Cutting Cattails. The Pros and Cons

What Are Cattails?

Cattails are tall, aquatic plants that thrive in marshes, wetlands, ditches, and along pond edges (Source: They have long, narrow leaves that can reach heights of 3-10 feet tall. The leaves surround a dense, cylindrical flower spike. There are several species of cattails, but the most common are the native broadleaf cattail (Typha latifolia) and the non-native narrowleaf cattail (Typha angustifolia) (Source: Cattails thrive in standing, shallow water and saturated soils. They play an important role in wetland ecosystems by filtering pollutants, reducing erosion, and providing habitat for wildlife.

Benefits of Cattails

Cattails provide important habitat and food sources for wildlife. Their dense stands provide cover and nesting sites for birds, small mammals, and amphibians (Source). As aquatic plants, cattails help filter pollutants from water and prevent algal blooms, improving water quality in wetlands and ponds. Their extensive root systems also help stabilize shorelines and control erosion (Source). Parts of the cattail are edible for both humans and wildlife. Native Americans used cattails extensively for food, medicine, and household goods. Even today, cattail roots are nutritious with high starch content.

Potential Reasons to Remove Cattails

While cattails provide ecological benefits, there are some potential reasons you may want to remove or control their spread, including:

Overly aggressive spread – Cattails are prolific spreaders and can rapidly take over ponds and wetlands if left unchecked. Their dense growth crowds out other plants and organisms (source).

Block water views – A cattail mass can form a wall of vegetation that obstructs scenic pond views and reduces open water areas. This is often an aesthetic concern for property owners (source).

Interfere with recreation – Excessive cattail growth can make it difficult to boat, fish, or swim in a pond. Their density can prevent access to the water’s edge.

Impacts of Removing Cattails

Removing cattails can have some adverse impacts on the local ecosystem:

Removing too many cattail plants can disrupt wildlife habitat for certain birds, insects, and mammals that rely on the dense vegetation for shelter, nesting, and food sources ( Many wetland species depend on the habitat provided by cattail stands during some stage of their life cycle.

Eliminating cattail plants also reduces the natural filtration the roots provide for the surrounding water. Cattail roots help filter pollutants and prevent excess nutrients from flowing into waterways ( Removing the vegetation can increase algae bloom and decrease water quality.

In some cases, removing cattails along shorelines or water edges can increase erosion and destabilize the banks. The extensive root systems of cattails help hold sediment in place, so removing them can leave dirt and soils vulnerable to washing away.

Methods to Remove Cattails

There are several methods available for removing cattails, including manual removal, herbicide application, and targeted digging:

Manual Removal
Manually cutting or pulling cattails can be effective for small areas. Using a shovel or spade, dig under the plant to sever the roots below the water line. Remove as much of the leaves and stalks as possible. Regular cutting of new growth will help deplete the plant’s energy stores and eventually kill the cattails. According to Cornell Cooperative Extension, cutting cattails as close to or under the waterline will maximize removal of the leaves and stalks (

Herbicide Application

Applying aquatic herbicides containing glyphosate or imazapyr to actively growing cattail foliage can effectively kill the plant. Spraying the herbicide directly onto cattail growth during late summer or fall provides the best results, allowing the herbicide to translocate to the roots. According to The Pond Guy, maximizing herbicide effectiveness involves proper timing of application (

Targeted Digging
For localized control, carefully digging out cattail crowns and rhizomes using a shovel or spade can eliminate patches. Sever the roots below the waterline and remove all plant parts to prevent regrowth. Targeted digging is most effective on small, isolated cattail clusters.

Permit Requirements

There are regulations around removing cattails in Minnesota. According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), a permit is required for the destruction of any emergent aquatic vegetation like cattails or bulrushes [1]. The DNR carefully regulates the removal of cattails and limits it to small areas needed for boat access, in order to preserve as much cattail habitat as possible [2].

A permit from the DNR is needed for any removal of cattails in Minnesota, whether by hand, equipment, herbicides or other methods. The permit application requires a detailed plan describing the extent of removal, methods to be used, and steps that will be taken to avoid spread of any invasive species [3]. The DNR reviews each permit application carefully, approves only limited removal, and may require mitigation plans to restore habitat.

Alternatives to Removal

There are some alternatives to completely removing cattails that can help control their spread. One option is controlled burns. Controlled burning of the cattail thatch can help reduce their density and open up areas of open water [1]. The fire helps remove built up dead plant material and limits new growth. However, repeated burns may be needed to fully control cattails.

Another alternative is limiting fertilizer runoff into the pond or wetland. Cattails thrive in high nutrient environments. Reducing nitrogen and phosphorus inputs from lawns, septic systems, or agricultural fields can help limit cattail growth and expansion [2].

Planting native aquatic plants as a buffer between the open water and cattails is another option. Native plants like bullrush, arrowhead, pickerelweed, and spatterdock can help stabilize pond edges and shorelines. Their presence can slow cattail expansion from the banks into open water areas [3]. However, some maintenance may still be needed to prevent cattails from shading out planted buffers over time.

Replanting After Removal

After removing cattails, it’s important to replant the area with native wetland plants to restore biodiversity and prevent the cattails from quickly growing back. Some effective techniques for revegetating the area include:

Direct seeding – Seeds of native plants like bulrushes, wild rice and pickerelweed can be spread directly on the wet soil. This tends to work best in shallow water or muddy areas. Make sure to choose native species suited to the specific moisture conditions of the site. Spread seeds just before the wet season so they can germinate when conditions are optimal [1].

Transplanting plugs – Transplanting small plugs of native emergent wetland plants can help establish vegetation quickly. Species like arrowheads, bur-reed and blue flag iris transplant well. Space plugs 1-2 feet apart and plant them just deep enough to cover the top of the root mass. Make sure the plants stay submerged in shallow water until established [2].

Recommended native plants – In addition to those mentioned above, other good choices for revegetating include turtlehead, swamp milkweed, cardinal flower, swamp rose and marsh fern. Choose a mix of plants to create diverse habitat. Seek advice from local wetland nurseries on selecting native species suited to your specific site conditions.

Maintaining Balance

When managing cattails in ponds and wetlands, it’s important to strike a balance between removal and preservation. Strategic removal of some cattails can help control overgrowth while still retaining their habitat benefits. According to Solitude Lake Management, “cattail control is possible” through maintenance that allows “non-nuisance and even beneficial conditions.”

Cattails play a crucial role in wetland ecosystems. As noted by Pond Medics, they provide food and shelter for wildlife, help filter contaminants from water, reduce erosion, and add aesthetic value. Removing all cattails can negatively impact biodiversity and pond health. It’s key to preserve areas of cattails while thinning overgrown sections. Strategic removal can open up space and improve water flow while retaining some habitat and natural filtration.

When removing cattails, focus on clearing patches to create open pockets of water rather than eliminating all vegetation. Consult experts to map out a balanced removal plan for your specific pond. With careful maintenance, you can curb excessive cattail growth while maintaining their ecosystem services. The key is finding the right equilibrium through mindful and moderate control measures.


In summary, cattails provide a number of benefits to ecosystems where they are located, such as filtering contaminated water, providing habitat, and stabilizing shorelines. Removal should only be considered when absolutely necessary to restore wetland function or improve water flow. Most often, a balanced approach of selective thinning, rather than the complete elimination of cattails, is the most ecologically responsible solution.

When removal is pursued, permits should be acquired and proper methodology used to minimize negative impacts. Replanting native species can help restore a wetland after cattail removal. Ongoing maintenance is required to prevent aggressive regrowth. Given the importance of cattails, removal should not be taken lightly. Consider first if alternatives like improving water flow or managing nutrient levels could address the underlying issues leading to overgrowth.

In conclusion, responsible cattail management requires carefully weighing the benefits they provide against the need for removal. Pursue a balanced approach focused on ecological health and sustainability. Thin judiciously, replant natives, and address root causes of overgrowth. With care for the ecosystem, cattails and humans can coexist in shared wetland habitats.

Scroll to Top