Cattail Management: How to Control Cattails in Your Pond

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If you pass by any water-related environment that has been left in the hands of Mother Nature, you’ll probably see cattails. These perennials are some of the most common aquatic plants, particularly in ponds, lakes, and marshes, that can grow 5-10 feet in height.

Even though cattails may look interesting and have a wide range of uses (even in culinary arts!), they can become a headache for property owners when they grow out of control.

Whether you have a natural pond, lake, or wetland on your property, or if you are thinking about constructing one, you should understand the ins and outs of proper cattail management. This guide will share some of the best methods for controlling cattails.

Should You Remove All Cattails From Your Pond?

Native cattails can prove beneficial if you are able to keep their populations under control.  Their extensive root systems can prevent soil erosion and absorb excess nutrients that negatively impact water quality.  The roots are eaten by a variety of wildlife and the underwater portion of the plant provides fish with excellent cover, especially during the spawning process. Cattails also serve as a shelter for birds that use their leaves to build nests. Cattails are highly favored by beavers and muskrats which use them for food, to build dams and huts, and to hide from predators.

Cattails that have taken over an area can become too much of a good thing.  When cattails grow out of control, they impede sightlines and water flow and increase siltation where present.  Dense cattail populations also become problematic because they take up space where beneficial native plants otherwise thrive.

Cattails reproduce via their flowers, which produce thousands of seeds once pollinated.  These fluffy seeds are carried long distances by the wind and are also dispersed far and wide by birds. These seeds germinate quickly, so cattails can spread vigorously and take over the shallow areas of a body of water in just a few years.

Cattail roots, called rhizomes, play a big part, too, in taking over the shallow areas of a pond.  As rhizomes grow and spread horizontally, they put out new cattail shoots that grow up toward the surface of the water and become new cattail plants.  The dense root systems of cattails create nearly solid mats, taking up all the space in the pond substrate and preventing “good” plants important for the ecosystem from forming root systems and establishing.

Understanding the balance between how much to keep and how much to remove to make way for other beneficial aquatic plants is important.  Since cattails are used widely by a variety of wildlife, leaving some cattail in your pond is typically best for the environment. 

Top 3 Cattail Management Methods

You can remove cattails manually, mechanically, or using an EPA-approved herbicide. Let’s go over each method and see which one might work best for you.  

Manual removal – Mowing and Cutting

Mowing cattails using an amphibious vehicle mounted with a mower head is one way to manage cattails above the surface of the water.  The result is more like that of cutting your lawn in that it provides temporary benefits and needs to be repeated.  Mowing cattails after they have been treated with an EPA-approved herbicide, however, provides a more long-standing benefit (see below).  

Cutting cattails involves cutting the stems below the water surface.  Using another amphibious vehicle, called a Truxor, mounted with a cutting attachment set several inches below the surface of the water prevents them from receiving sunlight and oxygen required for survival. This method is sometimes referred to as “the drowning method”.

Mechanical removal

Mechanical removal involves the use of an amphibious excavator to dig out the cattails by the roots.  Plant material is placed on a sled which is pulled out of the work area so that the material can be deposited on site or hauled away.  Mechanical removal of cattails provides instant, long-lasting results. 

Herbicide control

Many people opt for EPA-approved herbicides to control the growth of cattails in their ponds, lakes, or other bodies of water. Contact herbicide acts quickly and kills any plant cells that it comes into contact with. Systemic herbicides, however, are absorbed by the plant and carried down to the roots, killing the plant in its entirety.  In either case, herbicides are typically the best option for controlling large populations of cattails. 

Contact ILM Environments for Cattail Removal Services

At ILM Environments, we use specialized, low-ground pressure equipment, to remove aquatic vegetation manually or mechanically.  Herbicide application is performed by licensed professionals using EPA-approved chemicals.  

Contact us today to schedule a consultation, learn more about our services, and get a holistic strategy for caring for your environment.