Grow Your Own Catnip: Tips to Cultivate Nepeta Successfully

While it’s undoubtedly popular with cats, Catnip is also a great plant for the garden. These easy-to-grow perennials attract important pollinators such as bees and butterflies. Catnip plants have a fuss-free, low-maintenance lifestyle that makes them a good choice for novice gardeners. In this article, we’ll cover every essential aspect of growing and caring for Catnip flowers at home. We’ll also delve into the uses and benefits of Catnip for both humans and our feline friends.

How to Grow Catnip (Nepeta) Essential Tips

Growing Catnip (Nepeta) – the Essentials

Botanical Name:Nepeta cataria
Also Know As:Catnip, Catmint
Hardiness Zones:USDA Zones 3 to 7
Flowering Months:June through to October
Growing Difficulty:Easy to grow and suitable for beginners
Type of Plant:Flowering herbaceous perennials
Light Requirements:Grows best in full sun. Will need afternoon shade in hotter regions
Temp & Humidity:Thrives in ambient temperatures between 55 and 85F and low to moderate humidity
Watering Needs:Very drought-tolerant and doesn’t need a lot of water
Soil Preferences:Well-draining, slightly acidic or alkaline soil
Feeding:Add some compost to the initial soil, doesn’t require much feeding afterward
Growth Expectations:1.5 to 3 feet wide and high when mature
Toxicity:Non-toxic to humans but technically toxic to cats.

How to Grow Catnip (Nepeta)

Catnip plants growing in a flowering bed in a garden

Is Catnip Considered Easy to Grow at Home?

Catnip is a very easy plant to grow, especially for novice gardeners. These perennials are rapid growers and reach full maturity in about a year. It can be grown directly in well-draining soil or containers. It doesn’t need much watering or feeding and enjoys having lots of sunlight. Some intensive pruning once a year helps keep catnip under control.

What Are the Best Locations to Plant Catnip? 

Catnip grows well in any location that gets a healthy dose of sunlight during the day. This can be at the front of a border or in containers. Catnip fits well in herb or kitchen gardens. These hardy plants can tolerate exposed areas.

What Are the Best Times of Year to Plant Catnip? 

A cluster of blooming catnip with soft violet colored flowers and bright green foliage

Ideally, gardeners should plant catnip during early spring or in the fall. If you’ve grown catnip in a container, these specimens are best planted during the summer. Give them a little bit more water to aid their adjustment if it’s really dry or hot.

Growing Catnip Plants From Seed Vs Planting Young Nursery Plants

To add catnip to a garden, you can use nursery plants or grow them yourself from seed. One advantage of using nursery plants is that they’re already established and will start spreading very quickly. You can also use them to fill a specifically planned space. But seeds will still do very well in a warm, sunny spot with plenty of drainage.

What to Do Before Planting

Before planting or sowing catnip, weed the area thoroughly. Make sure to loosen the soil with a garden fork. This helps to improve drainage and suits catnip’s soil requirements. 

Because catnip grows so quickly, make sure that the location offers enough space for a mature plant.

What’s the Best Soil?

A small hand spade in the soil in a garden patch

Catnip favors loose, dry soils that can be slightly acidic or alkaline. The soil also needs to be well-draining as catnip doesn’t like to sit in too much moisture. Chalky, loamy, or sandy soils work best.

How to Plant Catnip 

Planting catnip is pretty straightforward. Allow around 1 to 2 feet (30 to 60 cm) between each plant to give them enough room. Mix some compost into the weeded soil to provide extra nutrients before planting. The soil shouldn’t need any extra attention as long as it’s loose and well-draining.

Catnip seeds to be started inside. Sow the seeds in a tray of moist seed compost around six weeks before the predicted final spring frost. The seeds should be planted about 0.3 cm deep (1/8 inch). Once the final frost has passed, plant them on outside.

Catnip Light Preferences

Flowering catnip in bloom during the growing season with sunlight breaking through

Catnip loves basking in full sun, ideally around six hours a day. In very hot and dry climates though, the plant will need some shade during the afternoon.

Catnip Temperature & Humidity Preferences

Temperature: Catnip has an ideal temperature of between 55 and 85F. They can tolerate colder levels.

Humidity: Catnip prefers low to medium humidity, ideally as low as possible. They can happily survive most droughts.


How to Care for Catnip Plants

Tall catnip flowers bloom in an ornamental garden with a bench in the background

When and How to Water Catnip Plants

Because they enjoy drier conditions, catnip plants will need hardly any watering once they’re established. They will get what they need from rainfall.

In particularly harsh droughts, they might need a little top-up. If the foliage begins to droop, give them a light watering. 

How, When, and Why to Fertilize Catnip

Catnip benefits from a bit of compost mixed in with their soil during planting. After that, they shouldn’t need additional nutrition. Some soils can be too poor even for catnip. In these situations, give them a fresh coating of compost or a dose of liquid food once every spring. 

Pruning & Cutting Back Catnip 

Purple catnip flowers in bloom

Catnip can take over a garden if left unattended. Yearly pruning helps to keep it in check. When flowers start to wilt, snip them off to encourage fresh blooms. To restrict the size during the season, remove any sprouts that emerge from underground.

When it’s time to corral the catnip, prune the plant right back to a few inches above the ground. This is best done after the first fall frost. The plant will vigorously recover next year.

Propagation

Catnip is a self-seeding perennial, but you can manually propagate it as well. To start a plant from scratch, take a 4 to 6-inch cutting from a mature plant. Trim away some of the lower leaves and let the roots develop in water or potting mix. This should take about a week.

Mature plants can also be divided because they grow in clumps. A sharp spade can be used for this, or you can dig the plant up and use secateurs.

Overwintering Catnip Plants

Within the recommended USDA growing zones, catnip can withstand overwintering outside. To give the plant even better odds, avoid watering in winter and prune new growth before the fall. Newer shoots won’t survive the winter and can weaken the rest of the plant. 

When and How to Repot Catnip Plants Grown in Containers

When growing catnip in containers, the plants may need repotting a few times. Once the roots start to peek out from the bottom of the nursery pot, it’s time to repot. Transplant the catnip into a slightly larger container with new potting compost. For mature plants, replace the potting soil every year or two.


Common Problems & How to Treat them

A cluster of catnip flowers in bloom in a garden

Underwatering 

Although it can tolerate drought, catnip still needs water. If the leaves start to droop, it can be a sign of underwatering.

Overwatering

Root rot is a dead giveaway that catnip is getting too much water. Move the plant to a warmer spot to dry it out.

Too Much Light

In the exceptionally fierce sun, even catnip leaves may start to burn. If this happens, move the plant into some shade during the afternoon.

Incorrect Temperature 

As hardy as they are, catnip can still suffer if temperatures get too high or too low. High temperatures can cause the plant to dry out. Because they flourish in USDA zones 3 to 7, catnip should tolerate most cold spells. 

Common Pests & Diseases

Powdery mildew

This fungus can appear during really dry summers. Affected leaves and shoots should be pruned to help the plant recover.

Slugs and snails

These marauding mollusks can eat catnip leaves. Use traps such as dishes of beer or sprinkle crushed shells around the base of the plant to deter them.


Essential Tools to Have Around

A selection of garden tools and supplies

When growing catnip, there are a couple of essential tools to keep to hand:

  • Secateurs (for pruning/deadheading)
  • Watering can
  • Moisture meter
  • Hoe (for weeding soil)

What Does Catnip Do to Cats? 

A cat playing with string on the floor

Cats go crazy for catnip and this effect even extends to big cats like cougars, lions, and jaguars. Catnip releases a chemical called nepetalactone, which repels insects. This might be why cats adore this plant.

Cats often chew catnip leaves and roll around in the foliage. They may even curl up and sleep on it! Catnip has a drug-like effect on cats, relaxing them while also making them obsessed with it. A lot of pet toys incorporate dried catnip to create frenzied felines.

However, it’s important to remember that while the leaves are safe, catnip oil is toxic to cats.

Most Suitable USDA Growing Zones for Catnip Plants:

Catnip grows well in USDA growing zones 3 to 7. These zones mainly cover most of the US except for areas like the West Coast and southern areas close to the Gulf of Mexico. Catnip is extremely hardy and can tolerate colder temperature zones.

Growing Catnip Plant FAQs

Is Catnip easy to grow?

Catnip is extremely straightforward to grow because it’s low-maintenance and can handle most weather and soil conditions.

Does Catnip come back every year?

Like most perennials, catnip comes back every year and grows very vigorously.

Does Catnip like sun or shade?

Catnip likes to sit in full sun, although in exceptionally hot areas it will need some afternoon shade.

Do Catnip plants repel mosquitoes?

Catnip is a fantastic mosquito repellent, which may explain why cats love it.

Is Catnip toxic to humans and pets?

Catnip plants are non-toxic to humans but can cause discomfort to pets (cats in particular) if they consume too many leaves.

Wrap Up: 

With beautiful flowers and a pleasing aroma, catnip is a fantastic herb for any garden. As pollinator plants, catnip will also attract bees and other insects, helping out your other plants. With its low-fuss lifestyle and independent attitude, catnip is an ideal plant for novice gardeners.


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