En EspaŅol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?


Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
rate this answer
1 rating

Thursday - February 03, 2011

From: Houston, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Septic Systems, Grasses or Grass-like
Title: Plants for aerobic septic system in Houston
Answered by: Barbara Medford


My husband and I would like to plants some trees and shrubs, but we have an aerobic system taking up most of the yard :( Can you recommend any trees that won't hurt that? Also shrubs for our weather that won't freeze and are heat tolerant? It seems that I have planted too many tropical things. Thanks!


We are unfamiliar with that type of septic system, and did a little research on it-learn something every day. At first, we thought you had an aerobic exercise area in your yard. Since we did not know anything about this, an article from damnseptictank.com Aerobic Septic System  helped us to understand what you are dealing with.

This article from InspectAPedia.com Guide to Planting Trees or Shrubs Over or Near Septic System Components has a lot of information on planting trees and shrubs over septic fields (don't) or distances from those fields to plant trees (you don't have that much space).

Beyond that information, about all we can tell you is what we have told others who wanted to know what they could plant over septic systems and let you go from there. These are all Mr. Smarty Plants answers to previous questions and some have more links for information. These involve different areas of the country and different plants but all are applicable to your question. Unfortunately, a couple of these reference the Ford County, Kansas Septic System Information website, which is no longer active. Darn shame, because it was a very good source of information.

June 28, 2010 Planting over septic tank in California

September 2, 2009 Native flowers from Door County WI

March 10, 2009 Replacement for black walnut near septic tank

February 4, 2009 Native plants for septic system in Massachusetts

January 25, 2009 Plants that will not clog lateral lines with roots from Bulverde, TX

April 10, 2008 Native plants for septic field from Austin, TX

From the above answers, we hope you have inhaled the information that, especially in a small space, woody plants are not a good idea. In terms of the tropical plants you are asking about that won't freeze and are heat tolerant, most tropicals are non-native to North America. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is all about the growth, protection and propagation of plants native not only to North America but to the area in which those plants are being grown. Plants native to your area in South Texas should already be acclimated to the sort of temperatures you normally have. Even in Houston, there have been bad freezes and there will be again, but a native plant that has millennia of experience in infrequent bad freezes has a better chance of surviving.

From our Recommended Species section, here are a couple of plant lists that might apply in your situation:

Gulf Prairies and Marshes

Great Small Trees for Houston

From that same Recommended Species section, you can click on either South Texas or East Texas on the map, and then search for specific plants for your area by General Appearance or Habit, such as herbaceous blooming plants, grasses, vines, etc. Following each plant link on each of these lists will take you to our webpage on that plant and help you learn how large it may get, what light requirements it has, when it blooms, etc.








More Grasses or Grass-like Questions

New gardener on lawn for Poolville TX
April 28, 2012 - I have never had the opportunity to have a nice yard until recently when I got married. My husband loves a nice yard and we have worked very hard and put in hours of work. We are learning by trial a...
view the full question and answer

Replacing St. Augustine grass with native grasses in Georgetown TX
October 28, 2009 - I have a St Augustine yard around my house. I would like to introduce or replace this type of grass with some of the Buffalo, Blue Gamma and or Curly Mesquite. Can I plant some of the native seed in...
view the full question and answer

Can Carolina wild petunia be planted over septic tank in Nokomis FL
July 10, 2011 - Could you tell me the root depth of the Ruellia caroliniensis/ Carolina wild petunia? Trying to determine if I can plant it over septic tank.
view the full question and answer

Grasses for a wildflower meadow in Greenville, SC
August 17, 2009 - Dear Mr. Smarty Plants, I have been establishing a wildflower meadow in Greenville, SC. Our current wildflowers are: Purple Coneflower Perennial Black-eyed Susans Cardinal Flower Butte...
view the full question and answer

Shade tolerant groundcover plants for Tarrant County, Texas
November 01, 2011 - I live in far NE Tarrant County (Ft Worth), TX and need a groundcover that can tolerate complete shade and poor, rocky, clay soil. I need mostly for erosion control, and needs to be relatively low
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center