Are Cattails Ruining Your Pond? The Truth About These Common Aquatic Plants


Cattails, also known as bulrushes, are a common aquatic plant found around the edges of ponds. They are characterized by their long, upright leaves that resemble tails. Scientifically known as Typha, there are several species of cattails native to North America. With their fast growth rate, cattails often form dense clusters around pond perimeters. Their adaptability allows them to thrive in standing water, saturated soils, or even slightly drier areas.

Benefits of Cattails

Cattails provide many benefits for ponds and wetland areas. One of the main benefits is providing food and habitat for wildlife. The roots, shoots, and leaves of cattails are eaten by various birds, insects, and mammals. Muskrats in particular rely on cattails and often construct homes out of cattail stalks. Cattails also provide habitat for frogs, turtles, and fish that live in the pond. Their dense growth offers places for animals to hide, nest, and breed.

Another major benefit of cattails is erosion control. Their extensive root systems help hold soil in place. The plant’s tall stalks also reduce wave action from wind that can lead to soil erosion around ponds and shorelines. According to one source, cattail root secretions also have natural coagulant properties to bind soil particles.

Potential Downsides of Too Many Cattails

While cattails can provide benefits to a pond, an overabundance of these plants can also cause some issues. Here are some of the potential downsides of having too many cattails:

Can overrun the pond – One of the biggest concerns with cattails is their ability to spread rapidly. According to a report from the City of Saskatoon, cattails “grow aggressively and can crowd out other native plants and grasses, thereby reducing plant diversity.”1 Their dense growth can quickly take over sections or even an entire pond.

Block sunlight – The tall stalks and broad leaves of dense cattail stands can form a thick barrier that blocks sunlight from reaching the open water and underlying plants. This can inhibit growth of beneficial pond plants and algae.

Use up nutrients – Cattails are voracious consumers of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus. Excessive cattail growth can deplete nutrients in the water that other aquatic plants and animals need.

Impact on Pond Ecology

Cattails can have both beneficial and detrimental effects on pond ecology, depending on how prolific they become. In moderation, cattails provide habitat and food sources for many creatures. But an overabundance of cattails can negatively impact biodiversity.

Cattails help filter nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous from runoff, intercepting them before they can fuel excessive algae growth ( Their presence contributes oxygen to the water. Cattail leaves, stems, and roots offer hiding spots for frogs, turtles, and insects ( The apple-like rootstocks are an important food source for muskrats and beavers.

However, too many cattails can create stagnant water and low oxygen levels. They spread rapidly and crowd out beneficial native plants that provide better habitat and food sources. An overgrowth of cattails reduces plant diversity, limiting options for wildlife. As cattails decay, they release the excess nutrients back into the water, perpetuating algae growth. Prolific cattails also make it easier for predators to prey on frogs, fish, and insects (

Managing and Removing Cattails

If cattails start taking over your pond, there are a few methods you can try to remove and manage them:

Manual Removal

Manually removing cattails by hand is very labor intensive but avoids the use of herbicides. According to Cornell Cooperative Extension [1], you can remove cattails by cutting them as close to the water line as possible, removing as much of the leaf blade as you can. This can be done with a sickle, scythe or weed cutter. It’s best to remove them before they turn to seed in mid-summer. You may need to repeat cutting several times per season to weaken the plants.


Using a specialized aquatic weed cutter attached to a long pole is more efficient than manual removal for larger ponds. The Pond Guy recommends [2] cutting back cattails to about 6 inches above the pond bottom. Cutting several times per season helps weaken the root structure over time.


Applying EPA approved aquatic herbicides containing glyphosate or imazapyr to freshly cut cattail stalks can be very effective. Always carefully follow product instructions and safety precautions when using herbicides near ponds.

Encouraging Native Plants

Native plants are always the best choice for establishing a natural habitat around ponds. Native aquatic plants have adapted over thousands of years to thrive in local conditions, provide food and shelter for wildlife, and maintain balance in the pond ecosystem.

Some excellent native pond plants to encourage include:

  • Blueflag iris (Iris versicolor)
  • Pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata)
  • Arrowheads (Sagittaria spp.)
  • Water lilies (Nymphaea odorata, Nuphar lutea)
  • Bur reed (Sparganium americanum)

It’s important to plant native species adapted to local conditions. Consult a local native plant nursery or extension office for recommendations on native plants suitable for ponds in your region.

Allowing native plants to naturally spread around the edges of the pond can help crowd out invasive species. But periodic thinning may be needed to prevent overgrowth. Light controlled burns can also help maintain balance by clearing accumulated dead vegetation.

By encouraging native plants, pond owners can create an aesthetically pleasing landscape that provides natural food and shelter for local wildlife species.

Preventing Cattail Spread

There are several effective ways to prevent cattails from spreading aggressively in your pond:

Regular maintenance such as mowing or cutting back cattail growth can help prevent the plants from spreading out of control. Cutting cattails near the water line in early to mid summer stops them from developing seed heads and spreading further that season (Cornell Cooperative Extension). Hand pulling small patches of cattail shoots can also control spread.

Proper water aeration discourages cattail growth by preventing stagnant water conditions that cattails thrive in. Aerating fountains and water pumps provide circulation and oxygenation that benefits the whole pond ecosystem.

Introducing native pond plants as competitors helps control cattail domination. Plants like pickerelweed, arrowheads, bulrushes, native waterlilies and spikerushes grow well with cattails and make it harder for them to take over.

Living with Cattails

While cattails can spread quickly and take over a pond ecosystem if left unchecked, there are some ways to live in harmony with cattails without eliminating them completely. One strategy is to designate certain areas of the pond as cattail zones, and periodically thin out the cattails in other areas. According to one Reddit user who has lived around cattails their whole life, “Cattails have their place in the ecosystem, but they can’t be allowed to take over completely” (Source). Allowing some cattails to remain provides wildlife habitat, natural filtering, and aesthetic interest.

Strategic removal is also key – it’s best to remove cattails completely from the water itself and just have them around the edges as a border. One can remove cattails manually with a pitchfork to uproot them or use an aquatic herbicide containing glyphosate. However, chemical control requires a permit and can impact other plants, so manual removal is often preferred. The best time to remove cattails is in early spring before they start actively growing. With some thoughtful management, cattails can add to the natural beauty of a pond without negatively impacting the overall ecosystem.

Expert Tips

Landscapers and ecologists recommend a balanced approach when managing cattails in ponds. Here are some of their tips:

Set reasonable expectations. Getting rid of all cattails is difficult, so focus on managing growth and limiting spread. According to, “Eliminating cattails completely is virtually impossible, but there are ways to control and manage them.”

Apply an integrated pest management (IPM) approach. Use a combination of manual removal, mechanical cutting, shading/covering, and herbicide application tailored to your specific situation. Relying solely on chemicals often leads to regrowth.

Remove flower heads before seeds spread. Clip off mature flower spikes in mid to late summer to prevent seed dispersal and reduce future growth. According to, this helps “keep the cattail population under control.”

Cut stems below water line. Submerged cutting below the water surface helps inhibit regrowth compared to mowing above the water. Specialized aquatic weed cutters are available.

Use approved aquatic herbicides. Products with glyphosate or diquat as active ingredients are effective on cattails. Always follow label directions carefully.

Limit nutrient runoff into the pond. Reducing nitrogen and phosphorous inputs from lawn fertilizers, septic systems, farms, etc can help slow cattail spread.

Consider longer-term restoration. Ultimately, a restored native plant community better resists cattail invasion. Seek advice from wetland specialists for your situation.


In conclusion, cattails can provide some benefits to ponds such as stabilization and wildlife habitat. However, they can quickly spread and crowd out other native plants, negatively impacting biodiversity. The ideal approach is to allow some cattails, but manage and control their growth. This includes regularly removing excess cattails and promoting the growth of diverse native plants. With some diligent maintenance, cattails can coexist with other pond vegetation in a balanced ecosystem. The key is preventing monocultures of cattails from dominating. By thoughtfully managing cattails and promoting plant diversity, we can enjoy their benefits while maintaining a thriving pond environment.

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