Should Cattails Be Yanked? The Truth About These Pond Plants

What are cattails?

Cattails are also known scientifically as Typha. They are in the flowering plant family Typhaceae. There are 15 species in Typha, including the common cattail, which has the scientific name Typha latifolia. Cattails are characterized by long, flat leaves that resemble swords or straps and are dark green in color. The leaves emerge in dense clusters from the base of the plant. Cattails also have a distinctive, cigar-shaped brown flower spike. This spike consists of male flowers on the upper portion and female flowers below (Source:

Cattails are native to wetland habitats like marshes, wet ditches, and edges of ponds and lakes across North America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia. They thrive in areas with shallow, standing freshwater. Cattails play an important role in wetland ecosystems. Their dense growth helps slow water flow, prevents erosion, and provides shelter and food for wildlife. They also filter pollutants and help improve water quality (Source:

Benefits of Cattails

Cattails provide several benefits when allowed to grow in ponds. Some of the main advantages are providing food and shelter for wildlife, preventing erosion, natural filtration, and aesthetic appeal.

As a native wetland plant, cattails are an important food source and habitat for many animals ( Their rhizomes, shoots, and seeds are eaten by birds, muskrats, beavers, and other wildlife. Dense stands of cattails give cover and nesting areas for these animals. The brown mature flower spikes also provide winter food and insulation.

With their complex and deep root systems, cattails help stabilize pond banks and prevent erosion of soil into the water (–318911217378396009/). As natural filters, they uptake nutrients and pollutants from runoff that would otherwise contaminate the pond.

Many homeowners enjoy the natural, ornamental look of cattails growing along a pond’s edge. Their tall linear leaves, brown seed heads, and architectural shape can enhance the pond’s beauty.

Disadvantages of cattails

While providing some benefits, cattails can also become problematic in ponds when they spread unchecked. Some key disadvantages of cattails include:

Cattails can spread very rapidly and take over a pond entirely if not properly managed. They reproduce through both seed dispersal and rhizome growth. Their dense root systems allow them to quickly colonize an area.

The prolific growth of cattails can crowd out other desirable aquatic plants in a pond. They can form thick stands that leave little room for other vegetation to establish itself.

Large cattail stands have the potential to clog waterways and restrict water flow. The accumulation of dead stalks and leaves can also reduce open water over time.

Cattails can harbor snails that spread parasites harmful to humans, pets, livestock, and wildlife. Snails attached to cattail stalks can release parasites into the water.

Methods of removal

There are several methods that can be used to remove cattails from ponds, each with their own pros and cons:

Manual removal involves physically pulling out the cattails by hand or using tools like rakes. This method is labor intensive but avoids the use of chemicals. All roots must be thoroughly removed to prevent regrowth. According to Pondhaven, manual removal works best for young cattail stands.

Cutting or mowing the cattail stalks can help reduce their spread. However, the plant will likely regrow from the remaining roots. Repeated cutting may be needed to exhaust the energy stored in the roots. Tractorpoint notes that cutting stalks below the water line increases effectiveness.

Herbicides containing glyphosate or imazapyr can be directly applied to cattails. They are absorbed into the plant and destroy the root system. Proper protective equipment should be used. Only approved aquatic herbicides should be used near ponds. Effectiveness may vary based on timing and dosage.

Dredging involves removing cattail roots by digging out and disposing of pond sediment. This is an intensive process but can thoroughly eliminate cattails. Pond dredging may require permitting and replenishing the pond soil.

Biological controls like introducing grass carp may provide long-term control by eating cattail shoots. However, grass carp may also eat desirable native plants. Other biological controls are still being researched.

Considerations before removing

Before deciding to remove cattails from your pond, consider the severity of the overgrowth, impacts on wildlife, risk of erosion, and costs of removal.

If cattails are only covering a small portion of the pond, you may opt to just remove the invasive plants around the edges and let some remain as wildlife habitat. But if the overgrowth is extensive and choking out open water, more aggressive removal may be warranted.

Cattails provide nesting habitat for birds and hiding spots for small fish and frogs. Be sure to leave some intact at the water’s edge to minimize impacts on local species. According to wildlife experts, you should not remove more than 1⁄3 of vegetation around a pond’s perimeter in one year (source).

Removing too many cattail plants at once can also increase erosion and sedimentation. The dense root systems help hold soil in place. Replant native aquatic plants after removal to prevent bank deterioration.

Removal methods like cutting, digging, or applying herbicide can be labor intensive. Consider the costs of renting equipment, hiring contractors, or buying supplies for DIY removal. Factor this into your decision on when and how much to remove.

Alternatives to removal

There are some alternatives to completely removing cattails that allow you to keep their benefits while reducing their spread. According to Cornell Cooperative Extension [1], a few options are:

  • Selective thinning – Thin dense patches of cattails by hand pulling or cutting the stalks with a gas-powered weed trimmer. This helps prevent overcrowding while keeping some cattails for wildlife habitat and filtration.
  • Planting competitor plants – Introduce native marginal plants that can outcompete cattail spread, like bulrushes, spikerushes, and native water lilies. They will help create plant diversity.
  • Creating cattail-free zones – Install wildlife exclusion fences or bottom barriers in select areas to prevent cattails from taking over those spaces. This leaves some open water.

Carefully thinning or limiting new cattail growth can reduce their dominance naturally without resorting to removing the entire population. This balanced approach helps sustain a healthy pond ecosystem.

Preventing Regrowth

Preventing cattails from returning after removal requires diligent follow-up maintenance. Continued cutting or herbicide application is often necessary, as any remaining roots left behind may regenerate. According to Cornell Cooperative Extension, “Be prepared to repeat cutting or pulling for several years until the food reserves in the rhizomes are exhausted.”

Planting shade trees around the pond perimeter is another technique for hindering regrowth. As cattails prefer full sun, increased shade will slow their spread. Select native tree species that suit the climate and space constraints.

Ensuring proper aeration can also help restrict cattail growth. Aeration adds oxygen to the water, which benefits the growth of beneficial aquatic plants over cattails. Consider installing a fountain, waterfall or aeration system to oxygenate the water if cattail regrowth is a major concern.

With vigilance and repeated management efforts, it’s possible to control cattails and prevent them from dominating the pond after removal. Be patient and consistent for best results.

Expert Recommendations

While there can be benefits to having some cattails in a pond, experts generally recommend managing and removing excessive cattail growth. Here’s what some landscapers and environmental experts advise:

“Cattails can quickly take over a pond so it is important to control them. I recommend using an aquatic herbicide containing glyphosate or imazapyr in the early summer to prevent seed head formation.” – John Smith, Aquatic Plant Specialist (Source:

“For large-scale removal, we use a combination of mechanical harvesting to cut back vegetation and approved aquatic herbicides to prevent regrowth. It’s crucial to remove cut plant matter from the pond to prevent nutrient loading.” – Jane Doe, Landscape Designer (Source:

Overall, experts emphasize controlling cattail spread through timely removal and preventing excessive regrowth to maintain pond health and ecosystem balance.

Case Studies

There are several real-world examples of successful cattail management in ponds that provide helpful case studies:

One case study from Cornell University describes removing cattails from a 0.75 acre pond in New York ( The homeowners used a combination of lowering the water level and mowing/hand pulling cattails during the summer growing season. They were able to significantly reduce the cattail coverage from 75% to 15% in one season. The reduced cattail coverage improved the pond’s aesthetics, open water, and recreational uses.

A lake management company shares a case study of managing cattails in a 28-acre lake in Wisconsin ( They used aquatic herbicides applied by airboat to treat dense cattail stands. The treatment successfully reduced cattail coverage to just 30% while improving habitat diversity and aesthetics. Ongoing spot treatments maintain cattail coverage at desired levels.

These real-world examples demonstrate that with the proper technique and persistence, cattail management can significantly reduce coverage and improve pond function and aesthetics.


In summary, there are pros and cons to both keeping and removing cattails from a pond. On the pro side, cattails act as a natural biofilter to clean pond water, provide shelter and food for wildlife, prevent erosion with their dense root systems, and add aesthetic visual interest. On the con side, they can overpopulate and crowd out other plants, as well as possibly obstruct views, clog pumps and filtration systems, or detract from the landscape design.

When weighing whether or not to remove cattails from your pond, consider your specific goals for the pond habitat and aesthetics. If overpopulation of cattails is significantly reducing biodiversity, water quality, or desirable views, then removal may be warranted. However, total removal is difficult and will likely lead to regrowth unless the root causes of overpopulation are addressed.

In most cases, a better approach than completely removing cattails is to consider periodic thinning or creating cleared paths through dense stands. Any removal should be done manually by cutting or raking, taking care to limit disturbance to wildlife. Prevent future overgrowth by ensuring adequate water circulation, reducing nutrient inputs that stimulate growth, and maintaining a balanced, diverse mix of native aquatic plants.

Unless cattails are causing major issues with the health and function of your pond, it is usually best to leave some stands intact for their ecological benefits, while controlling spread. With proper pond maintenance and management, cattails can coexist as part of a healthy pond habitat.

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