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Trees are most often an asset to the home landscape, but some species can cause problems around underground pipes. When deciding where to install your septic system, it is important to know what nearby plants may cause harm to your tank.

The root system of any tree provides its primary way of absorbing water and nutrients from the soil. Not all tree roots grow in exactly the same way, and how that happens is governed by many factors, including what species the tree is, where it is growing, annual rainfall amounts and availability of water. Tree roots naturally seek out the closest and most abundant source of water, which means that if a tree is planted too closely to a septic system, its roots will grow in the direction of the wet soil around it.

Some trees are more aggressive towards pipes than other trees are, and some have much larger root systems and much thirstier water-guzzling habits than others. So not every tree poses the same threat, but as a rule, you will want to keep trees as far away from both your water and septic pipes as possible.


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.


These are the worst trees for your home’s septic system:


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.


Consider Planting These Trees Instead

Do not become so paranoid over the potential of damage to septic systems caused by roots that you abstain from planting these areas altogether. Perennials and grasses (including ornamental grasses) work best around your septic tank and drain field. Their shallow root systems are less likely to invade the underground system and cause it damage. For the same reason, small, non-woody ground covers are a good choice. There are, of course, many examples of such plants, so you will want to narrow down your choices.

Keep in mind that it is not safe to eat food crops grown in the ground around a drain field because eating them might entail ingesting harmful bacteria.

If you must grow trees and shrubs, shallow-rooted kinds are better to grow around septic tank drain fields. Shallow-rooted trees and shrubs include:

  • Dogwood trees
  • Japanese maple trees
  • Eastern redbud trees
  • Azalea shrubs
  • Boxwood shrubs
  • Holly shrubs


Call West Coast Sanitation Today!

The best advice we can give you is to keep the landscaping over and around your septic system free of trees and shrubs. The optimal performance of your septic system should be the foremost consideration, but a cost/benefit analysis of using certain plants will have to be considered by each homeowner on an individual basis.

At West Coast Sanitation, we know that you do not have time to deal with septic problems. If you think that your system is being affected by invading tree roots, please give us a call at (951) 780-5922 right away. We have professionals ready to answer your questions and get your system working properly again.