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How to Plant a Tree Near a Septic System

By Kelly Shetsky ; Updated September 21, 2017

Landscaping near septic systems is a big concern because the systems can become compromised or the plants can die. Many trees can damage septic systems or clog up the drainage field if planted too close. That's because their roots are aggressive. Some trees, however, have less aggressive root systems that lend themselves to being planted near a septic system.

Figure out where the septic system is in your yard. A plumber can determine its exact location using a sounding rod. The plumber can also measure the drainage field. If you do not want to pay someone to come and measure, ask the home's previous owner if they know where the septic system is.

Buy a tree with nonaggressive roots. Options include a white oak, scarlet oak, dogwood, crabapple and cherry tree. Do not plant trees with larger root systems such as pine, maple and willow trees.

Dig a hole for the tree that is far enough from the septic system so that the mature roots will not damage the system. You can judge root size by finding out the mature height of the tree. If the tree grows to a height of 20 feet tall, dig the hole 20 feet from the septic tank.

Make the hole just shallower than the root ball. The goal is to plant the tree with 10 percent of its root mass above the surrounding ground. This will create good drainage.

Scrape the sides of the hole to encourage root growth in that direction. Loosen the soil on the sides that head away from the septic system.

Place the tree in the hole and fill in the empty space with the removed soil. Press it down and water thoroughly.

Create a root barrier to stop the tree's roots from reaching the septic system. Root barriers resemble panels and are available at garden centers. Dig at least 5 feet into the ground and 3 feet from the drainage field and place the panels in the ground. Cover them with soil.


Things You Will Need

  • Tree
  • Shovel
  • Water
  • Root barrier


  • Wear gloves when planting a tree near a septic system.

About the Author


Based in New York State, Kelly Shetsky started writing in 1999. She is a broadcast journalist-turned Director of Marketing and Public Relations and has experience researching, writing, producing and reporting. She writes for several websites, specializing in gardening, medical, health and fitness, entertainment and travel. Shetsky has a Bachelor of Arts in communications from Marist College.