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Winter Management of Phragmites and Cattails

Winter presents a key opportunity for controlling both Cattails and Phragmites around the margins of your pond. Solid ice cover on your pond can make accessing and removing the dead stalks of these plants much easier than during other seasons when you would have to wade through the water to get the same access.

Removing the dead vegetation has two main benefits. First, removing the debris decreases the amount of dead organic matter that will be decaying in the pond over the summer. This will improve your water quality throughout the warm months. Second, removing the tough dead stalks will allow for more effective control of the plants during the warm months, by exposing new growth for more effective herbicide treatment, or by making it easier to cut down the new shoots with aquatic weed cutters. Read more about removing dead plant matter here.

In the case of cattails, removing the seed heads in winter also decreases the reproduction and spread rate of the plants as they typically release seeds during the spring. Winter removal of the seed heads dramatically reduces the amount of seed available when the weather warms up.

The first step is always to make sure that the ice is thick and safe. Thin ice is dangerous, so make sure that there is at least 6 inches of solid ice before venturing out to do the work.

Next, simply cut the stalks off at the top of the ice. Sharpen a flat shovel, use a weed cutter or go after the stalks with a weed whacker; all will work.

Once the stalks are cut, rake them up and remove them from the pond area, either for disposal, composting or burning (if this is allowed in your area). Leaving the cut stalks on the ice defeats much of the purpose of the project.

Cattails and phragmites can be aggressive invaders of your pond margin, eventually taking over the shallow water areas of many ponds. In the case of native cattails, some growth is OK, in that cattails can provide important wildlife habitat. In the case of invasive phragmites however, aggressive eradication is almost always the best bet. Either way, taking advantage of winter ice cover makes the job easier and more manageable.

If you are looking for help managing problem plant growth like phragmites or cattails, give us a call.  We are happy to help with advice or control services. Winter is a great time to schedule a visit to talk with a pond expert to discuss a management plan for a more successful pond season!