skip to main content

Public Health - Seattle & King County

Landscaping tips with a septic system

Landscaping when you have a septic system requires special care. Since your yard is where wastewater is treated, a landscape design should not interfere with the natural functioning of your septic system. A balanced combination of oxygen and organisms will maintain healthy soils necessary for your septic system.
3 easy steps to develop a landscape design
  1. Get a copy of the as-built
    An as-built is a drawing of your septic system in relation to your house and property boundaries. Your septic system designer completes the as-built after the septic system is installed. Public Health keeps as-built drawings on file as public information. You can request Public Health to search their records for your septic system. NOTE: Not all records are complete and older septic systems may not have as-builts. Search and download a copy of your as-built drawings.

  2. Locate the septic tank, drainfield and reserve area using the as-built
    Avoid landscaping on or near the septic tank. Consider installing "risers" or septic tank lids to make septic tank pumping and monitoring visits easier and less time-consuming.

    The septic tank, drainfield and reserve area should be clear of:

    • underground sprinkler lines
    • decks, patios, sports courts, or utility storage sheds
    • swingsets
    • sand boxes
    • paved or dirt driveways
    • parked vehicles
  1. Begin the landscape design
    After locating the septic tank, drainfield and reserve area, you may now begin the design phase. Keep the tips in Step 2 in mind.
Suggested plant list (Provided by Washington Sea Grant Program)
  • Don't plant a vegetable garden on or near the drainfield or reserve area
  • Plants over the septic system may be disturbed or destroyed with repair work
  • Don't put plastic sheets, bark, gravel or other fill over the drainfield or reserve area
  • Don't reshape or fill the ground surface over the drainfield and reserve area (just adding topsoil is generally OK as long as it doesn't exceed a couple of inches over the drainfield area)
  • Grass or the existing native vegetation are the best covers for your drainfield and reserve area
  • Direct all surface drainage areas away from the septic system
  • Use shallow-rooted plants (see Plant List below)
  • Avoid water-loving plants and trees
  • Do not make ponds on or near the septic system and the reserve area
  • Grass:
    • Fescue
    • Lawn
    • Ornamental grasses
    • Wildflower meadow mixes

  • Groundcovers for sun:
    • Bugleweed (Ajuga)
    • Carpet heathers (Calluga)
    • Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster)
    • Ground Ivy (Glechonma)
    • Kinnickinick (Arctostapylos)
    • Periwinkle (Vinca)
    • Soapwort (Saponaria)

  • Groundcovers for shade:
    • Bunchberry (Cornus)
    • Chameleon (Houtuynnia)
    • Ferns
    • Mosses
    • Sweet Woodruff (Galium)
    • Wild Ginder (Asarum)
    • Wintergreen (Gaultheria)