Septic Tanks in Northern Virginia: Landscaping with Less Aggressive Root Systems

Homeowners with septic tanks in Northern Virginia need to choose landscaping with less aggressive root systems. This is because trees and bushes with aggressive root systems can destroy your septic tank pipes and drainfield.

Planting around septic tanks and drainfields is a process comprising of choosing the right trees and bushes, and preparing the planting site properly.

You should be choosing small trees and bushes with less aggressive, slow growing root systems (see the list below).

To determine the location of a safe planting site, you need to understand what the expected diameter of the tree canopy will be, and add 10 feet to the distance away from your septic tank and drainfield. In addition, you should break up the earth in the opposite direction of the septic tank and drainfield, so that the trees roots will grow out in that direction of least resistance.

Some homeowners decide to install a root barrier around their trees closest to their septic tanks and drainfields in Northern Virginia. The barrier should extend at least 2 feet below the soil surface, and the barrier should still be at least 10 feet away from the tank and drainfield.

Slow-Growing Deciduous Trees with Less Aggressive Root Systems
The following can be planted within a safe distance of your septic tank and drainfield.

  • Dogwood
  • Japanese maple cultivars
  • Ilex species
  • Several types of magnolias
  • Carolina buckthorn
  • Quince
  • Wintersweet
  • Acoma crape myrtle
  • Certain crabapples
  • Hoptree
  • Stewartia
  • Weeping Higan and Hally Jolivette cherries

Slow-Growing Evergreen Trees with Maximum Height Under 20 Feet
Certain slow-growing trees with a maximum height under 20 feet are unlikely to damage septic tanks and drainfields in Northern Virginia, if planted in way we’ve detailed above.

  • Boxwood tree
  • Dr. Hurd manzanita
  • Tea-oil
  • Yennan camelia
  • Mediterranean fan palm
  • Akapuka, variegatum Japanese privet
  • Evergreen magnolias
  • Some omanthus and photinia species or varieties
  • Cabbage palm
  • Awabuki sweet viburnum
  • Weeping blue atlas cedar
  • Chinese and Japanese plum yews
  • Fernspray cypress
  • Slender hinoki cypress.

Trees to Avoid If You Want to Protect Septic Tanks and Drainfields
Certain trees should never be planted near septic tanks and drainfields in Northern Virginia (or anywhere else), as they are often fast-growing with particularly aggressive roots.

  • Many species in the Acer (maple) genus
  • Populus species
  • Ashes
  • Bamboo
  • Sycamore
  • Several oaks
  • Willows, basswood
  • Tuliptree
  • Elms
  • Birches
  • Mulberry
  • Figs
  • Large eucalyptus
  • Beech

For more information on landscaping around septic tanks and drainfields in Northern Virginia,  please contact SES Mid Atlantic LLC. We’ve been installing, inspecting, servicing, maintaining, and repairing septic systems for residential and commercial customers in Northern Virginia since 1987.


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