by Matt Gibson
Ready to grow your own catnip? Catnip is an herb that in the wild is found primarily in North America. It is very easy to grow and is even known to be somewhat invasive, as the plant reseeds even in areas where it is not grown as a perennial. Catnip’s tendency to spread out and claim new territory has earned it a bad reputation among some gardeners—especially those who don’t like how quickly the herbaceous perennial can take over a flower bed or plot of land.
Cat lovers around the world, however, have kept the plant on the shelves at local garden centers and nurseries, as this plant is popular among gardeners who grow it for the benefit of their feline friends. Catnip is an herb of the mint family. The plant’s pungent and intoxicating odor is a treat for a large number of cats. It is not very widely known, though, that catnip only has an effect on about half of the cat population. Some cats just don’t experience any euphoria from the plant. The other half of the cat population, on the other hand, can’t get enough of the herb.
The chemical compound produced by the catnip plant that makes it so much fun for some felines is called nepetalactone, and when consumed as part of catnip, it can affect a certain cat in one of two ways. Once ingested, catnip can work as a sedative on susceptible felines. On the other side of the spectrum, when some responsive cats smell catnip, the herb can make them go wild with energy. Some cats can’t get enough of the plant and will even block other cats from coming near where catnip grows or has been sprinkled. Like all good things, catnip should be enjoyed in moderation, so make sure that you don’t let any of your cats have access to the feline-friendly part of your garden at all times.
It is possible for a cat to ingest more catnip than they should and have an icky reaction, which is why we suggest not allowing your pets unrestrained access to the catnip supply. Cats who get too much catnip in their systems may respond with illness, such as vomiting or diarrhea, but this response is limited to rare cases.
So take things slow with catnip—cut off a sprig or two to give to your cat occasionally, and use this plant to help teach your pets the joys of indulgence balanced with moderation and restraint. And when you do serve your cat its occasional dose of delirium via catnip, don’t forget to break out your phone and record your cat’s reaction to the herb. YouTube viewers need another cute cat video, stat!
Catnip can be grown in patches up to three feet high and wide, and the plant occasionally produces small clusters of white- or lilac-tinted flowers. Gardeners should be aware, however, that catnip is rarely grown for its ornamental value because the flowers are a bit of a rarity from this weed-like herb.
Varieties of Catnip
Catnip (Nepeta Cataria) is commonly referred to as catmint by speakers of British English in the U.K., but for American English speakers in the United States, the name catmint is reserved for catnip’s more ornamental relatives that are friendlier to gardeners, such as Nepeta Faassenii or Nepeta Mussinii. If you are looking to grow catnip in your garden for your feline’s enjoyment, be sure to get Nepeta Cataria and not another variety of Nepeta or a closely related mint plant that’s not quite the real deal.
Growing Conditions for Catnip
Catnip is a drought resistant groun- covering perennial hardy to USDA zones 3 through 9. Catnip plants grow their best when placed in full sun to partial shade. This herb does well in almost any soil type, but catnip thrives in a slightly alkaline, moderately rich loam. It will produce a more fragrant aroma if grown in sandy soil or in a hydroponic system (making it even more attractive to cats). Catnip will thrive in full sun, but it also performs surprisingly well in partial shade, so the main thing to concern yourself with for maintenance is whether the soil where you planted catnip has ample drainage. Catnip is not a fan of standing water. To protect your catnip patch from neighborhood cats, you might have to construct a boundary like a fence or enclosure to keep out any unwelcome strays or visiting felines who may come sniffing around your catnip plants uninvited.
How to Plant Catnip
Sow your catnip seeds in rows in the late fall or early spring, and lightly cover them with soil. When sown in the fall, the rows will produce a dense population. If you plant catnip from seeds, you can expect the seedlings to reach germination in seven to 10 days. When the shoots of the seedlings have grown to reach five inches in height, you should thin out the rows so that each plant stands about 12 to 18 inches apart. You can propagate new catnip plants from stem cuttings, with root division, or by seed. Catnip can be started indoors and seedlings transplanted to more permanent places outside after the last chance of frost has passed for the year.
Care of Catnip
Water your catnip plants regularly, but there’s no cause for alarm if you miss watering them here and there. Catnip is a very resilient ground cover herb, and it won’t be slowing down its growth due to a simple hiccup in maintenance like just one or two missed watering sessions. Just make sure that, for the most part, your plants get the water they need on a regular schedule.
Pruning and shaping your catnip plants and other herbs is very important to keep them growing healthy and strong. Cut out last year’s spent stems in the early spring, and cut the plant down completely after the completion of the first blooming cycle. Don’t feel bad for taking this opportunity to trim your catnip plant down to size. It will be back to its full height and producing fresh blooms again when next growing season comes along.
To shape catnip plants like a pro, simply pinch them off where they are growing to promote foliage density and make the plants appear more full, while keeping the overall size of the plant contained. If you don’t want your catnip to decide to expand and grow outward at the first opportunity, be sure to deadhead all its blooms when they start to fade.
Growing Catnip in Containers
Catnip is also a great fit for container gardening. Just be sure to pick a container that is big enough to handle the herb’s quickly expanding root system, and don’t be afraid to replant in a larger planter when your catnip plant becomes too big for its home.
Garden Pests and Diseases of Catnip
Catnip has a tendency to be susceptible to whiteflies and spider mites, but cases of infestation are rare, and there are no other common pest issues or diseases involving catnip.
The main bugs that catnip is known to attract to your garden area are insects that benefit your garden, such as bees and butterflies, which will help to pollinate your plants, as well as predatory insects that will make a meal of any other pests in the vicinity.
Videos About Growing Catnip
Check out this video for a tutorial on how to grow catnip in your home garden, both for the benefit of your own health and the wellbeing of your cats:
Watch this video to learn how to plant and germinate catnip by seed:
This video dives into the science behind catnip, a favorite herb of many cats, and it also answers the question, “What does catnip do to cats?”