Is grass all you can grow on a septic system drainfield?
THINK AGAIN… and start planning for something more colorful and creative this spring! (Like the wild blue lupine pictured at left!)
Lots of different plants can help your septic drain field function at its best. (Like the smooth aster, pictured at right) And well functioning septic systems make for lake-friendly living! (Visit the LGA website to download your own copy of the LGA’s two-sided flyer on septic drainfield landscaping — visit http://www.lakegeorgeassociation.org/publications/flyers.asp)
A septic drain field is a series of relatively shallow underground perforated pipes set in gravel trenches that allow septic tank effluent to drain over a large area. As the effluent seeps into the ground, it is purified by the soil.
Plant roots help to remove excess moisture and nutrients, making the purification of the remaining effluent more efficient. Plants also reduce soil erosion.
The key is to use shallow-rooted herbaceous plants that are not water-loving. (Like the wild columbine pictured at left) Roots can cause serious damage to drain fields by clogging or breaking pipes. The plants you select should provide coverage over your drainfield throughout the entire year.
Which Plants Are Best for Your Drainfield?
A wildflower meadow created from grasses mixed with perennials is a great choice. A meadow will provide attractive year-round coverage, won’t require regular mowing, and will benefit local wildlife, such as birds, bees, and butterflies.
A few low growing woody ornamentals are safe to plant as well.
Here are a few additional guidelines to remember:
• Because of their high evapo-transpiration rate, grasses and lawns are a traditional choice for septic drainfields. If you do choose to put in a lawn, we encourage the use of low maintenance lawn grasses, such as fine fescues. These can make a dense cover and only need to be mowed once or twice a year. Fescues can tolerate dry soils and shady sites.
• Do not place trees and shrubs on the drainfield; they may be planted around it at a minimum of 20 feet from the edge.
• Trees known for being thirsty; such as poplar, maple, willow, elm, beech, and birch, are not good choices for landscaping around a drain field. If you really want them for some reason, they should be planted at least 50 feet away.
• Avoid irrigation and fertilization on a drain field; in fact, never plan to irrigate this area. Use plants that can withstand dry conditions.
• Do not plant edible plants, such as vegetables and herbs on a mound or drainfield.
Here are some species that will work well around Lake George:
Alumroot (Heuchera americana)
Barren Strawberry (Waldsteinia fragarioides)
Beebalm (Monarda didyma)
Big Leaf Aster (Eurybia macrophylla) *
Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa)
Canada Anemone (Anemone canadensis)
Harebell (Campanula rotundifolia)
Hyssopleaf Thoroughwort (Eupatorium hyssopifolium)
Labrador Violet (Viola labradorica) *
Nodding Onion (Allium cernuum)
Oxeye Sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides) Pictured at right
Pennsylvania Sedge (Carex pensylvanica) *
Prairie Phlox (Phlox pilosa)
Prairie Smoke (Geum triflorum)
Smooth Aster (Symphyotrichum laeve)
Tall White Beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis)
Three-toothed Cinquefoil (Sibbaldiopsis tridentata)
Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)
Wild Blue Lupine (Lupinus perennis)
Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)
Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum) *
Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense) *
White Wood Aster (Eurybia dicaricata) *
Woodland Sunflower (Helianthus divaricatus)
Zig Zag Goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis)
Tufted Hairgrass (Deschampsia cespitosa)
Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium)
Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis)
Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum)
Poverty Oat Grass (Danthonia spicata)
Purple Love Grass (Eragrostis spectabilis)
Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)
Lowbush Blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium)
Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) *
Plants with an * will work on shadier sites.