One of the easiest things you can do for your home value and curb appeal is to plant trees.
However, many factors should be considered prior to planting. Your yard has a network of utility lines and pipes below the surface. Tree roots are particularly drawn to sewer lines as a source of water and nutrients. Once roots find the moisture from a cracked sewer line, they’ll grow right into the pipe itself, causing blockages that require expensive repairs.
Before you head off to the nursery, take these steps to avoid future problems.
Step 1 – Select the Right Place
First, determine where your sewer line is located. Start by looking for sewer caps. Houses are supposed to have two – one a few feet from your foundation wall and another within 13 feet of the curb. They are typically white or black pipes that stick out of the ground. Most lines run in straight lines, so you can visualize where they are if you find two reference points.
If there are not any visible caps, it’s possible they were buried by landscape or just never installed. If you don’t have access to land survey documents, call your local Water and Sewer department, and they will mark the approximate location of your underground pipes and connections for free. (Don’t forget to call Georgia 811 to make sure you don’t damage unmarked utility lines of any kind!)
Once you’ve identified the location of your sewer line, you know where to avoid. Keep trees at least 10 feet away from the sewer line in order to prevent future root intrusion issues. Some invasive tree species have been known to reach lines nearly 100 feet away! (Note: if there are already trees near your sewer line, have a professional plumber inspect them to prevent a potential costly repair later!)
Step 2 – Select the Right Tree
If you want to add a tree anywhere near the vicinity of your sewer line, your best bet is to pick a “sewer safe” option. These are smaller, slow-growing trees with deeper root systems that are less likely to grow outwards. Research the expected height, size of root system, and water needs of your tree. When in doubt, ask an expert.
Here are some options that are hardy in Georgia:
- Fringe trees
- Flowering or kousa dogwoods
- Small maples like amur, paperbark, and Japanese
Avoid tall, fast-growing trees with expansive root systems, such as:
- Tulip tree
Keep in mind that you may need to replace faster-growing trees every 8-10 years to prevent root overgrowth.
Step 3 – Take Care of Your Tree
Tree roots will go wherever the best nutrients can be found. To avoid future sewer line intrusion, take some steps to create an optimal root environment as far away from the sewer line as possible.
- When planting, dig up a wide area to create a large pit for the tree. Loosen the soil to provide good drainage and room for root growth.
- Add fertilizer to create a concentrated zone of nutrients for root growth.
- Consider root barriers above or around sewer pipes when installing new lines.
- Water trees at least once a week during hot, dry weather. Follow proper mulching techniques.
Investing a little time and effort to select the right tree for the right place can save you a lot of headaches (and money!) down the road.