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I have a plant that looks like a cattail, but it has a plume on top instead of a catkin. What is it? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

I have a plant that looks like a cattail, but it has a plume on top instead of a catkin. What is it?

Q: I have a plant that looks like a cattail, but it has a plume on top instead of a catkin. What is it?

Mike – Cottonwood, AZ

A: It sounds like you’ve got phragmites. Also known as “common reed,” certain invasive varieties of this plant have taken root on the East Coast, Midwest and Pacific Northwest – and, apparently, in your pond! To identify the species of phragmite in your pond, check out Cornell University’s “Morphological Differences” website here.

Phragmite 101

Generally speaking, phragmite is a perennial wetland grass that can grow to 6 to 15 feet in height. Its stems, which are erect, smooth and hollow, measure nearly 1 inch in diameter and are topped with 12-inch-long dense panicles, or purple-brown pyramid-shaped plumes of flowers, that emerge between July and September. The leaves that arise from the stem are 10 to 20 inches long and up to 2 inches wide.

The plants propagate mainly via an extensive network of underground rhizomes, or horizontal stems, that produce roots and shoots that grow as deep as 39 inches, with their root systems growing down another 3 feet. They’re hardy – and unfortunately, they can be tough to control.

A Substantial Threat

These invasive, non-native bad guys can do some serious damage to your lake or pond. Not only do they create tall, dense stands that crowd out native plants and animals, but they also block your shoreline views, create fire hazards from dry plant material, and reduce areas for swimming, fishing and hunting. They’re definitely not something you want on your property.

Treatment Options

Once phragmites has taken root in your lake or pond, you’ll need to develop a long-term management plan to control them. Unfortunately, because the plants spread through their rhizomes, they could be difficult to eradicate entirely. That’s where chemical and mechanical control can help.

  • Chemical control: First, you can spray an EPA-registered herbicide and surfactant product, like Shoreline Defense® & Treatment Booster™ PLUS Combo, in the late summer or early fall. Mix 8 ounces of Shoreline Defense®, 4 ounces of Treatment Booster™ PLUS and 2 gallons of water, pour it into pond sprayer and spray on the plants with your The Pond Guy® Pond Sprayer, completely wetting the surface of the leaves. Allow the mixture to absorb into the plant and the root system – the most difficult part of the plant to kill – for two weeks.
  • Mechanical control: Once the herbicide has had a chance to soak into the phragmites’ root system and kill the plants, use a weed cutting and removal tool, like the Weed Cutter and Pond & Beach Rake, to slice at the base of the plants and remove them. If you can control your pond’s or lake’s water line, you can also cut the phragmites 2 to 3 inches below the water surface to cut off the plant’s supply of oxygen and drown the plant.
  • Destroy what you’ve removed: To prevent the accidental spread of the plant, collect the cut material and bag it before disposing of it. In extreme cases, prescribed burning after herbicide treatment can provide additional control.

Before you begin, check with your local environmental agency to see if a permit is required for the treatments of these buggers. Plan to repeat this routine several years in a row. Patches may emerge even after regular treatments, but once you’ve wiped out the majority of the phragmites, the plant will be much easier to control. Just remember: early detection is key!

Pond Talk: How do you control phragmites in your lake or pond?

What Can I Do To Reduce Or Remove Cattails From My Pond? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: What can I do to reduce or remove cattails from my pond?

Ryan – Bradford, PA

A: Cattails, when left unchecked, can proliferate and take over a pond or lake in no time. These common aquatic plants grow from 3 to 10 feet tall in dense colonies around the margins of ponds and lakes. In the spring, the green strap-like foliage grows from large, creeping, below-the-ground rhizomes. As the seasons progress, the cattail’s leaves and spikes – or the plant’s brown cylindrical flower – grow. And when the flowers open and let loose their cottony seeds, the cattails spread and propagate new plants throughout the lake.

Cattails can indeed be a nuisance. Granted, a small, managed area of cattails will provide an ideal habitat for amphibians, insects, birds and fish, as well as helping to prevent erosion. But too many of these plants can create an unappealing look and begin to transform a healthy lake or pond into marshland.

Controlling cattails involves a simple three-step process: You’ll need to spray an herbicide to kill the plants themselves, cut the leaves and spikes down and remove them, and retreat as necessary.

Step 1: Treat the Plants

The most common way to control cattails is to apply an EPA-registered herbicide and surfactant product, like Shoreline Defense®, using a pressurized pond sprayer, such as the The Pond Guy® Pond Sprayer. Read the product labels for proper dosage rates for your size lake. To treat a 2,500-square-foot area of weeds, mix 8 ounces of Shoreline Defense® with 2 gallons of water and 4 ounces of Treatment Booster™ Plus, pour into pond sprayer and apply onto actively growing plants and at least 18 inches above the water surface where the cattails are growing. Allow the mixture to absorb into the plant and the root system, which is the most difficult part of the plant to kill, for one to two weeks.

Step 2: Cut, Remove the Stalks

Once the herbicide has had a chance to soak into the cattail’s root system, the plant will turn brown and become limp. At this point, you should remove the stalks. Doing so prevents muck accumulation, and it also makes it easier to treat and remove new cattails in the future as they will come up between the dead stalks. Cut the stalks using the Weed Cutter or the Jenlis Weed Razer™ Pro Aquatic Weed Cutter at the base of the plants, allowing for easier removal with your Rake.

Step 3: Retreat as Needed

To completely eradicate cattails in a pond, this process may need to be repeated – and repeated and repeated because not all cattail roots will be killed by one treatment. But once you have the plants under control, they can make a nice addition to your landscape and encourage wildlife to call your pond or lake home. Just don’t let the cattails take over again!

Pond Talk: How large of an area do you have in your lake or pond that’s devoted to cattails?

How Do I Get Rid Of Phragmites? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

How Do I Get Rid Of Phragmites?

Robert – Steamboat Springs, CO

Phragmites, also known as common reeds, are wetland grasses that can grow up to 15 feet in height. They quickly become a nuisance because they form dense patches that choke out native plant and wildlife species, block shoreline views, and reduce access for swimming and fishing.

Completely eliminating phragmites takes several treatments. The majority of the plant is an extensive underground root system that is very difficult to fully eliminate. You can control the density and spread of phragmites with regular chemical treatments applied with a pond sprayer. Consider using an herbicide such as Shoreline Defense®, which carries no restrictions on recreational use or livestock consumption of water from the treatment area.

Once phragmites have died, you should cut or burn the dead vegetation. The best time to treat phragmites is the summer when the plant is actively growing and seeding.

Controlling Emergent Weeds – Pond & Lake Q & A

Picture of cattails with a pond in the background.

Pond & Lake Q & A

Q: What do I use to kill the emergent weeds on the shoreline? What sprayer should I purchase? NOTE: My kids swim in pond. – James of Wisconsin

A: At first sight or when controlled properly, cattails and other emergent weeds can add natural beauty, structure for fish and act as a buffer to reduce nutrients and sediment caused by runoff. But, beware! Emergent weeds can take over a pond very quickly if left alone for too long. It is best to pick an area of emergent weeds that you are acceptable with and mark it with boulders or other pieces of landscape. This will allow you to control only the emergent weeds that grow outside your acceptable boundary. There are 3 simple steps to control emergent weeds: 1) Spray… 2) Cut… 3) Repeat…

1.) Spray - Select the best product for the job. Shoreline Defense® & Treatment Booster™ PLUS Combo is best at providing long-term control for all types of grasses and cattails. It will also work for phragmites and/or purple loosestrife. Shoreline Defense® & Treatment Booster™ PLUS are mixed together with water and sprayed directly on to the target plant with a tank sprayer (We suggest using the The Pond Guy® Pond Sprayer). This will allow you to control all areas or select areas that you have set aside for this type of growth. Also note: Shoreline Defense® & Treatment Booster™ PLUS have no swimming use restrictions.

2) Cut – Emergent weeds can sometimes have a root base deep within the ground so removing them before they are completely dead will allow them to come back very quickly. Most emergent weeds are best treated when the foliage is around 12″ high. This will allow enough contact for the aquatic herbicide. After a successful treatment, they will turn brown and become limp within 7-14 days. After this occurs, use an Aquatic Weed Cutter to cut the weeds at their base and then simply rake them out with the Pond & Beach Rake.

3) Repeat – Repeat these steps as necessary. In some cases it may take several applications to gain control.

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