Managing invasive cattails by Nathan Herbert

Nathan Herbert

Managing wetland habitat inevitably involves controlling cattails. Recovering a wetland from a well-established cattail colony is a 5-to-10-year project that requires persistence and multiple herbicide application methods. In colonies with a high density of cats, a two person or ATV mounted boom is a good way to cover a large area relatively quickly. With low concern for non-target damage (there is usually little else in dense cattail stands) an herbicide-soaked boom can be dragged over the cattails; literally painting the plants with herbicide. This method can reduce stem density of a cattail colony by 50% or more in two treatment seasons.

As the treatment area recovers, or when managing cats in high quality wetlands, a finer approach is needed to avoid non-target damage. Hand-wicking (aka the Glove of Death) is a popular method to address low density cats. A thick cotton glove wetted with herbicide is worn over a nitrile glove. Individual cattails are then treated by grabbing and pulling them through the glove. When using this method, I use 5% wetland safe glyphosate. There is virtually no non-target damage when treating cattails this way. However, it is not very versatile, and it’s messy. You will get herbicide on your hands, arms, face, and neck despite efforts to minimize exposure.

In most situations, my preferred method for dealing with lower density cattails is to spray the base of the plants with 3-5% glyphosate. Using a sprayer to target individual plants gives you more flexibility in the field. Isolated plants can be targeted with precision and clumps of cattails can be quickly dispatched with a foliar spray (directly to the leaves) if appropriate. This method also has a lower risk of direct contact exposure to herbicide than hand wicking. A one-gallon hand sprayer or a backpack sprayer is appropriate for this method (I’m quite tall and prefer the reach of the backpack sprayer). Apply just a milliliter or two of herbicide to the region of the cattail stem from which the leaves fan out.

Photo 1: Applying a small amount of herbicide to the base of cattail leaves.

I often use my free hand to pull on a few leaves and open the base of the plant. Done this way, herbicide will funnel down into the stem. There is minimal overspray if done carefully and with low pressure. After treatment, fold over the top 6-10 inches of the leaves to mark the plant as treated.

Photo 2 Fold and crease the leaves over to clearly mark the plant as “treated”. This is very helpful when working with a crew; it’s also nice to turn around and see your progress.

As with any established invasive species, eradication is usually not possible. Cattails quickly take advantage of disturbance and changes in hydrology. Exposed muck and soil in wetland restorations is an open door for cats. Quality, remnant wetlands require annual vigilance to prevent cattails from setting up shop. Cattail work is time-consuming and done at the hottest time of year here in the Midwest. Despite that, it is satisfying to see to see the contrast of yellowing cats against the green of other wetland plants. Also, because of their stature and dominant presence, any reductions in cattail density are easily appreciated from year to year. Applying herbicide in a precise, efficient, and tidy manner leaves a smaller management footprint in a wetland and avoids creating an “invasive treadmill.” If you’re looking for a quicker, less messy alternative to hand wicking, give sprayers a chance.

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GRN Workshop Registration deadlines!

The link below has the agenda and workshop registration.

Friday, July 26, is the last day for the discounted block of hotel rooms. Remember to book a hotel room if you need one.

The field trips are filling up fast.

Registration closes August 5.

Kudos to Mike Hansen for coordinating the workshop!

Grassland Restoration Network 2019 Workshop


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GRN Workshop Registration Open!

The link below has the agenda and workshop registration.  Remember to book a hotel room if you need one.  Kudos to Mike Hansen for coordinating the workshop!

Grassland Restoration Network 2019 Workshop


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Weed spade a mighty tool

Below I am carrying a bottle of broadleaf herbicide in a nail pouch and a “Parsnip Predator” weed spade.  This weed spade is offered by The Prairie Enthusiasts.  They have a nice description online.  The spade is light weight and effective at spading parsnip, poison hemlock, and burdock.  It is also great for loosening soil around sweet clover to make them easier to pull.  You can lean on the spade handle so your back does less work.  You can dig an occasional birdsfoot trefoil.  You dig a tiny hole.

Below is a weed spade with a white sweet clover root. The spade loosens the soil and makes pulling these plants easier on your back.

Below, the right one is the Parsnip Predator weed spade which was made from a standard spade, similar to on left, with metal cut away to make it light weight.    I have one that is a modified Green Guard spade.  Note handle is re-mounted to be 90 degrees which should be easier on the wrist.

Below on the left is a narrow spade I purchased and cut it with a torch and ground it to my liking.  Originally it was a single point to the center and would deflect off of roots.  Here, the center of the tip is notched “upwards” in the middle so the spade stays on the root and cuts it.

These are all Big Box store purchases. That left spade is not good because you can’t get your heal on the spade to push. The others are fine.

Below are a few version we have. The left one is my least favorite with no heal.  Then the orange Ridgid is fine at 4 pounds and looks unbreakable. We have a Jackson J250 that looks the same.  Next, the wood handle Ridgid (and we have a Kodiak brand too) weighs 3.5 pounds,  and the Parsnip Predator of TPE at only 3 pounds.

Which one do you want?   If you have rocky soils the Predator blade can bend and be ruined, but it is shorter and lighter and fits in my vehicile bed easier and I tend to use it. The two in the middle are perfect for young crew with less restraint.

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Prairie seed planting machines

by Bill Kleiman, Nachusa Grasslands

I first saw a picture of an old pull-behind seeder Chris Helzer was using in Nebraska and I started looking for one.  We now have three of these drop seeders.  If you buy one get one that has been stored in a shed.

These seeders have a rotating mixer in the bottom of the hopper.  They have adjustable holes in the bottom to set a seed rate.  The tires turning rotates the mixer.  Everything needs lots of grease.

Below is a photo of a test where I sprayed glue on paper and ran the drop seeder over it one time to see how it spread the seed. I liked the results.

Below Nachusa crew are planting a big field to prairie with four seeders.  The orange cone helps us line up.

A loader is typically needed to lift the seeder to a trailer. Russ Brunner taught me you can unload by slowly going back and forth, each time moving a foot towards the rear.  I assume going back up the trailer would be harder.

Below is a small version by James Alwill with aerators for a bit of disturbance.

We also have a Vicon pendulum seeder that we use for areas up to a few acres.  These are good for areas with stumps, brush and other obstacles.  We extended the mixer rod inside the hopper to keep the seed from bridging.

Jay Stacy and Dee Hudson loading a mix.

Below is that same test with the Pendulum seeder.  Good results.  The seed does not fling far from the pendulum seeder so your passes back and forth need to be tight.

We have also used air seeders which work well, but loading a seed mix at their plant spills precious seed.   Using an end loader in the field might work better. These contractors tend to be a bit busy to deal with our small fields.  We got tired of waiting.





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Control of reed canary grass

By Bryon Walters, Conservation Contractor, near Mendota Illinois

In early Spring 2018, I wanted to reduce Reed Canary Grass (Phalaris arundinacea) in a very nice, perpetually wet seep area. This area in late May will be solid Skunk Cabbage, Marsh Marigolds, Blue Joint and Sedges. I wanted to hit the RCG as it was 6-10” high and before the natives sprawled about.

I made a broadcast spray mix consisting of Aqua Glyphosate @ 2% plus Imazapyr (Habitat) @ 1%. It’s vital to add an Aquatic Surfactant to the mix. About 0.25%. That’s 1/4 of 1%.

I adjusted my nozzle to spray a very narrow cone pattern so I could pinpoint my spraying of Reed Canary Grass growing in between existing Skunk Cabbage and Marsh Marigolds. Keep in mind that this is a non-selective, very unforgiving mix. If you accidentally spray something good, immediately snip off the sprayed leaf. These areas had standing water in between plants. Working in a deliberate pattern, I started in the far back corner of the seep, walking back out of the sprayed areas. Do not walk through areas that you just sprayed. I would return 7 days later and I could see yellowing of the Grass clumps I sprayed. Just as importantly, I could see the bright green of the clumps I missed. I then sprayed those green clumps. Returning again in another 7 days, I only had to go in where I saw green clumps that were missed, twice. It happens when you spray a several acre plot that has lots of fallen trees and obstacles to work around.

It’s a good feeling to leave the area for the season after seeing all dead or dying Reed Canary Grass.

These spots will remain bare for most of the year.

The following year, Spring 2019, as to be expected, there were a few new green clumps of RCG. They were treated in the same fashion.

The important part is to work slow and methodically. You can greatly reduce Reed Canary Grass in an area using this method. The natives will quickly fill in the void of the dead RCG.

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Siberian elm controlled by basal bark herbicide

20% garlon 4 in basal bark oil sprayed at the base of invasive Siberian elm, Ulmus pumila, kills these small elm trees growing in our prairie planting.  Above is one dead elm.  There is a small ring of dead, or at least wilted, herbaceous plants at the base.

Near this prairie planting, there are a few big Siberian elm trees that lofted seeds across acres. We keep top killing them with annual fire and they keep re-sprouting. Last year the crew applied a small amount of basal bark herbicide to thousands of these shrub sized trees and they appear to have all died.

Below is an untreated Siberian elm:

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