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Trees provide many aesthetic and economic benefits. They improve air quality, reduce storm water runoff, and provide homes for wildlife. However, if you rely on a septic system, then you need to be careful of where you plant your trees. If you have a large tree or multiple large trees around your septic tank, it is only a matter of time before the roots find it.

The areas in and around your septic tank and drain field have extra water, nutrients, and oxygen that trees and plants need to grow. Tree roots are particularly good at seeking out the essentials they need to thrive, and can eventually grow through small cracks or incompletely sealed joints and/or other components of your septic system. Once inside, they can quickly grow large enough to restrict water flow. While the tank itself is normally impervious to tree root damage, the roots of certain species of trees can pose a serious threat to the proper functioning of the leach field.

Here are some things you should know about trees and your septic system.


How Trees and Roots Affect the Septic Tank

Tree roots are attracted to the water in a septic tank and they enter the tank through its drainpipes or cracks in its concrete, creating blockage and other potentially hazardous problems. Once a root has found the moisture and nutrient it needs, it is pretty relentless and will exploit whatever weak point it has found. The root will then damage those pipes unless changes are made. This is the most common cause of dreaded sewage backups or blockages.


How to Prevent Roots From Damaging the Septic Tank

Fortunately, there are several preventative strategies homeowners can utilize to ensure tree roots do not pose problems for their septic system. You can start by planting the right kind of trees. You want to avoid fast-growing trees like poplar and birch with root systems that spread out quickly. Instead, you want a slow-growing variety that will thrive in your particular climate. Another important step is to only plant trees far away from the septic system.


Know Where Your Septic Tank and Drain Field Are Located

If you do not currently have a diagram of your system and where it is located on your property, you need to get one immediately. Be sure to keep accurate records of system maintenance and to keep these records in a safe place in your home.


Avoid Planting In and Around the Area

Grass is the best cover for your septic system. Avoid planting flowers or other plant/tree arrangements too close to the drain pipe clean out or over the septic tank cover. They may be damaged or destroyed when you have to excavate to access the tank or cover.


Choose Slow-Growing Plants With Less Aggressive Root Systems

Before you plant a tree, find out about the nature of its root system. Slow-growing trees generally have less destructive roots than those that grow quickly. As a general rule of thumb, it is a good idea to keep trees with spreading roots at least 30 feet away from water and sewer lines.


Control Root Growth with Chemicals That Deter Root Growth

Commercially available root treatments formulated with copper sulfate and flushed into the septic system can prevent small roots from growing into mature roots that may completely obstruct your septic system.


Use Root Barriers

Root barriers are solid sheets or panels of hard plastic or other materials that are buried into the ground and act as a wall of sorts. It is important to note that these types of barriers may stop the tree’s roots from freely growing and could affect the health of the tree. Sometimes removing the tree is a better option than attacking its roots.


Consider Hydro-Jetting

If you suspect that tree roots are to blame for your clogged system, then it is probably time to consider hydro-jetting services. During this service, the highly trained technician will use a special device that emits pressurized water into the pipes. Hydro-jetting can effectively clear away tree roots and other causes of slow draining pipes, including grease buildup.


Inspect Your System Once a Year

No matter how well you care for your septic system, maintenance will be required. Regular septic inspections and maintenance can prevent root intrusion by discovering leaks early. The useful life of a system depends on a lot of factors including tree root intrusion and proper routine maintenance and pumping.


Worst Trees for Septic Systems

As a general rule thumb, it is safe to assume that most trees are risky to plant near your septic system. That being said, some trees are more aggressive than others.


Trees that Produce Fruit

When a tree root penetrates your septic tank, it absorbs the nutrients from the water inside the septic system. As a result, the root will also absorb the chemicals from that water. Not only could you be facing thousands of dollars in repairs, but the tree will be producing fruit that is unsafe to eat.



Willow trees are tall and wide. As such, they need a large root system. Their roots are known to spread far and wide in search of moisture. Many septic tanks are only covered by two feet of soil, which is nothing to the roots of a Willow. Its roots may easily break into and damage your septic tank.



Beech trees are stately beauties that are known for their longevity and height. As impressive as they are, they have vigorous, shallow roots that can cause problems with both structures and pipes. Cut down a beech and these roots will often send up sucker shoots to become new trees. It’s this same tenacity that makes beech tree roots a concern, if planted near underground pipes.



Maple trees have two important factors working against them, not only will they aggressively reach for water sources like willows, but they also produce, well, maple. When a Maple tree’s roots break into your septic system, you are faced with not only the damages to your tank, but an inedible batch of Maple Syrup for the fall season.



Eucalyptus trees have a shallow but vigorous root system that can spread out 100 feet or more. The trees’ root system is designed to keep them alive in tough conditions—and it even re-sprouts from these invasive roots when chopped down. Not surprisingly, the roots can find their way into water pipes and septic systems.


Honey Locust

Honey locust trees depend on a vigorous root system to sustain an equally vigorous top structure. Like many other trees with invasive roots, honey locust suckers grow freely from roots, sending up potential new trees that must be dealt with. Those roots can also pose problems with underground pipes.



Mulberry trees are quick to sprout and exceedingly fast to put on size. To do this, they must depend on a vigorous root system that ranges wherever the promise of moisture takes it—including old underground pipes with leaky seams.



Aspen tends to develop into thickets, creating a nice grove-like effect. The thickets develop from the root system of one tree, meaning a solitary aspen tree could turn into a 100-yard-wide grove of identical trees. That free-roaming root system is great for empty lots, but not so great near the underground pipes found in residential landscapes.



Empress trees are very rapid growers, putting on 5 feet or more of annual growth. The tropical look of the big leaves and the colorful purple summer flowers make the tree popular with some. Others, however, consider it a weedy pest. Like all weedy pests, it has a very active root system that can interfere with underground utilities and pipes.



Elm trees are adaptable to drought conditions. However, they’ll quickly grow more roots in the direction of leaky old pipes. They take drought but prefer to have their share of moisture. That powerful thirst is a potential pitfall where leaky underground drain pipes are concerned.


How Professionals Remove Tree Roots

Tree root infestation in septic systems can be a big problem. Any crack in a septic line can allow tree roots to enter. While a professional can best diagnose and remedy any issues, it is helpful to know several approaches professionals use to kill tree roots in a septic tank.


Mechanical Tree Root Removal

One of the most common techniques is to use a mechanical auger. The mechanical method of root removal involves sending a powered sewer auger down a sewer line. The rotating head is covered in teeth much like a reciprocating saw blade. The rotating action cuts the roots, clearing them, but they will start growing back almost immediately.


Chemical Tree Root Removal

There are special chemicals designed to kill a tree’s root structure so it doesn’t grow back. Copper sulfate septic treatments are the most common. This method is especially effective as it creates a poison barrier within the soil that kills the tree roots before they can grow into the pipe. Treatments that include foaming agents have the added advantage of coating the entire pipe, saturating the roots that grow from the top as well as the bottom.


Remove Tree Roots With a Hydro Jetter

An effective but potentially expensive way of clearing septic lines is with a hydro jetter. This machine uses a pump and pressurized water. After the hydro jetter does its job, the septic line can be flushed with a chemical to kill any roots still present.


Manual Tree Root Removal

Sometimes a septic line can’t be cleaned or cleared with chemicals, a hydro jetter or an auger if it’s been damaged too badly. To assess the extent of the damage, a pro may insert a camera into the septic line that’ll provide better diagnostics so they can determine the best course of action, which may include accessing the septic tank to remove the tree roots manually and repair any damage.



Call West Coast Sanitation Today!

Be mindful of the trees you plant near your septic system. At West Coast Sanitation, we know that you don’t have time to deal with septic problems. If you think that your system has been invaded by tree roots, please give us a call right away. We have professionals ready to answer your questions and get your system working properly again.