the lines will be drier and less conducive to root growth.
Another effective, but expensive technique is installing a root barrier between your trees and the drain field. Geotextiles infused with a long-lasting herbicide have proven successful. They run the entire length of the field at a depth of around 2 feet. Some roots might sneak under the barrier, but their pipe-clogging activity is greatly reduced.
Radio interview source: Dr. Susan Day, urban foresty expert, Virginia Tech
Why do septic systems fail?: Here's a primer on septic systems, including tips for keeping them running smoothly, and what to do if there's a problem.
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