Growing Cattails in Your Backyard. Is It Possible?

What Are Cattails?

Cattails are tall marsh plants that grow in wetlands and alongside bodies of water. They are easily identified by their long, sword-like leaves and unique brown cylindrical flower heads (britannica). The scientific name for cattails is Typha. There are around 30 different species worldwide, with some of the most common being Typha latifolia (common cattail), Typha angustifolia (narrow leaf cattail), and Typha domingensis (southern cattail) (cattail facts).

Cattails naturally grow in freshwater wetlands throughout North and South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia. They thrive in marshes, along pond edges, near rivers, and in ditches. Cattails spread through rhizomes under the soil and can form dense stands. They play an important ecological role in wetland habitats by filtering pollutants, reducing erosion, and providing food and shelter for wildlife.

The fluffy, brown cylindrical heads of cattails are used for stuffing materials like pillows, insulation, and life jackets. The leaves can be woven into baskets, mats, and chair seats. Parts of the cattail plant are also edible for humans when harvested at the right stage.

Benefits of Growing Cattails

Cattails can provide several benefits when grown intentionally in yards and gardens. One major benefit is aesthetic appeal. The tall, vertical leaves stand out and add unique visual interest to gardens and ponds. Their fluffy, brown seed heads are also attractive, especially when backlit by the sun. Cattails have an iconic natural look that works well in rustic, cottage, or wildlife gardens.

Cattails are also excellent for filtration in backyard ponds and water features. As water flows past their stems, the plants help filter out excess nutrients, pollutants, and sediments. Their dense root systems stabilize pond banks and prevent erosion. In natural wetlands, cattails help purify water and are an important part of the ecosystem.

In addition, planted stands of cattails provide excellent habitat for wildlife. Their stalks offer nesting material, shelter, and protection for birds and small mammals. Cattails also provide food in the form of their shoots, stems, pollen, and roots. Duck, geese, muskrats, beavers, and other wetland wildlife rely on cattails. By incorporating cattails, gardeners can attract more wildlife to their yards.


Challenges of Growing Cattails

While cattails can provide benefits, there are some challenges to consider when growing them:

Cattails can spread rapidly due to their growth from rhizomes underground. According to the Nature Conservancy, “They have two ways to spread: Seeds made by their flowers, and roots that creep, called rhizomes. Rhizomes grow new shoots quickly, creating thick stands that crowd out other plants.” (Source)

Cattails require a lot of space to grow. Each plant can spread 3-4 feet wide, so they need adequate room to avoid overcrowding other plants. The Spruce recommends at least a 3 foot spacing between cattail plants. (Source)

Cattails need consistently wet soil to thrive. According to Cornell Cooperative Extension, “Cattails require a lot of water. They grow in ditches, marshes, and along pond edges where water levels fluctuate.” If soil becomes too dry, cattail growth will be stunted. (Source)

Cattail Growing Conditions

Cattails thrive in full sun and wet soil or shallow water. They are hardy in USDA zones 3-11 and can tolerate cold winters with temperatures as low as -40°F. Cattails prefer soggy, marshy areas but will also grow in average garden soil as long as the soil is constantly moist. They do best in wetlands, along pond edges, flooded depressions, marshes, and other wet areas.

Before planting cattails, prepare the site by removing any existing weeds or grass. For boggy, marshy areas, no additional soil amendments are needed. But for garden beds, amend the native soil with organic matter like compost or peat moss to help retain moisture. The soil should be wet but not fully submerged. Ensure the bed has good drainage to prevent the plants from sitting in waterlogged soil.

Cattails spread vigorously so allow plenty of space between plants, at least 3-4 feet apart. Mark the planting spots ahead of time to keep them organized and prevent overcrowding. Focus on soil moisture levels when choosing the site rather than proximity to standing water.

How to Plant Cattails

Cattails can be grown either from seeds or transplanted from another location. If planting from seeds, the best time to plant is in late fall or early spring. Cattail seeds need exposure to cold, moist conditions for several weeks to break dormancy before they will germinate. Sow seeds on the soil surface and keep them consistently moist.

Transplanting mature cattail clumps is often easier than starting from seed. This can be done in early spring as soon as the ground thaws. Dig up a clump from an existing stand and divide it into smaller sections. Replant the divisions about 1-2 feet apart in the new location. Water thoroughly after planting and continue watering when the soil dries out until plants are established.

When planting cattails, choose a site with full sun to partial shade and wet soil. Standing water or soggy areas are ideal, but they can also tolerate drier soils if kept consistently moist. Prepare the planting area by removing weeds and mixing in compost to enrich the soil. Transplant each division into a hole the same depth as the root ball and firm the soil around it. Space plants about 1-2 feet apart to allow room for growth. Water newly planted cattails daily until their roots become established.

Caring for Cattails

Cattails are quite hardy once established but require some basic care and maintenance.

Cattails prefer moist soil and will need regular watering. According to The Spruce, the soil should be kept consistently wet, which is why cattails thrive in wetland areas. Water cattails at least 1-2 inches per week, and possibly more in hot and dry weather.

Cattails have modest fertilizer needs. Apply a general purpose, balanced fertilizer in spring and midsummer according to package directions. An organic fertilizer can also be used, or compost worked into the soil around the plants.

Very little pruning is required for cattails. Allow the foliage to die back naturally in late fall/winter. In early spring, cut back any unsightly, dead foliage to promote new growth. You can also selectively thin dense clumps to control spread if needed, according to Better Homes & Gardens.

Controlling Invasive Cattails

Growing cattails can be very rewarding. However, for some people, the prolific growth of cattails can become invasive and difficult to remove. You may want to control cattails in your garden or yard for aesthetic reasons or to allow other plants to thrive.

The most effective way to control invasive cattails is through regular removal. This involves physically removing the plants by cutting, hand-pulling, dredging or digging out the root system. It’s important to remove the entire root system or else the cattails will regrow quickly. For larger infestations, specialized equipment like backhoes or aquatic weed cutters may be required.1

Cutting the flower heads before seeds disperse can help prevent further spreading. Chemical herbicides like glyphosate can also be applied directly to the leaves or injected into the stems to kill the plants. However, herbicides may have unintended environmental consequences. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully.2

For permanent control, altering the hydrology by flooding or draining the area can suppress cattail growth. Persistence and an integrated approach using a combination of methods is key to successful long-term management of invasive cattails.

Companion Plants

Cattails thrive when planted alongside other water-loving plants that complement their natural habitat (BHG). Some excellent companions include:


Grassy plants like sedges, rushes and reeds help provide structure. Try pairing cattails with Carex sedges, Juncus rushes or larger ornamental grasses like maiden grass, pampas grass or miscanthus (Whattoplantwith).


Iris add colorful blooms in the spring and summer. Yellow flag iris (Iris pseudacorus) and blue flag iris (Iris versicolor) complement cattails well in terms of texture and won’t overtake the planting (BHG).

Aquatic Plants

For ponds and water features, interplant cattails with floating plants like water lilies or oxygenators like hornwort and elodea. Submerged plants help absorb nutrients and prevent algae overgrowth. Floating plants provide shade and habitat for fish and frogs (Whattoplantwith).

Using Cattails

Cattails have many traditional uses, both culinary and otherwise. The starchy rhizomes can be eaten raw or cooked, and have a sweet, nutty flavor. They can be boiled, roasted, grated, or dried and ground into flour for bread or tortillas [1]. Young shoots can be eaten like asparagus in spring, and the classic “corn dog” taste comes from young green flower spikes that can be boiled and eaten like corn on the cob [2].

Cattails also have many medicinal uses. The jelly-like substance around the stalks can be used as wound dressing with antiseptic and anesthetic properties. Cattail leaves and stalks can be woven into mats, baskets, hats, sandals, and even as insulation in walls and floors. The fluff from old dried flower heads can be used like cotton to stuff pillows, as tinder for fires, or as animal bedding [2].


Cattails are versatile plants that can add visual interest and functionality to many landscapes, but growing them does come with some common questions. Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about successfully growing cattails:

What are some troubleshooting tips for cattails?

Cattails are hardy plants but may occasionally have issues. Here are some troubleshooting tips:

  • If leaves turn brown, increase watering frequency. Cattails like consistently moist soil.
  • If plants flop over, allow more space between cattails or insert stakes for support.
  • To limit spread, remove flower heads before seeds develop or install underground barriers around planting beds.
  • Prune off any damaged foliage or trim crowded stands to rejuvenate growth.

How fast do cattails grow?

Cattails grow fairly quickly once established. They can reach their full height of 3-10 feet within one growing season if planted early enough. The plants spread rapidly via rhizomes and seed dispersal as well.

Should I fertilize cattails?

Fertilization is not necessary for cattails. They thrive in poor soils and flooded areas. Excess fertilizer may cause overgrowth and flopping.

How do I control cattails?

To limit spread into unwanted areas, remove flower heads before seed production. Physically remove unwanted growth or install underground plastic or metal barriers around beds. Herbicides can also be effective but may impact other aquatic plants.

Can I grow cattails in containers?

Yes, planting cattails in submerged pots, buckets or tubs can help limit invasive spread. Use a soilless aquatic potting mix and include drainage holes. Situate the containers at the edge of water features for the desired look.

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