Landscaping Around Your Septic System

Tallahassee Democrat


May 23, 2014


By: Mark Tancig


Many households in Leon County use septic systems for the proper treatment and disposal of wastewater. These systems require care and maintenance to keep homes and local water resources free of untreated sewage. Not only are odor and harmful bacteria a concern, but untreated sewage that reaches local lakes and streams can pass on disease, or cause harmful algal blooms. Leon County Government and the Florida Department of Health encourage citizens to properly maintain their septic systems to protect public health and reduce unwanted impacts to the lakes and streams we all enjoy. One way to ensure your septic system works properly is to carefully manage the landscaping near your septic system drainfield.


Knowing how a septic system works helps to understand why the plants surrounding the drainfield could affect the performance of the system. The wastewater from toilets, sinks, washing machines, etc, flow to a septic tank where solids settle and are broken down by bacteria. The remaining liquid is piped to the drainfield, which either consists of several trenches (latest method) or a bed of sand and gravel (older systems), where it slowly absorbs into the natural soils. If the pipes get clogged by roots or the bed and natural soils get compacted by heavy traffic, the drainfield can’t keep up with the liquid coming from the septic tank. This can cause stopped up toilets or a mucky, sewage smelling yard. Neither one of these is a good thing but proper management of your drainfield can help prevent these types of problems.


First of all, if your house drains to a septic system, find out where it is in your yard. In some yards it’s hard to tell, in others (usually those close to groundwater) it’s easily visible as a huge mound. The Florida Department of Health in Leon County has an Environmental Health Unit which ensures that septic systems are properly installed and repaired. Their staff can assist you with information regarding the location of the septic system on your lot.


After you know the location of the drainfield, you can take the following steps to prevent problems:


  • Use mulch berms, flower beds, site grading, or roof gutters to direct rainwater around your drainfield. This keeps water from saturating the area, allowing the treated wastewater to better soak into the ground. Be careful not to drastically change the flow of rainwater onto your neighbor as this may need a permit.
  • Do not irrigate the area surrounding your drainfield.
  • Try not to compact the soil with vehicle or heavy foot traffic. Compact soils minimize how much water can be absorbed.
  • Support a good stand of herbaceous plants over the drainfield. Plants with shallow, fibrous root systems are best as they have little potential to clog the piping network. Turfgrasses are best for this but feel free to get creative. The important things to remember are to choose plants that have shallow roots, do not require irrigation or fertilization, will not require tilling, and that do not form a dense canopy over the soil. Fruit and vegetable plants are not recommended.
  • Plant shrubs at least 10 feet away and trees even further – 30 to 50 feet – since large roots in the drainfield can cause problems. When planting shrubs and trees in this safe zone, try not to shade the drainfield to allow for more sun to encourage drying. If large roots are affecting your drainfield, contact an International Society of Arboriculture certified arborist to see about cutting tree roots.
  • Do not mulch the soil over the drainfield since this will retain moisture in the soil.
  • Do not disturb the soil and wear gloves when doing any yard work around your drainfield.


By following these recommendations, as well as other septic system practices – pumping out the tank every 3-5 years, water conservation, and proper waste disposal (i.e. no food scraps, heavy duty cleaners, certain paper products, etc.) – your next flush should be stress-free and you’ll be helping to protect Leon County’s natural resources.


Mark Tancig is a Water Resource Specialist for Leon County Public Works and Community Development. For more information, visit or call (850) 606-1500. For more information about gardening in our area, visit the UF/ IFAS Leon County Extension website at For gardening questions, email us at Ask-A





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Posted: May 22, 2014

Tags: Algal Blooms, April-June 2014, Lakes, Sewage

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