If you’re a cat lover, you’re probably aware of how catnip has hilarious effects on our feline friends. Even if you aren’t, your friends have probably regaled you with many a catnip story. But did you know that it’s quite easy to grow? Or that this herb is a wonderful treat for humans as well? Read on to learn how to grow catnip, as well as how to preserve and use it.
All About How to Grow Catnip
Catnip is one of 250 species in the mint family, Labiaitae. The most well-known species, and the one I’ll be elaborating on is Nepeta cateria or “True Catnip”. It’s known by many names, including Catswort, Catmint, Field Balm, and Nep, just to name a few.
This herb is native to Europe and Asia. It was introduced to North America by colonists in the 1600’s, and is now acclimatized across that continent as well. In addition to working magic on a large percentage of cats, catnip a;sp has a wide array of positive benefits for humans.
As a result, there are many reasons to grow a healthy catnip plant. In fact, this was probably one of the main reasons why it was brought over to North America. Check out our article on catnip’s many medicinal uses, and how to preserve it, here.
These plants can grow as tall as three or four feet, depending on their location. Catnip stalks are tipped with spikes of delicate flowers, which come in a range of colours from dark lavender to pink or white. The stalks are square in shape with scalloped leaves, and the entire plant is covered in fine hairs. Luckily, these aren’t bothersome to the touch, unlike stinging nettle.
These lovely little blooms are a magnet for pollinators, which are welcome visitors in any garden. Additionally, you’ll be happy to know that catnip is an excellent choice for container gardening. This makes it ideal for a balcony or windowsill herb garden.
Owing to the fact that it belongs to the mint family, which is quite prolific, keeping this plant alive isn’t much of a problem. Not only is it difficult to kill, it spreads like a weed and is considered to be an invasive species.
Despite its many beneficial attributes, many gardeners will choose not to plant it for fear they won’t be able to contain it. In contrast, planting catnip in a container allows you to enjoy this wonderful plant without worrying that it’ll take over the rest of your garden.
Procuring a Plant
As with all plants, you can decide to either buy a seedling that has been already started for you, or you can start the seeds yourself. If you’d prefer not to start from seed, catnip is readily available from most any greenhouse or garden centre. Just look for them in the herb section.
However, if seeds are the route you prefer to go, they’re also easy to find. Purchase them online, or at various hardware and home improvement stores. Either way you decide to proceed, this guide will help you to grow and maintain one in your garden. In no time flat, both you and your feline companion will have a lovely catnip plant to enjoy.
If you’re looking to expand your plant collection, but aren’t confident about your ability to care for plants with more complicated needs, catnip makes a wonderful addition. It grows happily in just about any soil, although a well-draining rich loam is its favourite choice.
Interestingly, catnip’s signature scent will intensify when planted in sandy soil. As such, if you enjoy an aromatic garden, sandy soil is definitely the way to go. Whichever type of soil you decide to go with, it’s worth mentioning again that a soil that drains well is very important to avoid “wet feet”. No mint plants enjoy soggy roots.
Catnip prefers to grow in full sun, but remember that it also thrives on neglect. Since it’s so hardy and versatile, it can make do just fine in a partially shaded area of the garden as well. If you plan to bring your catnip plant indoors during the winter, just make sure that there’s a sunny window for it to occupy.
Additionally, if you have cats, it might be best to find a spot they can’t get to.
Germination and Growing
Start your seeds inside in late winter or early spring. It’s important to start seeds individually so you won’t be stuck trying to separate delicate sprouts. This runs the risk of damaging young plants. Press the seeds no more than a half inch into the soil, and cover very sparsely.
Make sure to keep the soil nice and moist until germination, which can take about 7-10 days. Once the plants have sprouted, which can take anywhere from 2 to 3 weeks, water them about twice a week.
These plants are hardy up to zone 3, and can be moved outdoors as soon as the danger of frost has passed. The plants should be spaced about 15-18 inches apart. Once transplanted, well rooted and stable, reduce watering to once a week.
Alternatively, you may water every other week, depending on your climate. Although the plants are considered quite hardy and drought resistant, take care during the height of summer to make sure they receive adequate water.
Pinch off the tips of young plants to encourage a bushier plant, rather than a tall one. If started early enough in spring, catnip can achieve two blooms before winter. Once the first blooms dies down, cut the plant back to about half the size. This will encourage a growth burst and produce a second bloom.
Protect Your Plants
Even if your cat isn’t terribly aggressive their plant appreciation, be sure to protect young plants from an accidental smothering. Anything that lets in air and light while keeping your feline friends out would work. Chicken wire is an effective solution, but might not be ideal. If your cat is quite determined, choose a closed cage to place over the plant.
You could either construct something yourself, use an old metal bird cage from a thrift shop. As the plant grows, your cat will gain access to the leaves that extend past the cage’s perimeter. This allows the plant to remain mostly undisturbed, while also letting Mr. Fluffles get some greenery.
This can have the amusing result of producing a square-shaped plant. You can try taking the cage off to see what happens once the plant is nice and sturdy, but it may have to be a permanent fixture. This is just something to keep in mind for those who prefer a certain aesthetic in their garden.
Pests and Diseases
You may think I’m joking, but when it comes to catnip, the only real threat to worry about is—you guessed it—cats!
Some felines will merely rub and roll on the plant, which doesn’t do too much harm (depending on the frequency of course). Others, however, can become so besotted with the plant that they rip it from the ground and consume ever last bit of it.
I found this out when the only evidence of my having ever planted catnip was a hole in the ground where he ripped it out. I wasn’t sure it was actually him until my Dad admitted to having watched. Naturally, he was so amused that he didn’t try to stop him! Guess I can’t really blame him: I probably would have done the same, with pictures of course!
In addition to attracting pollinators to your garden, catnip repels several lesser-known pests. In fact, it’s effective at repelling asparagus beetles, Colorado potato bugs and squash bugs. Plant catnip around the borders of your potato and asparagus beds to help keep these jerks at bay.
As any gardener knows, the mere mention of aphids can bring on a cold sweat on even the nicest summer days. Every gardener out there has faced the frustrations of battling hungry swarms of aphids.
Well, guess what? Catnip is a triple threat when it comes to these pesky bugs. Not only do aphids dislike the plant itself, the plant attracts aphid predators. Lacewings and parasitic wasps, which are drawn to the ‘nip, feast quite happily on the little buggers.
So Many Reasons to Grow Catnip
Catnip has countless benefits, making this an invaluable plant ally.
Although it does take some time and a good dose of patience to learn how to grow catnip from seed, the adult plants are quite easy to care for. Hopefully, if you’re still here reading, you’ll be running out the door soon in an attempt to procure your first catnip plant. Share it with your cats, brew some into tea, and enjoy the butterflies it’ll attract.
I hope you found this article helpful, and I wish you and your furry friend an enjoyable gardening season full of beautiful, fragrant catmint.