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Old 01-03-2017, 12:49 AM   #1
Leslie's Avatar
Join Date: Jan 2009
Location: Olympia, WA
Default Wildlife gardening with a septic drainfield

Have any of you had experience with wildlife gardening on or near a septic drainfield?

In early March, I'll be moving to a little place on a quarter of an acre in Western Washington. My husband and I had planned to get a few acres in the country and use wildlife gardening to create a little sanctuary for wildlife, but that's not possible, so I want to do the best I can with my little quarter acre. The task is made more challenging because the yard is mostly taken by a septic drainfield.

I'm planning to plant as much as I safely can on top of the 50'x70' septic drainfield, but it has severe planting restrictions -- only shallow, fibrous-rooted plants, no bushes or trees, nothing that needs a lot of water, and nothing that would send roots seeking water. I'd appreciate any suggestions of plants that would work on (or near) the septic drain field, and plants to avoid.

I'll work primarily with native plants. The lot was forested with Douglas fir with an understory of mostly salal and evergreen huckleberry. Most of the understory and many of the trees have been cleared -- it hurt to see it go!!! These contractors clear everything with bulldozers. There was a native rhodenderon -- they razed it. I've begged them to leave as much as they can, but between the house and the septic system drainfield (about 70'x50') and clearing a strip at the property line to put a fence in, there isn't much room left. I'm still upset.

I will have some room around the perimeter of the back yard (10' to 25' on each side), on the sides of the house, and a 20'x100' strip in the front yard to landscape with trees and bushes and groundcover. For this space, I've ordered native plants from local native plant sales - they're fairly cheap but they aren't much more than twigs, so I ordered a bunch. I'm hoping they'll fill in quickly to give us some privacy, and they'll provide berries and shelter for birds, squirrels, chipmunks, and rabbits. I ordered things I've seen growing locally:

Mock Orange (Philadelphus lewisii)
Pacific Crabapple (Malus fusca)
Pacific Ninebark (Physocarpus capitatus)
Douglas Fir
Grand Fir
Cascara (Rhamnus purshiana)
Douglas Maple (Acer glabrum)
Oval-leaf Blueberry (Vaccinium ovalifolium)
Red Flowering Currant (Ribes sanguineum)
Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata)
Woods Strawberry (Fragaria vesca)
Beaked Hazelnut (Corylus cornuta var. californica)
Bitter Cherry (Prunus emarginata)
Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis)
Creeping Oregon Grape (Mahonia repens)
Kinnikinnick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)
Pea Fruit Rose a.k.a. Wild Clustered Rose (Rosa pisocarpa)
Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus stolonifera)
Serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia)
Vine Maple (Acer circinatum)

Any thoughts on what to plant on the septic drainfield? I know the kinnikinnick and strawberries can go on the drainfield. I've been warned to avoid putting the cedar and maples anywhere near the drainfield because their roots will destroy it. Many wildflowers and grasses are okay, but some prairie types can be problematic because of deep, water-seeking taproots. Shallow-rooted fibrous plants are required. I'm not planting a lawn -- some bunch-grasses or sedges are okay, but nothing that needs to be mowed more than once a year.

Also, of the plants listed above, do you know how I can find out if they have a shallow fibrous root system, or a deep taproot?

Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.
-- Kahlil Gibran
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