Pond Plants 1: Cattails

Pond Plants 1: Cattails

Mandy Anders

The cattails are a group of durable, fast-growing pond and bog plants in the genus Typha. Cattails grow as native plants nearly world-wide. This highly adaptable genus can tolerate full sun to almost full shade, grow in shallow waters, and sometimes colonize brackish marshes. As a ornamental pond plant, cattails help to remove nitrates and phosphates from the pond water as well as providing beautiful green foliage. Some smaller varieties are very appropriate for use in bog filters. Several species are available, and each one is slightly different.

The common cattail, Typha latifolia, is native to North America and Europe. It can be found growing wild across the USA and Canada. The common cattail reaches heights of 72″ and is cold hardy to zone 3. Common cattail can grow in depths up to 24″, but does quite well in 12″ or less of water. This cattail has broad, wide leaves that create a backdrop in the pond for other plants. It grows very quickly and has a very strong root system. Common cattail can become very invasive in mud bottom ponds. It is not a very suitable choice for bog filters as it can sometimes be difficult to divide and harvest from the bog gravel. For best results, pot common cattails in large, thick, solid bottom pots, like Laguna’s plastic lily tubs (HA8906 and HA8905) and divide them each year. A serrated root knife is very helpful when cutting through the thick roots. Variegated cattail, Typha lattifolia ‘variegata’, is a lovely, striped variety of the common cattail. This North American native grows in similar conditions to the common cattail, except is it hardy down to zone 4. The creamy, variegated leaves contrast nicely with other plants.

The graceful cattail, Typha angustifolia, is somewhat shorter than the common cattail, reaching a maximum height of 48″. It possesses much more slender leaves and prefers a water depth of no more than 12″. Narrowleaf cattail, Typha laxmannii, is an even shorter, thinner bladed variety. It grows to 36″ and prefers water depths of 8″, but will tolerate 12″. Both of these cattails are hardy down to zone 3. Graceful and narrowleaf cattails can both be used as bog filter plants if they are pruned and divided frequently. They work well on pond shelves and are excellent choices for Hagen’s pond baskets (HA8553 and HA8552) or planting bags (HA8991). The roots that reach through these type of pots will draw nutrients in the form of nitrates and phosphates directly from the pond water, improving water quality and competing with algae.

The smallest of the cattails is the dwarf cattail, Typha minima. This plant has thin, needle like leaves that only grow to 18″ tall. Dwarf cattail cannot grow in depths greater than 6″ and is less shade tolerant than the other cattails. Dwarf cattail is an excellent choice for bog filters, being the least invasive and easiest cattail to divide. It is also short enough to be grown in barley planters (SU7101), floating rings (MAN14 and MAN15), and floating bag planters(HA8912 and HA8913).

All of the cattails can be divided into separate clumps for planting by cutting or splitting apart the thick mat of the root system. The plants are very durable and do not damage easily during this process. Pot them with a heavy aquatic media such as Hoffmans water garden soil (HO1000) or Microbe-lift Aquatic Planting Media (EL128). Fertilize them when potting and once a month during the growing season with fertilizer tablets (TWG2714). Cattails are excellent plants for ponds with koi, since the roots can withstand the fish’s tendency to dig up and eat delicate pond plants.

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