The Process for Invasive Phragmites Removal in Georgian Bay Wetlands and Shorelines

7 Steps

Why use the selective cut process
  • Intended to do the “most good, with the least harm”. While helping wetlands by removing this invasive, we also want to avoid harming native plants and the habitat for species. Finding the invasive in the wetland and selectively removing it and not other plants as best possible, is increasing ‘the good’ and minimizing the ‘harm’.
  • Chemicals and herbicides are problematic:
    • Water – No approved herbicides for over water use in Ontario. Illegal.
    • Land – Due to Ontario’s Cosmetic Pesticide Ban, a letter of opinion is required from the MNRF before chemicals can be used in natural habitat. A professional licensed applicator is required to apply any pesticides or herbicides.
  • Due to the selective nature of the Georgian Bay Forever removal process, the Ministry of Natural Resources signed a letter of support that was submitted with our successful application to Environment Canada. Therefore if you have the training and are following the correct protocol, the 7 Georgian Bay Forever steps, outlined in this document, you do not need permission to remove invasive Phragmites from private land where the owner has provided permission. On Crown lands, groups or individuals who have had training with GBF, and again are following correct GBF protocol have permission to remove invasive Phragmites. On Park Lands, contact the appropriate superintendent and discuss whether a volunteer program can be set up. First Nations lands need appropriate permission.
  • The process works! By doing the cut at a specific time, mid-July to mid-August, you are severely weakening the plant stand. You are removing all the green stuff which make it difficult for the plant to make food and oxygen. You are also cutting the plants when most of the energy is out of the root system, trying to make the seeds disperse (note – get it before it seeds so we’re not helping the spread). Next year, most of the stand should be gone and the work will be less; and after a couple of years, it will all be gone. Here are some success stories – we look forward to yours.
  • This process (7 clickable steps) is for stands that are in water and wetlands. Note: If the stand(s) is on a soft substrate or beach, please consider this beach process from Lynn Short. If the stands are land-based, consider contacting the Ontario Phragmites Working Group or GBF, and we will direct you.

    NOTE: 2020/21 ALERT - A modified process that accounts for physical distancing (March 26,2020 writing). DOWNLOAD THE PDF HERE. **It is however incumbent on each individual to monitor their own behaviour and volunteering activities to adhere to the latest Public Health Advisories as it relates to COVID-19 (Ontario government link, Canadian government link, and your local municipality).**

    An alternative tool: Here is a Phragmites Management outline PDF, produced by Nottawasaga Valley Conservation Authority in partnership with Georgian Bay Forever, Blue Mountain Watershed Trust, Environment and Climate Change Canada, and the Town of Collingwood.

    *All tools used and actions taken are done at your own risk. Proper and safe use of tools is not the responsibility of Georgian Bay Forever, or those on our website who have recommended it as a tool for Phragmites removal. Each person is responsible for their own safety, and responsible for any minors when conducting Phragmites cuts, mapping or disposal. Updated: July 27, 2016


    Timing: Key times - Start April to July, can continue until Mid-November

    Learn how to identify invasive Phragmites australis and distinguish it from the native Phragmites species.

    Create a Community Group

    Timing: April/May

    Create a working group or network of landowners that could act as a Phragmites resource committee for landowners in the area and keep alert to any new or existing Phragmites stands.
    • Finding Others: Either contact the Georgian Bay Association, who have a Phragmites Committee Members List or check this page of Community Groups that have listed with GBF.
      Also, please contact Communications to promote your group so that others can find you.
    • Talking to your neighbours, asking to speak at community functions or determining if GBF is available to do so, leaving literature with neighbours are among some key ways to help get a group together. GBF will provide community leaders with 25 Phragmites Management handouts to distribute as quantities last. Please contact Communications with your request.


    Timing: April-July

    Watch and record Phragmites stands.

    • Online resources include: Learn about EDDMaps Ontario (mapping tool best used on your smartphone, although you can access with laptop).

    • When stands are identified, figure out the landowner and contact them. If the landowner is not familiar with Phragmites, give them published information from GBF and GBA and explain the issue. Ask them if they would be:
          i) Willing to remove it themselves – if so, ensure they have proper tools and are aware of the correct cutting and disposal methods OR
          ii) Open to having volunteers organize a removal day on their property
    • If the landowner is willing, take photos of the stand, collect details for EDDMaps Ontario requirements and submit the report to EDDMaps. (above)

    EddMapS Ontario Smartphone App for Mapping Invasives

    Planning and Disposal

    Timing : June-July, cut : Mid-July to Mid August (possibly later if further North) Before the seed heads emerge

    You have to make sure you have the correct timing for the cut, the right tools and clothing, people to help you, and a spread- proof way of disposing of the cut Phragmites.

    • Plan the date for your volunteers - Timing for the cut should be Mid-July to Mid-August (before seeds are ready to disperse) . Timing of the cuts is important to reduce your labour. If the plants are cut at the right time, it will reduce the amount of times you will need to cut in the same location. You want to cut the Phragmites just before it flowers. At that time, more of the plant’s energy is devoted to flowering and less to the root system. So we are cutting at a time where the roots are weaker and therefore have less of a chance to survive when the stalks are removed.

    • Waivers and insurance - Volunteers should sign a waiver to prevent misunderstandings in the unlikely event of injury during the removal or mapping process. Also, if boats are being utilized, check that there is appropriate insurance. Here are some safety tips to understand and check off. Read safety tips.

    • Estimate People Resources - To cut a stand that is about 4 x 4 metre stand (or 12 x 12 feet stand) you probably need about 4 adults or equivalent multiples in children and teenagers – surprisingly great at helping when freed from devices. Once you’ve recruited your friends, neighbours, and family - it could take about 2 hours to do the cut. It really depends on the equipment you have (assumes hand cutters) and the stand density (assume pretty dense).
    • Prioritize Phragmites stands removals. Small stands should be prioritized over larger stands. It is more important to cut small stands before they get established and grow larger. Also, these steps assume invasive Phragmites in water. If there are stands on beaches, you will require a sharp spade. If it is on dry land with harder substrates and big stands, you may have to consider different methods and should contact GBF to point you to other methods of management.

    • Disposal. This is tricky, because many municipalities in Georgian Bay do not have official disposal sites (locations dedicated for invasive plant quarantine). However, talk to your municipality about Phragmites disposal to organize a location where Phragmites can be taken and disposed of properly. Composting is not recommended due to the high probability that this will spread plant, and the plants do not degenerate quickly. GBF and GBA will be in contact with local municipalities to strive for better solutions.

      If the municipality can’t help you, you will need to work with your group to come up with a plan. Steps:
          1. Drying - critical
          a. Identify a place to spread the Phragmites out to dry on tarps. An open field or paved area is best. That way if any roots, rhizomes, stolons, or seeds happen to have escaped into the debris by remote chance – they are easily identified next year if they are able to root. It is best to place lengthwise in the same direction - as it is easier to pack back up in brown bags for transport if needed. A drying space close to the cutting location is ideal for the cut stalks. We also advocate wrapping the bundles of stalks in twine to dry out if there is concern around wind, and blowing away.
          b. Or apply thick plastic over piled materials to kill still alive plants
          c. A third option that takes months, is to leave them in bags with the top open in a dry storage space until they are dry.
          2. Dried material disposal. Options:
          a. Either burn (at your own risk), in small batches over time if permitted by by-laws. Consider applying for a burn permit for a large amount.
          b. Bury. This should be low risk as stalks are dried and without seedheads or rhizomes and roots.
          c. Leave as debris piles in a designated spot on site (not in the water or near it, or someone else's property ). Wrap piles (stalks end to end) in natural twine to prevent from blowing away. Check the site next year to ensure that nothing has inadvertently sprouted. It is very critical to monitor these sites.

    Tools and Identifying Roles

    Timing : Planning and preparing June-July

    You’ll need equipment to do these roles – cutting in water; hauling cut stalks in water and out of water, and the right stuff for proper disposal.

      1. Dress: Be dressed properly for wading into the water and stepping on rough grounds in and out of water. For instance the stubs from cut Phrag can be quite sharp and not easy to see underwater. Good, strong footwear is essential and gloves, like garden gloves. Hip Waders are optimal. Remember sunscreen, protective eyewear if using power tools, or in the sun, hats, and bug spray. Bring a camera to record the community event and for before and after photos. It will inspire others. Ensure that people have signed the waivers. Here are some safety tips to understand and check off. Read more.

      2(a) Cutting Sparse/smaller stands - Each cutter will need hand- held cutters or shears, and gloves.*
      2b) Medium to dense stands - Multiple hand-held cutters or GBF has also found this hand held tool to be useful for medium stands where the stalks or thatch is quite dense "Camillus Carnivore Maxx Machete" It is about about $40 - understanding that you undertake all necessary caution (Picture 2) Other suggestions from Phragbuster Sharon Cormier for medium to dense stands are the tools in pictures 4 and 5.*
      2(c) Large Dense stands - If the stand is large – consider a STIHL Kombi System KM 130R (now 131R), equipped with a reciprocating power scythe FH-KM 135° attachment. Costs are about $600 to $800. It is a four-stroke gas engine. Soybean oil can be used to lubricate the cutters. Exercise with appropriate safety. Picture 3. Another smaller less expensive option is KM 56 RC-E Lightweight KombiEngine with HL - KM Hedge Trimmer 135° attachment.

      2 (d) Floating Debris - please consider a raking tool to haul in debris from around the perimeter, so that it doesn't float out and start new plants elsewhere. Sharon Cormier, a Phragbuster, has kindly offered these as suggestions*: Option a , Option b , and Option c - Another suggestion are pool skimmers.
      2 (e) Soft substrates - Also, these steps assume invasive Phragmites in water. If there are stands on beaches, you will require a sharp spade.

    * All tools are used at your own risk. Proper use of tools is not the responsibility of Georgian Bay Forever, or those on our website who have recommended it as a tool to for Phragmites removal. Each person is responsible for their own safety, and responsible for any minors when conducting Phragmites cuts or mapping. Georgian Bay Forever is not associated with the companies that produce these products and does not endorse or materially benefit from their sale.

    3. Hauling – depending on the size of the stand, communities have used windsurf or paddle boards to move the cut stalks from the water. Wheelbarrows and tarps may be an option for dragging them on land.

    4. Perimeter Scout - A great suggestion from a workshop was to designate a person to float on the outside to collect inadvertent and potential Phragmites pieces that could spread (like rhizome or root pieces) from drifting out. You don't want want plants to start elsewhere from these unintended little escapees. They could use the rakes or pool skimmers noted above.

    5. Taking them away – Depending on distance your disposal site – brown waste bags and tarps may be necessary

    6. Burn Barrels – If you are burning as it is permitted in your area and you accept the risk, your group may want to consider finding barrels appropriate for burning.

    7. Brushes and change of clothes for after – You want to make sure your clothes and equipment are clean after the cut, so you do not spread the plant with small parts that may have attached.

    The Cut/How to Cut

    Timing : Mid July to Mid-Aug (Before seeds develop and are ready to disperse), potentially later Aug if further North

    Now that you have a mid-July to mid- August date, you have the volunteers and tools, have reviewed safety tips and are all ready to go – what do you do?

      1. Make sure you have appropriate permission to do the cut on the site. Take a before photo

      2. Begin at the edge of the stand and work your way in. Remember that you are 'selectively' cutting. To the best of your ability, leave native plants where they are.

      3. Seed heads - You want to take the stalk and see if it has a seed head. If it does – begin by carefully removing the seed head. They can hold up to 2000 seeds. Put them in a yard bag right away for burning if permitted or consider a black plastic garbage bag. Put the black plastic garbage bag in the sun until the seeds are so soupy and degraded from the heat, that they can thrown out in regular waste.

      4. If there is no seed head, reach down under the water and cut the stalk just above the sediment or ground. You’ll be leaving a nasty sharp stub underwater – and that’s okay –that’s why you have proper underwater shoes. Note: The effectiveness of the cut is much improved, by cutting as close as you can to the underwater sediment level and not just at the water level.

      5. Let the cutting begin! Remember to designate some of your crew to collect the Phrag from the water and transport it to your storage area.

      6. Remember to properly dispose of the stalks, which is covered in Planning.

      7. Clean your equipment and brush your clothing/and or change before you leave the site.

      8. Take an after photo

    Why not go after the roots?

    Cutting likely drowns the plant, disturbing the roots may help spread.

    Basically when much of the greenness of the plant is cut away, the plants can’t photosynthesize and make food and oxygen. Every cell needs oxygen to convert food to energy – it’ s just that green leaves on plants don’t need to take it from the environment. They produce it. When we remove the most of the stalk and the greenery, the roots trapped underwater still need oxygen to break down food to continue to function. Their only option is to try to get oxygen from around them, and it’s in short supply underwater…they basically drown.

    Also, trying to take out very extensive roots/rhizomes of Phragmites, can often just lead to their spread. It only takes a tiny portion of the roots/rhizomes to escape for the plant to re-establish.

    What about beaches and soft substrates? (not in water)

    Similar process except the cut is done at a different spot and with a very sharp spade. Lynn Short, a Phragmites activist in Wymbolwood Beach has provided this information that is in a short video link.

    Next Year, Repeat Process – Commitment

    Timing : See cycle above. Phragmites stand eradication is a 2 to 3 year task - but well worth it!

    Phragmites eradication is a long-term commitment because the plant is very successful at surviving and thriving.

    • Make sure you check the site the following year – as it may require another cut.
    • Don’t get discouraged as eradication can take two to three cuts! Occasionally more.
    • Continue to be vigilant and map any new sightings and plan accordingly. It is much easier to deal with Phragmites at the early stages.
    • Share your success with GBF at, your community, and others! You are helping to restore wetlands.

    Before the community cut

    Almost finished the community cut


    Gilbert, Janice M. (wetland ecologist) "Detailed Phragmites Cutting Methods and Instructions". Georgian Bay Association. Retrieved from with specific PDF at on December 16th.

    Roy, Prabir. "Invasive Phragmites (Phragmites australis): Habitat preference, impact on native plant and the benefit of stem cutting to control spread. Abstract PDF. Georgian Bay Islands National Park.

    "Pamphlet_phragmites-native-non-native.pdf" Michigan University Sate extension (and others). Additional references at