How to Prevent or Fix Tree Roots in a Septic System

Tree roots, in search of nutrients and moisture, can infiltrate residential septic systems, causing obstructions, disrupting wastewater flow, and compromising the structural integrity of the septic infrastructure. If this happens it leads to slower septic system drainage, potential backflows into homes, and makes the drain field vulnerable, resulting in inefficient waste treatment while also posing environmental and health hazards.

How can I fix a septic drain field that has been penetrated by tree roots?

The best ways to fix and prevent getting tree roots in your septic system is by:

  • Having regular professional inspections to detect early signs of tree root intrusion.
  • Installing physical root barriers around the septic system.
  • Avoiding or removing plants with aggressive root systems being near the system.

If you already have a problem with tree roots penetrating your septic system drain field, using copper sulfate septic treatments is one way to kill the offending roots and allow your system to start draining again. Such treatments will not harm the delicate biologics and microorganisms of your septic tank system, IF applied correctly to the leach field. We’ll cover more about copper sulfate and its use below.

Tree Roots: The Subterranean Threat to Septic Systems

Once these roots find a way into the septic system—be it through cracks, loose joints, or small openings—they rapidly expand and cause damage and obstructions, disrupting the normal flow of wastewater. The consequences of this range from slow drainage to backflow into your home. Not only that, but the expansive nature of these roots compromises the structural integrity of tanks, drainage fields, septic pipes, and related infrastructure.

The drain field, an essential component of the septic system, responsible for dispersing liquid waste, becomes vulnerable when infiltrated by roots. In severe cases, this results in inefficient waste treatment, causing untreated wastewater to pool—an outright environmental and health hazard. Luckily, there are steps you can take to prevent tree roots infiltrating your septic system.


Safeguarding Your Septic System

Awareness is Key

According to plumbers, pumpers, and other septic industry professionals, regular inspections will spot signs of tree root intrusion to your septic system early on. Unusual gurgling noises in the plumbing, slower draining fixtures, or unexpected wet patches around the drain field are all signs that something’s wrong. Don’t dismiss lingering sewage odors either – these indicate system inefficiencies possibly exacerbated by root intrusions.

Proactive Barrier Measures

Installing physical root barriers around your septic system is a great way to prevent root infiltration. These deterrents, made of metal or plastic, guide intrusive roots away from critical parts of the system while also acting like a shield against potential damage.

Planting with Care

If you’re considering some new landscaping, it’s crucial to opt for plants and trees with less aggressive root systems. Equally important is positioning trees a safe distance from all septic system components. In our experience, consulting with local plant experts or arborists provides insight into the best species to choose in your area. There are also legal setback distances in most areas that you can find by doing a quick search online. Typically, the recommended or required setback distance is 50-75 feet for anything surrounding the septic system.

Removal, if Necessary

It should go without saying that any plants or trees that are encroaching on your septic system should be removed or relocated to safe distances.

Eliminating Tree Roots from Your Septic System’s Drain Field 

As we covered earlier in this guide, tree roots infiltrating your septic system’s drain field can be a significant issue, leading to reduced wastewater flow or worse problems. Instead of bearing the cost of a full system replacement, addressing the issue early will help prolong your system’s life. If the roots are too big to be easily removed or plant removal isn’t an easy task, one effective solution is using copper sulfate. Here’s how to deploy this method effectively:

Using Copper Sulfate to Kill Roots: Copper sulfate is known for its root-killing properties. Available in both crystal and powder forms, the crystal form is often preferred for its ease of handling, cost-effectiveness, and slow dissolution rate. By introducing it into the system in a manner that ensures it flows through the leach field, tree roots will be eradicated (though not the plants). Within weeks, you should notice the wastewater starting to flow more smoothly.

It is important to note that while some websites, like the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service, suggest the proper way of adding copper sulfate to your system is to “​​pour it into the commode or toilet stool in small amounts…”, professionals and our own in-house septic experts warn against it because it will harm microorganisms in the septic system. Our experts suggest to pour copper sulfate crystals of medium size directly into the leach lines and not into the septic tank.

It is important to note that while some websites, like the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service, suggest the proper way of adding copper sulfate to your system is to “​​pour it into the commode or toilet stool in small amounts…”, professionals and our own in-house septic experts warn against it because it will harm microorganisms in the septic system. Our experts suggest to pour copper sulfate crystals of medium size directly into the leach lines and not into the septic tank.

Furthermore, under NO circumstances should copper sulfate crystals be placed in sink or tub traps where they will erode the light-weight metal pipes and cause leaks due to its highly corrosive properties.

While copper sulfate can be applied twice a year, if done properly, it is still highly advisable to first seek professional assistance. The professionals will know the best place to apply the treatment without disrupting the ecosystem inside your septic tank.

If you follow these guidelines, the roots will be dissolved without killing their parent plant or causing undue harm to the environment. Read more about using copper sulfate to kill roots here.

Ensuring Effective Distribution of Copper Sulfate: The challenge lies in ensuring the copper sulfate doesn’t settle in the septic tank. This can be circumvented by inserting it directly into the leach line exiting the tank. If your system has a cleanout or other access point, this process is straightforward. If not, consider installing a leach line cleanout.

Advantages of a Leach Line Cleanout: Adding a cleanout to your leach line, specifically for copper sulfate addition, can be a game-changer. Not only is it an affordable addition, but it greatly simplifies the root-elimination process, ensuring efficient flow of the chemical to the problematic root. Not only that, but it allows biological treatment applications directly to the leach field to enhance percolation.

A Temporary Yet Effective Remedy: While using copper sulfate can efficiently handle the tree root problem, it’s essential to recognize that it’s not a permanent fix. Septic systems have a limited lifespan. Although killing the roots can add years to its life, regular maintenance is essential, and eventual replacement is inevitable. If you decide to use copper sulfate, be sure to research any potential environmental impacts it could have in your area and check with local regulations. Copper sulfate in certain concentrations can be toxic to aquatic life and should be considered especially if your septic system is close to bodies of water such as lakes and rivers.

Maintaining Your Septic System Biology is of Critical Importance: If your septic system is experiencing clogs and backups due to tree root invasion, you should implement a septic treatment solution to avoid exacerbating the problem. This will supercharge your septic tank’s biology so it efficiently breaks down the solids, allowing better flow through your system. In turn, avoiding compounding the tree roots with other issues. A lot of common soaps and household cleaners used today contain antibacterial agents that kill off your septic system’s biological agents, which are necessary for your system to work and effectively digest solid waste. If you have other issues going on with your system, it’s crucial to avoid solids getting into your drain field and creating additional opportunities to clog up the system.

Introducing HOTROD Septic System Treatment

Once you have successfully resolved the issue of tree roots in your septic system, please consider adding HOTROD Septic system treatment to restore its natural biology. Our treatment’s proprietary technology makes it quick and easy to add an army of beneficial bacteria and enzymes to your septic system. It’s as simple as combining our biological packet to our liquid bottle, and Flush! That’s it! And HOTROD Septic Treatment is designed for both anaerobic and aerobic septic systems.​

As homeowners, understanding the unseen challenges posed by tree roots makes all the difference in maintaining a healthy septic system. By staying informed, taking preventive actions, and then restoring the natural biology of your system by ordering HOTROD Septic products, you’ll be able to enjoy the shade of your trees and a worry-free septic system year-round.

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