How To Plant Cattails [ Full Guide ]

Cattails, also known as bulrushes or reedmaces, are wetland plants with unique cylindrical flower spikes and flat, strap-like leaves. These versatile plants are not only attractive but also offer numerous benefits to the ecosystem, making them a popular choice for wetland restoration and landscaping projects. Planting cattails can help improve water quality, provide habitat for wildlife, and enhance the aesthetic appeal of ponds, lakes, and marshy areas. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the process of planting cattails, from understanding their characteristics to selecting the right location and preparing the soil for optimal growth.

Quick Answer: How To Plant Cattails

To plant cattails, follow these steps:

  1. Choose a suitable location with wet or marshy soil and full to partial sun exposure.
  2. Prepare the soil by tilling and removing any debris or competing vegetation.
  3. Acquire cattail rhizomes or seeds from a reputable source.
  4. Plant the rhizomes or seeds just below the soil surface, spacing them according to the specific cattail species’ requirements.
  5. Keep the planted area consistently moist, especially during the initial establishment phase.
  6. Monitor the cattails for growth and spread, providing additional maintenance as needed.

Understanding Cattails: An Overview

Cattails, belonging to the genus Typha, are perennial wetland plants characterized by their tall, slender stalks topped with distinctive cigar-shaped flower heads. These plants thrive in a variety of wet habitats, including marshes, swamps, and the edges of ponds and lakes. There are about 30 species of cattails found around the world, with the common cattail (Typha latifolia) and narrow-leaved cattail (Typha angustifolia) being among the most prevalent.

Cattails are important ecological components of wetland ecosystems, providing habitat and food for various wildlife species. They also play a crucial role in stabilizing shorelines, improving water quality by filtering pollutants, and contributing to wetland biodiversity. Additionally, cattails have a rich history of practical uses, with indigenous cultures utilizing them for food, shelter, and crafting materials.

Benefits Of Planting Cattails

Planting cattails offers a range of benefits, making them valuable additions to wetland restoration efforts and garden landscapes. Some of the key advantages of cultivating cattails include:

1. Habitat Creation

Cattails serve as essential wildlife habitat, providing nesting sites and shelter for birds, amphibians, insects, and aquatic organisms. The dense stands of cattails offer protection for various species and contribute to biodiversity in wetland environments.

2. Water Filtration And Remediation

Cattails are effective in removing excess nutrients, pollutants, and heavy metals from water bodies. Their extensive root systems act as natural filters, improving water quality and clarity. As a result, planting cattails can help mitigate the impacts of runoff and nonpoint source pollution.

3. Erosion Control

The fibrous root systems of cattails help stabilize shorelines and prevent erosion in wetland areas. By planting cattails along water edges, you can enhance bank stability and reduce the risk of soil erosion caused by wave action or water flow.

4. Aesthetically Pleasing Landscapes

Cattails add visual interest to ponds, lakes, and wetland areas with their distinctive form and attractive seed heads. When properly integrated into garden landscapes, they contribute to a natural, wildflower aesthetic and enhance the overall beauty of water features.

5. Educational And Recreational Value

Cultivating cattails can create educational opportunities for learning about wetland ecosystems and their ecological importance. These plants also support recreational activities such as birdwatching, nature photography, and wildlife observation, adding to the functional and experiential value of wetland areas.

Choosing The Right Location

Selecting the appropriate location is crucial for successfully planting cattails. These plants thrive in wet or marshy conditions and typically prefer full to partial sun exposure. When choosing a site for cattail cultivation, consider the following factors:

1. Wetland Characteristics

Cattails are specifically adapted to wetland environments and require consistently moist or saturated soil conditions for optimal growth. Identify areas with natural or constructed wetlands, ponds, or other water bodies where cattails can flourish without the risk of drying out.

2. Sunlight Availability

Cattails generally thrive in full sunlight, although they can tolerate partial shade. Choose a location that receives at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day to promote robust growth and flowering.

3. Soil Composition

The soil in the selected area should be rich in organic matter and have good water retention capacity. Cattails prefer loamy or silty soils with a neutral to slightly alkaline pH. Avoid areas with excessively rocky or sandy soils, as they may not provide the ideal conditions for cattail establishment.

4. Hydrology And Water Level Fluctuations

Consider the water depth and fluctuation patterns in the chosen area. Cattails are adapted to fluctuating water levels and can withstand periodic inundation, making them suitable for sites with varying water depths throughout the year.

5. Vegetation Management

Assess the existing vegetation in the vicinity of the planting site. While cattails can coexist with a variety of wetland plants, it’s essential to minimize competition from aggressive invasive species or dense vegetation that may impede the cattails’ growth.

By evaluating these factors, you can identify an optimal location that aligns with the specific requirements of cattails and provides a favorable environment for their successful establishment and expansion.

Preparing The Soil For Cattail Planting

Before planting cattails, it’s essential to prepare the soil to create an ideal growing environment for these wetland plants. The soil preparation process involves evaluating the existing soil conditions, addressing potential issues, and creating a suitable substrate for cattail growth. Here’s a detailed guide on preparing the soil for cattail planting:

1. Soil Testing And Analysis

Conduct a soil test to assess the pH, nutrient levels, and overall soil composition of the selected planting area. This analysis will guide you in identifying any soil amendments or adjustments needed to optimize the soil for cattail cultivation.

2. Tilling And Soil Aeration

If the soil is compacted or lacks adequate aeration, use a rototiller, garden fork, or similar tool to loosen the soil and improve its structure. This process promotes better drainage and root penetration, creating a hospitable environment for cattails.

3. Weed And Debris Removal

Clear the planting area of weeds, grasses, and debris that can compete with cattails for resources and inhibit their growth. Remove any invasive species or unwanted vegetation that may encroach upon the cattails’ territory.

4. Soil Amendment And Fertilization

Based on the soil test results, amend the soil as necessary to achieve the optimal pH and nutrient levels for cattail growth. Incorporate organic matter, such as compost or well-rotted manure, to improve soil fertility and structure. Minimize the use of chemical fertilizers to avoid nutrient imbalances and potential harm to the surrounding ecosystem.

5. Planting Method: Rhizomes Or Seeds

Decide whether to plant cattails using rhizomes or seeds, depending on the specific species and availability. Rhizomes are underground stems that can be divided and transplanted, while seeds offer an alternative propagation method. Both approaches require slightly different planting techniques.

6. Planting Depth And Spacing

For rhizomes, plant them just below the soil surface, approximately 1 to 2 inches deep, and space them according to the recommended distance for the specific cattail species. If using seeds, lightly press them into the soil at a depth of about 1/4 inch and maintain the recommended seed spacing to allow for adequate growth and expansion.

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7. Water Management

After planting, ensure that the soil remains consistently moist, especially during the initial establishment phase. Monitor the moisture levels to prevent excessive drying or waterlogging, as consistent moisture is crucial for cattail germination and early growth.

8. Mulching And Protection

Consider applying a thin layer of organic mulch, such as straw or leaf litter, to conserve soil moisture and protect the newly planted cattails. Mulching also helps suppress weed growth and moderates soil temperatures, creating a conducive environment for cattail establishment.

Planting cattails is an impactful way to contribute to wetland conservation, water filtration, and wildlife habitat enhancement. By understanding the characteristics of cattails, recognizing their ecological benefits, and meticulously preparing the planting site, you can effectively establish thriving cattail populations in suitable wetland environments. Whether you’re restoring a natural wetland area, creating a wildlife-friendly pond, or incorporating native plants into your landscape, the process of planting cattails offers a rewarding opportunity to support ecological resilience and create visually appealing wetland habitats. Through thoughtful site selection, soil preparation, and diligent care, you can foster the growth of cattails and experience the myriad of benefits they bring to the surrounding ecosystem.

Techniques For Planting Cattails

Cattails (Typha sp.) are remarkable wetland plants that not only add beauty to your landscape but also serve important ecological purposes. They thrive in a variety of environments, from ponds and lakes to marshes and ditches. Planting cattails in these areas not only provides a unique aesthetic appeal but also helps in water filtration and erosion control. This in-depth guide will provide you with the techniques and tips to successfully plant cattails and integrate them into your garden or landscape design.

Planting cattails may seem like a simple task, but understanding the right techniques can greatly enhance their chances of survival and growth. Here is a step-by-step guide to planting cattails:

Step 1: Choose The Right Location

Cattails require ample sunlight for optimal growth, so select a planting location that receives at least six hours of direct sunlight each day. They also thrive in wet soil, so consider areas with consistent moisture or even standing water. Avoid planting cattails in fast-moving water or areas prone to flooding, as excessive current or water depth can hamper their growth.

Step 2: Prepare The Soil

Before planting cattails, it is crucial to prepare the soil adequately. Cattails prefer nutrient-rich soil, so amend the planting area with compost or organic matter to enhance fertility. Remove any rocks, debris, or competing vegetation from the planting site. Additionally, ensure that the soil has good drainage to prevent waterlogging, as excessive moisture can cause root rot.

Step 3: Obtain Cattail Rhizomes

Cattails can be propagated through rhizomes, which are underground stems that produce new shoots and roots. Rhizomes can be obtained from established cattail colonies or purchased from nurseries specializing in wetland plants. When selecting rhizomes, choose ones that are firm and healthy. Avoid rhizomes that appear soft, discolored, or damaged.

Step 4: Planting The Rhizomes

Start by digging a trench or shallow hole in the prepared soil. The depth of the hole should be such that the top of the rhizome is level with or slightly above the soil surface. Place the cattail rhizome in the hole horizontally, with the root side facing down and the shoots facing up. Cover the rhizome with soil, gently firming it to ensure good soil-to-rhizome contact.

Step 5: Spacing And Quantity

The spacing and quantity of cattails depend on the size of your planting area and your desired effect. For a natural look, space the rhizomes about 1 to 3 feet apart. If you want a dense stand of cattails, decrease the spacing to 1 foot or less. Plant multiple rhizomes in a cluster to create a more substantial presence.

Step 6: Mulching

Mulching around newly planted cattails can help retain soil moisture and suppress weed growth. Apply a layer of organic mulch, such as straw or wood chips, around the base of the plants, taking care to avoid covering the shoots. Mulching also improves the overall appearance of the planting area and provides a protective layer during harsh weather conditions.

Step 7: Watering

After planting, it is essential to water the cattails thoroughly. Keep the soil consistently moist, but not waterlogged, during the early stages of growth. Regular watering helps establish their roots and ensures their successful adaptation to the new environment.

Watering And Maintenance Tips

Once planted, cattails require minimal care and maintenance. However, understanding their specific water and maintenance needs will contribute to their overall health and longevity. Here are some important watering and maintenance tips to consider:


Cattails are wetland plants that thrive in moist soil or shallow water. Watering can be done through natural means, such as rainfall and nearby water sources, or with the use of sprinklers or soaker hoses. Ensure that the soil remains consistently moist, roughly mirroring their natural habitat. However, be cautious of overwatering, as it can lead to root rot and other issues. Monitor the moisture levels regularly and adjust watering accordingly.


Cattails generally do not require additional fertilization if planted in nutrient-rich soil. However, if the soil is deficient in nutrients, you can apply a slow-release organic fertilizer during the growing season. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the appropriate dosage. Avoid using fertilizers containing high levels of phosphorus, as excessive phosphorus can cause eutrophication in water bodies.

Weed Control

Weeds can compete with cattails for nutrients and moisture, hindering their growth. Regularly inspect the planting area and manually remove any weeds. Take care not to damage the cattail plants while weeding. Applying a layer of mulch around the cattails can help suppress weed growth, making maintenance easier.

Pruning And Deadheading

Cattails naturally go through a lifecycle, producing seed heads in late summer or early fall. Once the seed heads turn brown and dry, they can be removed through a process called deadheading. Prune the seed heads by cutting them close to the stalk to maintain a neat appearance. Deadheading also helps prevent self-seeding, which can lead to excessive spreading in smaller planting areas.

Winter Protection

Cattails are generally hardy plants, but extreme winter conditions can damage young plants or newly established colonies. Before the first frost, cut back the foliage to about 6 inches above the soil surface. This helps protect the plants from snow, ice, and harsh winds. In regions with extremely cold winters, applying a layer of mulch around the base of the plants can provide an extra layer of insulation.

Dealing With Pests And Diseases

Cattails are relatively resilient plants and are not often affected by pests or diseases. However, certain issues may arise, especially if the plants’ health is compromised. Here are some common pests and diseases that can affect cattails and how to deal with them:

Pest Control

  1. Aphids: These small insects can feed on cattail leaves, causing curling or yellowing. Control aphids by spraying the affected cattails with a strong stream of water or by using insecticidal soap.
  2. Nutria: These aquatic rodents can damage cattails by eating the roots and shoots. Erecting fences or using deterrents such as motion-activated sprinklers can help keep them at bay.
  3. Snails and Slugs: These slimy pests can chew on cattail foliage, leaving ragged holes. Hand-pick them off the plants or use organic snail and slug bait to control their populations.
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Disease Prevention

  1. Root Rot: Excessive waterlogging can lead to root rot, causing the cattails to decline. Ensure proper drainage to prevent waterlogged soil. Avoid overwatering and provide adequate air circulation to minimize the risk of root rot.
  2. Rust: Rust is a fungal disease that can manifest as orange or rusty spots on cattail leaves. Control rust by removing infected plant material and applying a fungicide labeled for rust control, following the manufacturer’s instructions.

Regular monitoring is crucial in identifying potential pest or disease issues early on. Prompt action will help prevent the spread and minimize the damage to your cattails.

Cattail Varieties And Which Ones To Choose

There are several varieties of cattails available, each with its unique characteristics. Here are some popular cattail varieties and their characteristics to help you choose the right ones for your garden or landscape:

Common Cattail (Typha Latifolia)

The Common Cattail is the most widely recognized and prevalent variety. It features tall, narrow leaves and brown, cylindrical seed heads. This variety can grow up to 8 feet in height and spreads by both rhizomes and seed dispersal.

Narrowleaf Cattail (Typha Angustifolia)

As the name suggests, the Narrowleaf Cattail has long and slender leaves. This variety tends to be more upright and less spreading compared to the Common Cattail. It produces brown, cylindrical seed heads and can reach heights of up to 6 feet.

Blue Flag Iris (Iris Virginica)

Although not a true cattail, the Blue Flag Iris is often included alongside cattails due to its similar habitat requirements and complementary appearance. It features striking blue or purple flowers and tall, sword-shaped leaves. The Blue Flag Iris can grow up to 4 feet tall and adds a beautiful splash of color to wetland areas.

Variegated Cattail (Typha Latifolia ‘Variegata’)

This cultivar of the Common Cattail features striking variegated leaves, with light green and creamy white stripes. The Variegated Cattail is an excellent choice for adding visual interest to your planting area. It grows to similar heights as the Common Cattail and retains all the ecological benefits.

Choose a variety that suits your aesthetic preferences and the specific conditions of your planting area. Remember to consider the growth habits and potential spread of the variety to avoid overcrowding.

Integrating Cattails Into Your Garden Or Landscape Design

Cattails can be a valuable addition to your garden or landscape design, providing not only visual appeal but also functional benefits. Here are some ideas for integrating cattails into your outdoor space:

Natural Wetland Creation

If you have a large enough property with a low-lying area or access to a water source, consider creating a natural wetland habitat. Plant cattails along with other wetland plants to establish a self-sustaining ecosystem. This not only enhances the biodiversity of your property but also contributes to improved water quality and wildlife habitat.

Pond Or Water Feature Borders

Planting cattails along the borders of ponds or water features adds a natural and organic touch to the landscape. They help soften the edges of the water body and provide a seamless transition between land and water. Ensure that the planting area is suitable for cattails and consider adding other aquatic plants for a diverse and visually appealing border.

Rain Gardens

Rain gardens are designed to absorb and filter stormwater runoff, reducing erosion and preventing pollutants from entering water bodies. Cattails are an excellent choice for rain gardens due to their ability to thrive in moist soil. Plant them along with other native wetland plants to create an attractive and functional rain garden.

Erosion Control

Cattails are known for their extensive root systems, which help stabilize soil and prevent erosion. If you have areas prone to erosion, consider planting cattails to reinforce the soil and prevent further damage. They can be particularly effective in slowing down water flow and reducing sedimentation.

Bog Gardens

Bog gardens simulate the conditions found in naturally occurring bogs and marshes. These habitats are characterized by acidic, waterlogged soil. Cattails are well-suited to bog gardens due to their tolerance for wet and acidic conditions. Combine cattails with other bog-loving plants, such as pitcher plants and sphagnum moss, to create a unique and captivating garden.

Planting cattails is a rewarding endeavor that not only adds beauty to your landscape but also serves important ecological functions. By following the techniques outlined in this guide, you can successfully plant cattails and ensure their thriving growth. Remember to provide adequate care and maintenance, and consider the different varieties and ways to integrate them into your garden or landscape design. With their towering presence and unique shape, cattails will undoubtedly provide a stunning addition to your outdoor space.

Importance Of Cattails In Wetland Restoration

Cattails are iconic wetland plants known for their tall, slender stalks and distinctive brown seed heads. They are commonly found in marshes, swamps, and along the edges of ponds and lakes. Cattails play a crucial role in wetland ecosystems, providing numerous environmental benefits such as water filtration, erosion control, and habitat for wildlife. Additionally, cattails have several practical uses, from food and medicine to craft materials and biofuels.

Wetlands are among the most valuable ecosystems on Earth, providing countless ecological functions and services. Unfortunately, wetlands are increasingly threatened by urbanization, agricultural runoff, and pollution, resulting in their degradation or complete loss. Wetland restoration efforts have become crucial to reinstate these important habitats. Cattails play a significant role in wetland restoration due to their ability to establish quickly, outcompete invasive plants, and stabilize the shoreline, preventing erosion.

To successfully restore a wetland using cattails, it is essential to consider the following factors:

  1. Site Selection: Choose an area with suitable soil conditions and water availability. Cattails prefer wet or waterlogged soils that can retain moisture throughout the year. Avoid sites prone to flooding or areas far from a water source.
  2. Soil Preparation: Assess the soil composition and pH level to determine if any amendments are needed. Cattails thrive in a wide range of soil types but prefer slightly acidic to neutral conditions.
  3. Water Management: Ensure appropriate water levels in the restored wetland. Cattails are adaptable and can tolerate both shallow and deeper waters. However, they require consistent water availability to thrive.
  4. Native Plant Diversity: Incorporate a variety of native wetland plants alongside cattails to promote biodiversity and enhance the ecological functions of the restored wetland.
  5. Invasive Species Control: Prevent the establishment of invasive plant species that may outcompete cattails. Regular monitoring and removal of invasives are necessary to ensure the successful growth of cattails.

By considering these factors during the planning and implementation stages, you can effectively restore a wetland using cattails and contribute to the preservation of these vital ecosystems.

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Cattails And Wildlife: Attracting Birds And Aquatic Animals

Cattails are highly attractive to wildlife, offering both food and habitat. The dense stands of cattails provide excellent cover for a wide range of bird species, including red-winged blackbirds, marsh wrens, and ducks. Their broad leaves and tall stems create a natural nesting site for birds, while the dense root system provides shelter for fish and aquatic invertebrates.

To maximize the wildlife benefits of cattails, consider the following:

  1. Plant Diversity: Incorporate a variety of wetland plants alongside cattails to create a diverse habitat that supports a wide range of wildlife. This diversity will attract different species, ensuring a flourishing ecosystem.
  2. Water Depth: Maintain a suitable water depth to accommodate the needs of various aquatic animals. Some species prefer shallow water, while others require deeper sections for feeding and reproduction.
  3. Provide Food Sources: Cattails produce abundant seed heads that serve as a food source for many bird species. Additionally, the plant’s roots and stems are consumed by muskrats and beavers. By ensuring a healthy cattail population, you can help sustain local wildlife populations.

Creating a wildlife-friendly wetland using cattails requires careful planning and consideration of the specific needs of the target species. By incorporating these elements, you can attract a diverse array of birds and aquatic animals, enhancing the overall ecological value of the wetland.

Harvesting And Uses Of Cattails

Cattails have been utilized by various cultures for centuries due to their versatility and abundance. From food and medicine to craft materials and biofuels, cattails offer a multitude of valuable resources. By carefully harvesting cattails sustainably, one can enjoy these benefits while ensuring the long-term health of the plant population.

Here are some common uses of cattails:

  1. Food: The young shoots and the rhizomes of cattails are edible. Harvest the shoots in early spring when they are tender and before they have fully developed their characteristic seed heads. The rhizomes can be harvested year-round and provide a starchy vegetable that can be used in soups, stews, and other dishes.
  2. Medicine: Various parts of the cattail plant have been used in traditional medicine. The roots and pollen have been used as diuretics, while the leaves have been applied externally for wound healing and inflammation.
  3. Craft Materials: Cattail leaves can be harvested and dried to create weaving material. They are often used to make baskets, mats, and even hats. The fluffy seed heads can also be used in arts and crafts.
  4. Biomass and Biofuels: Cattails are an excellent source of biomass due to their fast growth and high cellulose content. The harvested plants can be utilized for biofuel production, providing a renewable energy source.

When harvesting cattails, it is essential to follow sustainable practices to ensure their continued growth and availability. Avoid over-harvesting, as it can have detrimental effects on the plant population and the overall wetland ecosystem. Instead, practice selective harvesting and leave enough plants unharvested to support the ecological needs of the wetland.

Stewardship: Caring For Cattails For Long-Term Growth And Sustainability

Cattails are relatively low-maintenance plants that can grow vigorously and form dense stands if left unmanaged. However, to ensure their long-term growth and sustainability, it is important to practice proper stewardship techniques.

Here are some stewardship practices to consider:

  1. Regular Monitoring: Regularly monitor the growth and health of the cattail population to identify any potential issues. Check for signs of disease, decreases in biodiversity, or invasive species encroachment.
  2. Control Invasive Species: Invasive species can quickly outcompete and suppress the growth of cattails. Take immediate action to control and remove invasive plants to protect the health of the wetland ecosystem.
  3. Preserve Wetland Hydrology: Maintaining appropriate water levels in the wetland is crucial for the growth and survival of cattails. Ensure that the wetland receives enough water to sustain the plants and prevent excessive drying or flooding.
  4. Prevent Nutrient Imbalances: Excessive nutrient levels, particularly nitrogen and phosphorus, can cause overgrowth of cattails and disrupt the ecological balance of the wetland. Implement strategies to minimize nutrient runoff, such as installing buffer zones and reducing fertilizer use in surrounding areas.
  5. Encourage Native Plant Diversity: While cattails are an important component of wetland ecosystems, promoting a diverse array of native plants is equally vital. Ensure that other wetland species have the opportunity to thrive alongside the cattails, supporting a balanced and healthy ecosystem.

By practicing good stewardship techniques, you can help maintain the long-term growth and sustainability of cattails, as well as the overall health and biodiversity of the wetland ecosystem.


Planting cattails and incorporating them into wetland restoration efforts can have numerous benefits for both the environment and wildlife. Cattails provide essential ecosystem services such as water filtration and erosion control while offering habitat and food for a variety of bird and aquatic species. Additionally, they have practical uses ranging from food and medicine to craft materials and biofuels.

By following the guidelines outlined in this article, you can successfully plant and care for cattails in wetland areas. Remember to consider factors such as site selection, soil preparation, water management, native plant diversity, and invasive species control during the restoration process. Additionally, ensure that the cattails are harvested sustainably and that proper stewardship practices are implemented to maintain their long-term growth and sustainability.

By embracing the value of cattails and protecting the wetland ecosystems they inhabit, we can contribute to the preservation of these vital habitats and the species that depend on them.


What Is The Best Time To Plant Cattails?

The best time to plant cattails is in the spring, after the last frost. Cattails can also be planted in the fall, but avoid planting them during the hottest months of the summer.

What Type Of Soil Do Cattails Need?

Cattails are adaptable and can grow in a variety of soils, including clay, sand, and loam. However, they prefer soil with high organic matter content and a slightly acidic to neutral pH.

How Deep Should Cattails Be Planted?

Cattails should be planted with their roots submerged about 6 inches in water or wet soil. They can also be planted in dry soil, but make sure the soil is consistently moist until the cattails are established.

Should Cattails Be Fertilized?

Cattails do not require fertilization, as they are adapted to grow in nutrient-poor environments. However, adding organic matter to the soil can help promote healthy growth.

How Much Sunlight Do Cattails Need?

Cattails require full sunlight to grow and thrive. They should be planted in an area that receives at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day. If planting in a pond or wetland area, make sure there is sufficient open space above the water surface to allow for sunlight exposure.