Growing on a septic field

What kind of grasses or flowers can you grow on a septic field? Ours is 24 feet wide and 110 feet long. We have to cover it with straw every fall for insulation in our Manitoba winters but I would like to plant flowers and grasses instead and just cut them down come spring.

?Theresa Loutit, Lockport, MB

Theresa,
Plant cover can help your septic field function properly. But use only shallow-rooted plants. Why not try some shrubby dogwoods (Cornus spp.) along with native plants such as low-growing bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi); early-blooming prairie crocus (Anemone patens), your provincial flower; prairie smoke (Geum triflorum) with its red flowers and intriguing wispy seedheads; tall blazing star (Liatris aspera) that has spires of butterfly-
attracting flowers; and shaggy-looking wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa). They are all wonderful plants that will put up with dry conditions. For grasses, I love the look of sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula) with its blue-green blades; blue grama (B. gracilis) whose seedheads dance atop long wiry stems; and little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), which turns a lovely russet in fall. Wildflower Farm offers what they call a Septic Bed
Meadow Mix
containing a splendid mix of wildflowers and grasses. Also, be sure to wear gloves when working on the septic field so you don?t come in contact with anything toxic.

?Marjorie Harris, Editor at Large