How to Get Rid of Cattails

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Before answering the pivotal question “how to get rid of cattails in my pond?” let’s first aim to understand what they really are. 

Cattails are wetland semi-aquatic plants that grow around shallow water bodies created by lakes, marshes, and ponds. Under favorable conditions, they can grow from a single underground stem in the form of a flat blade and reach up to a height of 3 to 10 feet. 

To the environment, cattails can provide shelter and food to pond life and even help in removing unwanted pollutants from ponds.

However, since they grow easily and quickly, they can end up colonizing wet areas to make them look like a swamp, and in turn steal nutrients from other plants.

This can make them a nuisance to homeowners who like to keep a shallow body of water in their backyard, and don’t want cattails taking over their pond.

Plus, cattails have a tendency to draw muskrats, depending on your location.

So, how to get rid of cattails in your pond?

In this post, we’ll discuss some of the basic ways that can help in getting rid of cattails.

Manual removal of cattails

The best way to get rid of cattails is to use manual removal methods since they are not only safe to implement but are also in the best interest of safeguarding the integrity of your pond ecosystem.

Hand pulling

As the name suggests, this is the most straightforward method and involves pulling the cattails by hand.

Fun Fact: Cattails reproduce by dispersing their seeds and also multiply from their underground root-like structure known as the rhizome.

When pulling the cattails, ensure that the entire rhizome is uprooted. Any residual intact rhizome could result in sprouting a new cattail.

Depending on the colony of the cattails, manual hand pulling could be time-consuming. Additionally, it may lead to stirring sediment in the pond causing murkiness, and affecting the behavior of any aquatic animals in your pond. But this should last for a couple of days until the sediment settles.

Note: Be careful, opening up a cattail cool looking but very messy!

Cutting cattails 

Cutting the cattails using an aquatic weed whacker or a shear involves less labor as compared to manual removal. It’s an effective strategy provided the cattail is cut below the water surface. Late summer is the ideal time for cutting cattails. Avoid cutting in spring as they could re-sprout from the base during this growing season.

For best results, use a blend of both pulling and cutting to curb the growth of cattails. Cutting cattails is not only a faster method but also effective since the water filters the sunlight and decreases the oxygen available to the plant. Repeating this process twice or thrice a year will keep their growth under control and fewer will return each year. 

Chemical removal of cattails

If you are looking to completely eradicate all cattail growth, a chemical treatment would be the best solution. Glyphosate or diquat are two compounds that are generally most effective in eliminating cattails. Glyphosate is an herbicide that can kill the entire plant when sprayed on any area of the plant. On the other hand, diquat requires complete coverage on the plant to effectively kill it.

Increasing the salinity of the pond can also kill the cattail, however this can kill fresh water fish as well as other plants in the pond.

Once you have chosen a chemical for the cattails growing in the pond, follow these steps:

1. Calculate area and volume

Measure the pond to determine the quantity of herbicide that will be needed to kill the cattails. The easiest way to get these measurements would be from a local survey. For large bodies of water, contact the control service office. Direct measurements or aerial photos from of the area and volume are helpful. 

Alternatively, determine the shape of your pond, whether it is square, circular or triangular and use the appropriate arithmetic formula to calculate area. The depth will then be needed to be measured by dropping a weighted line at various locations in the pond and then taking an average. The volume of the pond is the area multiplied by the average depth of the pond. 

2. Apply the chemical 

The ideal time to apply the herbicide is during spring since the cattails are still small at this time and easier to eliminate. 

Use a yard or pond sprayer to distribute the chemical onto the cattails. While spraying, be careful to limit over-spray to other parts of the pond as much as possible.

The best way to apply the chemical is by dividing the pond into sections. Killing all the cattails at once can cause a sudden adverse impact on the ecosystem. The decomposing vegetation in the pond can deplete oxygen levels in the water, and drastically affect aquatic life.

Choosing to spray your pond in sections will keep the dissolved oxygen levels more stable. Wait for at least 2 weeks before spraying the next section of the pond.

3. Cut dead plants

Observe if the cattails turn brown and wilted. This could take up to 10-12 days. This is a sure sign of dead cattails — ready for cutting.

If you cut them any sooner, chances are that the herbicide treatment might not have completely killed the rhizome resulting in the weed returning to the pond. 

4. Clean-up and maintenance

Clean the pond area with a beach rake to remove all the cut cattails. You can either choose to compost them or dispose them at a green disposal site. To ensure complete cattail eradication, repeat this chemical treatment a couple of times. Once the plantation in your pond is under control, you can maintain it with some aquatic animals or a beautiful landscape for a better view from your home.

If you are looking for an alternative solution for how to get to rid of cattails, try muskrats! Muskrats are large rodents with a musky smell primarily found in North America. Since they feed on aquatic vegetation, especially cattails, they can help in keeping a check on this fast-growing weed.