Hi, There is an old septic system on my property wherein the tank was filled. Didn’t think that there would be a bed for it since it is over a hundred-year-old house and there is now a sewer hookup. Long story short, I bought a peach tree and planted it in what appears to be the septic field in November because it was getting cold and the tree would have perished. I realize after reading several websites that the tree was planted in the old septic drainage bed since there was gravel and it was wettish. Moving forward with my question, realizing that I have to move this tree again due to this, should I not eat any fruit that forms on it this coming year due to where it was stationed over the winter? Should I wash off the root system as well before replanting elsewhere? What should I use to wash it off? Will be moving it out to the front yard this spring. Any suggestions and help regarding this is appreciated. Thank you!
Most information concerning planting trees and landscaping on or near a septic system relate to the goal of protecting the integrity of the functioning septic system; for example, which plant roots won’t destroy septic lines. In your case, the septic system is no longer used, and has not been functioning for some time (a few years? many?). It may have been properly decommissioned or the former landowners perhaps simply stopped using it. There is no way of knowing if the septic field was intact, or was compromised such that raw sewage may have infiltrated the area – so the degree of contamination is not clear.
Where a septic system has been working properly, the soil should not be contaminated with organisms that are harmful to humans or from household chemicals that were disposed of via the system.
However, if a septic field does contain a high concentration of bacteria or other chemicals, contamination of fruit could occur in a couple of ways. The first is where polluted soil gets onto the surface of the fruit (e.g., via airborne dust or rain splashback). The second is via absorption of contaminants by tree roots. Hanging fruit like peaches have minimal contact with the soil and dust generally is not a concern – but the fruit should be washed thoroughly prior to consuming (as is recommended in any event). Studies indicate that fruit trees grown in contaminated soils show limited fruit contamination, since the trees accumulate the toxins in the leaves and roots.
I located nothing in the literature that suggests that when transplanting the tree, you need to be especially careful in washing its roots. Just transplanting it to a sunny spot with clean soil and good drainage should suffice. Note too that it generally takes 2-4 years for a peach tree to bear fruit, so it may be premature to expect juicy peaches this coming growing season. So — although it is not possible for anyone to determine with absolute certainty if fruit grown from a young peach tree that was initially planted for a few months in a disused septic field would be safe to eat, the risk is likely low.
Please note that as Master Gardeners, our expertise does not extend to predicting the risk of contamination of edible fruit given a particular set of facts. And, as there’s still the “yuck factor” associated with planting a fruit tree in a septic bed, you may wish to consult an arborist to discuss the future risks associated with fruit from the tree. Landscape Ontario has a list of arborists throughout the province, you can search for one near you.
For more information, see
- Ask 2 Extension. Fruit trees on septic leachfield #178448 This Q&A discusses growing fruit trees on a septic field that is in use and issues to consider with respect to contamination of the fruit, as well as concerns with “drowning” the trees in a soggy field.
- ASK a Master Gardener. What to plant near septic system? Novice needs help! — This is a response I drafted in the summer of 2019 and provides helpful information about how a septic system functions and what to plant on/near an active septic bed. (The link to the landscaping document from the Township of Huron-Kinloss is no longer active, and the Township has not provided a replacement document on-line).
- Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food & Rural Affairs. Fruit trees in the home garden. This provides terrific information on when to plant (or transplant) fruit trees, where in the garden to plant them and how to prepare the planting hole.
All the best in finding an ideal site to plant your peach tree!
February 21 2022