Common cattails (Typha latifolia) occur opportunistically in ponds, swamps, wetlands, ditches and canals. This wild North American native is attractive in moderation, and serves as an important source of food and shelter for a wide range of local wildlife. Cattails can quickly get out of hand. Hardy, prolific Typha can completely take over wetlands while excluding other species, significantly reducing its value to the overall habitat. Using heavy equipment and lowering water levels to clear cattails are effective, but not feasible for the average homeowner. Roll up your sleeves and prepare to get muddy as you take natural and organic measures to reclaim your swamp.
Pull on your heavy work gloves and hand-pull cattail shoots in the spring. Grasp the stem as close to the base of the plant as you can, and pull slowly upward. The young plant will actually come up quite easily, dragging its rhizomes with it. This is tedious, dirty, hard work but it’s by far one of the most effective means of cattail control.
Dig into the mud with your fingers to fish out larger rhizomes of older plants. You may or may not be able to completely dislodge these better-established cattails.
Cut unsubmerged shoreline cattails in late summer. Clip the stem and its foliage off with hand shears as close to the ground as possible. While some of the plants treated in this manner will return, a significant percentage of them will be killed. Repeat next summer if necessary.
Prune and drown cattails that stand in water from late summer to early fall. Cut the plant 3 inches below the water’s surface for best control. The plant will suffocate and the rhizomes will die. This method is the most effective of all cattail controls. Manual removal impacts the environment less than other methods.
Turn your domestic geese out and allow them complete access to cattail areas. They’ll relish the shoots, rhizomes and seedlings. These grazers can quickly and efficiently gobble up young cattails -- saving you lots of time, hard work and goose food money in the process.
Encourage native wildlife to inhabit your wetland areas. Cattails are one of the most important food and shelter sources for many birds, insects, snails and small mammals. Painted turtles regularly feed upon the stems and seeds of common cattails. Canadian geese relish the rhizomes and tender young shoots. Wild mallard ducks enjoy the seeds. Muskrats rely heavily on cattail rhizomes for food and construct their lodges from the tough leaves.
Dispose of cattails on your compost heap. Better yet, discover creative new ways to use them. Cattails are beautiful when added to indoor floral arrangements, or even in tall containers by themselves. Dry the leaves for handcrafts. You can make dolls and toy animals for your kids out of them. Dried cattail leaves are excellent free raw materials to use for weaving mats, baskets and seats for furniture. Stems and leaves make great no-cost kindling for your fireplace, too.