Cattail and Phragmites Control With Herbicide and Adjuvants

Cattail and Phragmites Control With Herbicide and Adjuvants

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Cattail and Phragmites Control With Herbicide and Adjuvants

Share this Article

Cattail and Phragmites Control With Herbicide and Adjuvants

For many of us, cattails are those nice-looking plants we see in roadside ditches or on the edges of water bodies. The floral head is distinct, and one cannot help but admire these plants.

Phragmites plants, however, though distinct in stature, are not so easy to appreciate. The plants can grow to be over 15 feet tall and have obscure views of landscapes. 

Cattails and phragmites are common features within our landscapes that can be beneficial and damaging depending upon the situation. The two species are mostly associated with wetlands.

How are Wetlands Characterized?

  • They are part of the landscape that is defined by the presence of water.
  • They influence the biological, physical, and chemical characteristics of a particular site.
  • Many wetlands are a transition between upland terrain and aquatic ecosystems.
  • Some wetlands can be found in upland depressions that collect water or where groundwater comes to the surface.
  • Some wetlands remain permanently flooded while others are seasonally flooded but retain saturated soils throughout much of the unflooded season.

Major Types of Wetlands

  • Marshes – predominantly flooded or permanently flooded, and dominated by submersed, floating, or emergent vegetation.
  • Bogs – typically fed by surface groundwater or streams, and dominated by sphagnum mosses.
  • Swamps – have standing water during at least certain times of the year, and are dominated by woody vegetation.

The Value of Wetlands

Wetlands provide an array of valuable services for society and the environment, including:

  • Sustaining a large number of plant and animal species.
  • Improving water quality.
  • Reducing soil erosion and flooding.
  • Moderating the effects of climate change.
  • Providing beautiful spaces for recreation where people can hike, paddle, bird watch, etc.

Threats to Wetlands

The US National Park Services has identified the following threats to wetlands:

  • Construction of roads, dikes, and levees – can have damaging effects on wetlands if they alter natural water flow or hinder movement of aquatic life.
  • Drainage ditches or canals – can alter wetland hydrology dramatically, even converting them to upland landscapes.
  • Pollution – can degrade wetlands and other aquatic habitats.
  • Exotic plants – can squeeze out native plants, alter or eliminate habitats for some wildlife species, or even damage cultural landscapes.
  • Exotic animals – can damage wetlands and outcompete native animal species.
  • Livestock grazing – can remove plants that stabilize stream banks and protect soils from erosion.
  • Groundwater withdrawals – can change habitats for plants, fish, and other aquatic life.

How do Cattails and Phragmites Impact Wetlands?


Cattail or Typha spp., is a herbaceous perennial species found in wet or saturated soils and aquatic sediments in marshes, wet meadows, lakeshores, pond margins, roadside ditches, bogs, and fens.

There are approximately 30 species of cattails found mainly in temperate and cold regions of the northern and southern hemispheres.  Cattails have beneficial value for waterfowl and wildlife and have several other benefits, including being used for culinary, agriculture, building material, paper, fiber, biofuel, and ornamental purposes.

However, all species of cattail are considered weeds that can present serious problems in irrigated agricultural lands and managed aquatic systems. For example:

  • Cattails can invade irrigation canals, farm ponds, and drainage ditches where they can impede the flow of water and increase siltation.
  • Can be a nuisance in many lakes, interfering with fishing, boating, and other recreational activities.
  • Cattails can be poisonous to humans and livestock. Young plants can be eaten without consequence, but older plants develop substances that are potentially toxic.

Phragmites spp.

Phragmites or common reed is a perennial, emergent aquatic plant with cane-like stems that develop from an extensive rhizome system. It grows in low-lying wet areas such as marshes, drainage ditches, shallow lake edges, sandy banks, roadsides, woodlands, and rocky places.

There are four species of phragmites that can provide high-quality forage which can be fed to cattle and horses. Other uses include, as material for building dwellings, lattices, and fences, and for weaving mats and nets.

Invasive phragmites plants are aggressive, spread quickly, and outcompete native species for water and nutrients. In addition, phragmites plants release biochemicals from their roots into the soil to hinder the growth of surrounding plants.

Guidelines for controlling Cattail and Phragmites plants

  • Understand cattail and phragmites biology and ecology: Both species are perennials that are very difficult to control with herbicide. It needs multiple applications and timely to coincide with when mature plants are translocating sugars from leaves to underground rhizomes and roots.
  • Select the most appropriate herbicide(s): The selected herbicide should be for cattail and phragmite control. Furthermore, the herbicide must be safe to apply in aquatic systems and should not contain prepackaged adjuvant because these tend to be harmful to aquatic organisms. 
    • Herbicides which control cattail: glyphosate, imazapyr, and imazamox.
    • Herbicides which control phragmites: glyphosate and imazapyr.
  • Select an appropriate adjuvant: To get the best cattail and phragmites control, add an adjuvant labelled for aquatic systems to your spray mixture to enhance the activity of the herbicide, e.g., Brewer International’s Cide Kick or Sun Wet nonionic surfactants.
    • Benefits of using Cide-Kick nonionic surfactant to enhance cattail and phragmites control with herbicide, include:
      1. The active ingredient in Cide Kick is d’limonene, a natural oil that’s from the peel of citrus fruit, like orange and lemon. 
      2. D’limonene is environmentally safe and will not harm aquatic organisms.
      3. Cide Kick is a wetting agent, activator and protectant combined. 
      4. Cide Kick helps herbicide uptake by breaking down the waxy cuticles on leaf surfaces to enable herbicide penetration and activity.
    • Benefits of using Sun Wet nonionic surfactant to enhance cattail and phragmites control with herbicide include:
      1. Sun Wet’s active ingredient is a methylated seed oil (MSO) which helps provide enhanced control of difficult-to-control species, like cattail and phragmites.
      2. MSO is environmentally safe and will not harm aquatic organisms.
      3. Sun Wet helps the pesticide spread, adequately cover the weed leaf, and overcome barriers such as waxy and hairy leaf surfaces. 
      4. Sun Wet helps reduce the surface tension between the spray droplet and target surface. This allows the spray droplet to spread across the weed’s leaf surface and increasing the contact area for better absorption and weed control. 

Read the Label

  • Make sure you read the herbicide label and follow all recommended instructions to get the best control of cattail and phragmites plants.

For additional information on managing aquatic plants, check out the following blog posts: 


Brewer International ( has been a leader in land and water chemistry since the 1980’s and for over 40 years has proudly served it’s national and regional distributors. 

Our products are used widely across the United States in agriculture, aquatics, forestry, rights of way, and land management. 

Our customers trust our dedication to quality ingredients, tried and true formulas, and positive outcomes

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