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Septic Gardens: A Sustainable Solution for Stormwater Management in Rural Areas

What is a Septic Garden? in a google search bar with people holding up question marks behind

What is a septic garden?

A septic garden is a conservation landscape that is located on the drain field of the septic system, a subsurface wastewater infiltration system. This part of the system is also known as a “leach field”.

Why have a septic garden?

field with irises in bloom, and shrubs in the background
Native Iris plants in bloom

Septic gardens prevent erosion from stormwater and encourage healthy soils and microorganisms. Native plants are installed to encourage habitat for local pollinators and wildlife. Additionally, a garden is an aesthetically pleasing way to decorate newly dug up earth where the septic system is installed.

What are some best practices related to septic gardens?

Like we said at the beginning of this article, septic gardens are a type of conservation landscape. Conservation landscapes are plots of land that are dedicated to the collection, filtration, and diversion of stormwater to reduce erosion and the spread of pollution. Therefore, many of the same best practices of conservation landscapes apply to septic gardens as well. These include: the use of native plants and amended soil, as well as placing and sizing the garden such that it will collect the vast majority (if not all) of stormwater.

A shrub crossed out. And veggies circled and crossed out

What makes the best practices for constructing septic gardens unique is their relation to septic tanks. Septic tanks collect wastewater from sewage systems. When building septic gardens, it is therefore necessary to only install plants that will not affect the pipes or the tank. 

This must be especially taken into consideration with their roots. Plants with large, strong, woody, deep roots like bushes and trees should not be planted in septic gardens. They might cause damage to the system, which could leak contaminated water into the soil and clean water wells. With this in mind, it is crucial to not plant anything edible, for humans or animals, in or near a septic garden.

Howard Ecoworks’ Septic Gardens.

We constructed two septic gardens in Columbia, Maryland during the 2023 fall season. This project was partially funded by the Clean Water Fund, which has been advocating for clean water and air since 1974. The plants that we installed include Black-Eyed Susans, Big Bluestem grasses, Garden Phlox, Eastern Hay Scented Ferns, Early Goldenrod, Wild Geraniums, and other small perennials.

Here we can see our crews prepping the garden soil, preparing and installing the plants, as well as installing the deer protection fence.

young man with long auburn hair, light skin, and dark glasses
About the Author | Mathew Langsdale 

Matthew is a Columbia, MD native, with a passion for music and writing with a degree in English Language and Literature from UMD in 2020. His love for the environment stretches back to his scouting days, and continued when he joined the READY program and recently the UpLift program in the fall of 2023. 

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