The long brown seed heads of cattails contain thousands of seeds.

How to Grow Cattails From Seeds

by Brian Barth

Cattails (Typha latifolia) abound in natural wetlands, but the wildlife-friendly reeds grow gracefully in home landscapes, as well. Use them in bog and water gardens in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 10. Cattails tolerate up to 2 feet of standing water but grow in any consistently moist soil. Propagate cattails by dividing the underground tubers or by seed collected in late summer after it has dried completely on the stalk. This is an easy garden project to do with children and a great opportunity to teach them about the importance of wetlands. It's a quick project for busy moms -- sowing the seeds takes no more than 20 minutes.

1 Fill seed flats with potting soil. Almost any pot can be used, but a standard seed flat that is about 2 inches deep is sufficient for germinating cattails.

2 Fill plastic trays with 1 inch of water. Use any sort of plastic tray or other flat-bottomed, open container that is big enough to fit the seed flat or pot that you have chosen. Place the seed flats in the trays and wait for the moisture to wick up through the potting soil until it is completely saturated.

3 Mix one small pinch of seeds with two cups of dry sand in a bowl. Continue mixing until the seeds are thoroughly distributed in the sand. This serves as a medium to spread the tiny seeds evenly in the seed flat.

4 Spread the mixture of sand and seeds evenly over the soil surface in the seed flat and press firmly into place. Do not cover the seeds with potting soil, as they require light for germination.

5 Cover the seed flats with clear plastic covers and keep in a warm, sunny location. Optimum germination rates occur in temperatures between 77 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit. Top off the water level in the plastic trays whenever it dips below 1/2 inch in depth.

6 After the seedlings germinate, remove the covers and allow them to grow until they are about 2 inches tall. They can then be transplanted to individual pots and allowed to grow for several months before planting in a permanent location.

Items you will need

  • Seed flats
  • Seed flat covers
  • Plastic trays
  • Potting soil
  • Sand
  • Small bowl
  • Spoon
  • Garden gloves

Tips

  • Most garden centers sell seed germination kits that include clear plastic covers to hold warmth in the potting soil. The same covers can also be used under the seed flats to hold water for germinating cattails. Alternatively, any sort of clear plastic can be used over the seed flat to keep it warm.
  • Cattails germinate best in the heat and long days of midsummer. If seed is harvested in fall, wait to sow until the following summer when conditions are prime.
  • Cattail seeds can also be spread on wet, exposed soil along the margins of any body of water or wetland and allowed to germinate naturally.

Warnings

  • Always wear garden gloves when working with soil to prevent contact with soil-borne pathogens.
  • Cattails occur as a native plant in most regions of the United States and quickly colonize the shallow areas of any water body where they are introduced. Because of their invasive growth habit, be careful not to introduce them to ponds or wetlands where their growth would be undesirable.

About the Author

Brian Barth works in the fields of landscape architecture and urban planning and is co-founder of Urban Agriculture, Inc., an Atlanta-based design firm where he is head environmental consultant. He holds a Master's Degree in Environmental Planning and Design from the University of Georgia. His blog, Food for Thought, explores the themes of land use, urban agriculture, and environmental literacy.

Photo Credits

  • Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images