Catnip How To Sow, Grow & Care For Nepeta Cataria
Catnip will provide not just a nice area for your cat, but it is also a perennial herb that attracts bees and butterflies to your garden. Well worth growing even if you don’t have a cat.
To grow from seed catnip needs to be woken up by a stratifying process. Once this has occurred germination can be unpredictable, although a good rate of the seeds will emerge after 14 days it can take up to 40 days. It is possible to sow direct outside, but a light frost is required. Once germinated you will have only a few jobs as a gardener.
Let’s look in a bit more detail.
Sowing Catnip Nepeta Cataria By Seed
Catnip needs adequate stratification for a good germination rate to be achieved. This may seem daunting to a beginner gardeners but follow these steps as it is just a process of roughing the seeds up a bit. The outer casing needs a bit of encouragement to allow the germ of the new plant to come out and sprout into the catnip plant.
- Stratify your seeds by placing in an airtight bag or zip lock bag. Label fully and put into your refrigerator for 48 hours. Then remove the catnip seeds and place into warm water, leave to soak overnight.
- Catnip seeds will need sunlight to germinate so plant in peat free biodegradable pots. Which you water prior to adding your seeds. Then press them firmly to the surface of the compost.
- Water well and cover with a thin dusting of soil. Cover your catnip seeds and leave in a heated propagator. Germination can take anywhere between 14-40 days so do not feel disheartened if only half of the seedling emerge to begin with.
- Once they are sprouted you can plant them in a pot or direct to the ground. Catnip will spread so space your seedlings to around 50cm (20 inches) apart. I know this sounds like a gulf between each seedling but trust me on the spread!
- You can sow catnip direct and this is great if you know there is a light frost coming. This will give nepeta seeds the feeling of stratifying for real and allow them to crack and germinate. A slightly less predictable method, but a much easier one for new gardeners.
TOP TIIP – Cut flowers back when they start to go over and you will encourage a second flowering. This can work well for established catnip.
Once you have an established plant it is possible to grow on from division. This should be in the Spring or Fall / Autumn of the second year of growing. Catnip will thank you for the new space and spread accordingly during that main growing period. Take a fork to loosen the soil around your plant, lift it slightly and then with a sharp spade cut through to produce two or three new plants. Leave the original in place with a little extra soil added and then find new homes for the new plants.
Catnip Care & Common Problems
Catnip is from the mint family and as such will be a prolific spreader. Your main concern is therefore with limiting the spread. This can be done by taking the flowers away before they can go to seed. One strong gust of wind and your catnip will pop up all over yours and your neighbors garden. The next way to limit spread is to grow catnip in pots. The runners of catnip aren’t quite what they are for mint, but they tend to spread and become a bit of a bully in the flower bed.
You may find your cat sitting in or on the crown of your catnip. To protect your plant from serious damage you can construct a cloche from chicken wire. It will just act as protection from the cats weight and not really deter them from getting comfy. But if you find your cat doing this, then you know they find catnip relaxing, so sprinkle some dried leaves on their bed to make it extra special for them. Always good to treat your pets!
In Fall / Autumn you can cut your nepeta right back to around a third of the height. This is a great time to harvest leaves as well.
If you are growing in pots make sure to provide a little additional water to allow for a smaller root system of your catnip. Don’t make the soil wet to touch at all times though as root rot is not impossible, although rare.
TOP TIP- Do not use liquid feed or fertilizer. Catnip will respond by dialing back on aroma and potency to cats. The scent is almost a stress signal and being well watered reduces it. This makes catnip a great drought tolerant herb to grow in full sunlight to partial shade.
How To Harvest Nepeta Cataria
- In Summer after the flowers have bloom your catnip will be ready to cut back and this is a good time to harvest. It is such a prolific grower that it will more than survive a drastic cut back, it will thank you for it!
- Choose early morning, when the dew has evaporated but before the heat of the sun has had a chance to draw out the essential oils. We want our catmint to be as potent as possible.
- Cut the stalks back to as much as a third remaining of the plant. It seems drastic but catnip will grow back in time for another harvest in late Fall / Autumn.
- Tie your catnip stems in bunches of around 5-7, no more as it will become harder to circulate air to allow for drying. In the Summer this is as simple as air hanging.
- Hang them somewhere light and airy but without direct sunlight. The sunlight has a debilitating effect on the scent. Catnip will take around three weeks of hanging to become dry. This varies given temperatures and air movement.
- To test if the catnip is dried you can snap a stem. If it bends then it will need longer to dry out. You can use stems, leaves and flowers to make dried catnip toys for your cats. However this only works when you have the heat of Summer to help dry out.
- In your Autumn / Fall harvest you will need to strip the catnip of it’s leaves and use a dehydrator. We have a guide to drying times available here.
Store your dried catnip in an airtight jar, in a cool, dark cupboard. Somewhere that your feline friend won’t raid!
Word Of Caution – Catnip is designated as toxic to animals, specifically cats. This can show as a soporific effect, as a perceived ‘high’ or as vomiting and diarrhea. Due to these extremes of response to the chemical nepetalactone you may want to restrict your cat’s access to the herb. By avoiding them eating it you can limit the effects. Think of it as ‘a sniff of the barmaids apron’ this should be enough to encourage a pussy cat euphoria.
Benefits Of Growing Catnip
- Bees and other pollinators are highly attracted to the stunning flowers. Be they the silver white of delicate blooms or the vibrant purple to lilac colors. You will find your hardy perennial is buzzing with wildlife looking to enjoy your catnip.
- Catnip is attractive to pollinators but will ward off pests like mosquitos and other biting bugs that can fly into your garden. So plant strategically and move the pots around to where you are sitting. In late Autumn /Fall you may want to use the dried stalks in your outdoor fire pit or wood burner to ward off the nasties as well.
- Catnip tea is full of health benefits, but I would recommend blending with other mint family favorites like lemon balm or peppermint. Then to sweeten you could add rosehips or chamomile flowers. Leaves are easy to harvest and to dry. Nepeta tea is used to treat; nervousness and anxiety, stomach upsets, bloating, and insomnia.
- Catnip tends to be attractive to cats (75% appreciate that euphoria we know and love). Even if you don’t have a cat, but rather a visiting feline who believes your backyard is their toilet. Then you can distract them to your catnip patch and this allows you a better chance in other areas of your garden.
- As a hardy perennial catnip has a lot to offer. It will grow to 3-4 feet in height and spread to fill the space available. It has feathery spiked foliage that is a nice contrast to other similar plants and it puts up these gentle spikes of flowers for most of Summer. If you cut back after the first flush of flowers you will even get a second flourish!
- We found ours to be pretty much frost tolerant in the UK so the equivalent of USDA zones 3-9 for sure would be ok. It is also drought tolerant so catnip has a lot to offer both the novice gardener and the more experienced.
Where To Buy Catnip
Make sure to buy from a reputable local nursery or from a well known online specialist. Suttons have a lovely silver flowering catnip available online. Although they have labeled it as catmint. This shows that common names for catnip can be misleading and we have an article available below around why there is a mistaken identity here. They also sell established plants and a striking variety called Purrsian Blue is available online. I love it as much for the color as the name!
What Next & Further Reading
- Catnip Vs Catmint Important Differences and Uses The two names are often used interchangeably and this is the nature of language. We don’t tend to focus on the details of genus. It is vital to know the difference as a gardener though.
- Drying Times & Tips For Herbs – Dehydrator
- Ways to stop cats from pooping in your garden – this is a humane article that looks at ideas such as tactical planting of catnip. This means you are encouraging cats to one area of your garden and therefore away from another area.
- Total Cat Mojo: The Ultimate Guide to Life with Your Cat by Jackson Galaxy
I hope that you are convinced to grow this nectar rich herb and start to encourage a wider range of wildlife into your garden.
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