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How to Kill Cattails in a Pond (4 Easy & Natural Ways)

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While some pond owners welcome cattails in their ponds…

Others find them to be a nuisance.

If the latter defines you, then hey, you’re in the right place!

We’ll cover 4 of the most effective and natural methods to get rid of cattails from your pond.

And we’ll even touch on which two chemicals provide the best results, in case you want to go that route.

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What Are Cattails?

Cattails (5982863595)

Before we cover how to kill cattails, let's first learn exactly what they are.

Cattails are a semi-aquatic plant that you’ll find around shallow areas of marshes, lakes, and of course, ponds.

There are approximately 30 species of cattails worldwide with two being native to America.

did you know Did you know...

Cattails are unisexual, meaning they produce both male and female flowers on the same plant.

Cattails are able to spread quickly by allowing the wind to spread their seeds. And many cattail stems can grow from a single rhizome (the underground stem of the plant). This makes it easy for the plant to quickly and easily colonize wet areas, stealing nutrients from other plants.

But this isn’t inherently bad, as cattails can be aesthetically pleasing to some, provide food and shelter to pond life, and even help naturally remove unwanted pollutants from ponds.

Are Cattails Good For Ponds?

Cattails do provide some benefit for your backyard pond. As we mentioned earlier, they can provide food and shelter for your little pond critters (including your pond fish), and they can help clean up your pond’s water through natural purification.

On the other hand, because they can spread so quickly, cattails can easily cover a large area and overwhelm your pond. This is an issue because they can steal vital nutrients from other forms of pond life, as well as, make your pond look unsightly if you have an overabundance of cattails.

So, the choice is up to you. Like most things in life, in moderation, cattails can provide some benefit. But, you’ll want to make sure you have some sort of cattail control plan in place to ensure they don’t overwhelm your pond.

Either way, we’ll need to learn how to properly remove and control cattails, which leads us to…

How To Get Rid Of Cattails In A Pond Naturally

Hand Pulling Cattails

The first method to naturally rid your pond or lake of cattails is the most obvious: pull them out with your hands.

While this method may take some time depending on how many cattails you need to remove, it’s the safest and arguably the easiest method.

Removal Tips

  • Grab the cattail at the base, ensuring you don’t break the stem.
  • Be sure to pull up the white rhizome as well.
  • Be aware that this method may stir up sediment and debris causing your pond to look murky and stress out your fish. Fortunately, this will only be temporary and will settle in a day or so.
  • Use a pair of waterproof, non-slip tread gloves to make the job easier.
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Pros

  • Safe and easy cattail removal method
  • Natural and won’t harm your pond’s ecosystem
  • Safe for fish
  • Effective method of control when done right
  • Arguably the best and safest option for small to medium-sized backyard and garden ponds

Cons

  • Not ideal for larger, lake sized ponds with an abundance of cattails
  • Can cause pond murkiness (for a day or so)

Cutting Cattails

Another natural and effective method of removing pond cattails is to cut them.

Essentially, you’ll be cutting the cattail stems below the surface of the water with clippers or a powered trimmer. The water covering the stems will block essential sunlight and oxygen causing the cattails growth to slow down. This is often referred to as “drowning cattails”.

Removal Tips

  • Cut the cattails about 2-3 inches below the surface of the water, if possible.
  • You'll want to cut the cattails in late summer. Cutting cattails in Spring may accelerate their growth.
  • You should see fewer and fewer cattails in your pond after repeating this procedure a few times.
  • You may still have to pull the cattails and their rhizomes to effectively remove them altogether.
  • The cattail removal tools directly below will simplify this potentially tedious job quite a bit.
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Pros

  • Safe and natural way to remove and control cattail plants
  • A more effective technique for removing a larger amount of cattails than just pulling alone
  • Ideal if your pond or lake has fish

Cons

  • Needs to be done during a certain time of year
  • Can take several cutting sessions before cattails really start to thin out
  • May have to still use the pulling method to have a better chance of getting rid of all the cattails and their rhizomes

Increase Salinity

Another effective and natural method involves increasing the salinity of your pond. In other words, adding salt to your pond water.

A salinity ratio of 10 parts per thousand (ppt) will be enough to kill cattails during their growing season, according to sources.

Simply add pond salt to your pond during spring to increase the salinity and kill the cattails.

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You may want to test the salinity of your pond to make sure you’ve reached high enough levels.

Pen Type Salinity & Temp All-in-1 Checker Tester

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Removal Tips

  • You can also try placing a salt block in the middle of the cattail infestation to raise salinity levels.
  • Be sure to remove the cattails once they die to keep your pond or lake clean and healthy.
  • 10 ppt is a high level of salinity for a pond or lake. Too high for fish and most plants. So, you will have to remove your fish during this process and be sure the salinity levels are acceptable before reintroducing your fish. And if you have a significant amount of pond plants you may have to replace them if they die off.

Pros

  • Effective cattail removal method

Cons

  • Not recommended for ponds with fish and/or plants
  • Can negatively affect other pond life, as well
  • You still have to remove the dead cattails as to not cause further problems with your pond

Freezing/Dredging Cattails

This method is a bit more extreme and one I would only use as a last resort or if I had an out of control cattail infestation.

This technique (or techniques) involves first draining your pond, then either allowing the pond floor to freeze over winter killing the rhizomes or manually dredging up the soil to remove the rhizomes.

If you have koi or other fish, however, you’ll have to move them out of your pond into a stock tank over winter or while you dredge the pond. If you do go this route, check out our tips on how to drain a pond. At the bottom of that article are tips on how to properly refill your pond and reintroduce the fish, as well.

Removal Tips

  • If possible, instead of completely draining the pond, you can just drain it down to the lowest point where the cattails are sprouting. You can then manually dig out the rhizomes. The more water you can keep in your pond, the better off your pond’s ecosystem will be.

Pros

  • Effective cattail removal for large infestations
  • Safe and natural removal method

Cons

  • You will need to remove your fish and stock them in a separate tank, potentially over winter
  • Completely draining your pond means you’ll be losing all the natural bacteria and organisms that make up your pond’s established eco-system. You’ll essentially have to start from scratch come Spring time

Chemical Cattail Remover

If none of the natural methods above work, there are also commercially available chemical products for cattail removal. Common aquatic weed herbicides include Shoreline Defense and Cattplex.

Catt Plex

Catt Plex is one of the most popular aquatic weed control products on the market today that kills not only cattails but also will get rid of lily pads and other emergent pond weeds. It’s also marketed as being safe for fish.

Catt Plex is a glyphosate-based herbicide that promises to kill pond weeds down to their roots. It can also be used to kill certain grasses and broadleaf weeds.

Features

  • 100% safe for pond fish and humans
  • Contains 53.8% glyphosate
  • Kills cattails and other emergent pond weeds
  • Effective long-term cattail and weed control
  • Easy application
Sanco Industries Catt Plex Herbicide - Aquatic Grade

Sanco Industries Catt Plex Herbicide - Aquatic Grade

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Shoreline Defense

Shoreline Defense is an effective broad-spectrum emergent weed killer. This aquatic herbicide makes controlling cattails and other lake and pond weeds a breeze by attacking and killing the roots.

This aquatic weed control product from Pond Logic works great for cattails, water lilies, purple loosestrife and more. For cattails, be sure to apply it during late summer.

Features

  • Broad-spectrum emergent weed killer including cattails and more
  • Kills down to the roots for long term cattail and pond weed control
  • Easy application
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did you know Important

If you do decide to go this route, be sure to use only products listed as aquatic herbicides. You may need to check with local/state laws on the legality of using herbicides in your pond, as well as seeing if you need a permit in your area to use an aquatic herbicide.

It’s also important to understand that when using a chemical to essentially kill off an entire species in your pond or lake, there could be the adverse effect that other organisms will be killed or harmed, as well. Frogs, for example, and other visitors to your pond could become sick (and potentially carry the chemical with them as they travel and affecting other areas). The chemicals could leak into the soil and affect other plants and wildlife. And so on. Chemicals are extremely effective when used correctly but always proceed with caution.

FAQ’s

Will Roundup kill cattails in ponds?

I would not recommend using Roundup weed killer to kill cattails in ponds due to the fact that it’s not labeled as an aquatic herbicide. While Roundup’s active ingredient is glyphosate, similar to Catt Plex, it’s not formulated to work around water. As mentioned above, Catt Plex and Shoreline Defense are recommended if you decide to go the chemical application route.

Sanco Industries Catt Plex Herbicide - Aquatic Grade

Sanco Industries Catt Plex Herbicide - Aquatic Grade

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What eats cattails in ponds?

Many wild critters like geese, pond snails, muskrats and more enjoy eating the leaves, stems, and roots of cattails. Even underwater life like certain fish and turtles may eat the stems. Humans enjoy cattails too! The rhizomes can be eaten similar to other roots. And it’s quite common for the roots to be dried and/or ground into flour.

Will salt kill cattails?

Yes, raising the salinity level of your pond water to at least 10 parts per thousand will kill your cattail infestation. You can do this by adding pond salt to your water or by placing a salt block in the middle of your cattail infestation.

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You can measure the salinity of your pond water to ensure you’ve reached high enough levels with a salinity tester.

Pen Type Salinity & Temp All-in-1 Checker Tester

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If you have fish and/or pond plants, you will need to remove them during this process since the high levels of salinity in your water required to kill the cattails will be harmful to your pond’s fish and plants.

Can you drown cattails?

Yes, one natural method that we mentioned above was to cut the cattail stems about 2 to 3 inches below the pond’s surface. This often times referred to as “the drowning method”. This will essentially slow their growth by starving them of oxygen. Keep in mind you may have to cut the stem several times before the cattails die off.

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How do I get rid of cattails in my pond without killing the fish?

The two best ways to kill cattails without harming your fish are to hand pull the cattails and/or cut them below the surface of the water. Both are effective at ridding your pond of cattail plants and are 100% safe for fish.

Freezing and/or dredging your pond is another good option, especially if you have a lot of cattails to get rid of, but you’ll have to remove your fish from the pond during the process, which isn’t an option for everybody.