Catmint (Nepeta) is an attractive, hardy and easy-to-grow flowering perennial, renowned for its aromatic foliage which tends to attract cats, hence its name. Its aromatic leaves are green or grey-green and its stems are clothed from summer to autumn in small two-lipped mauve or blue flowers.
Cats can safely nibble and eat catmint leaves, stems and flowers – indeed many cat toys are stuffed with dried catmint leaves. Some cats love it so much they roll around and sleep on the plants.
Catmint originates from Northern Hemisphere countries and there are a number of different species and varieties of Nepeta that are all referred to as catmint. The term ‘catnip’ refers to the species Nepeta cataria, and while this is said to be the most aromatic catmint, it isn’t as ornamental as other varieties. Catmint is very attractive to bees and other beneficial pollinating insects.
How to grow catmint
Grow catmint in sunny borders or raised beds in free-draining soil. Buy pot-grown plants at any time of year, although spring or autumn are ideal times to plant. Trim back faded stems to encourage more blooms during summer and once growth dies back in autumn, cut back to the ground before spring.
Growing catmint: jump links
- Planting catmint
- Caring for catmint
- Propagating catmint
- Growing catmint: problem-solving
- Advice on buying catmint
- Catmints to grow
Where to grow catmint
Catmint needs a sunny position and must have soil that drains freely, so avoid heavy soil such as clay which is prone to becoming waterlogged. Most catmints are tolerant of drought, particularly those with silvery-grey leaves. Catmints are generally fairly low growing and ideal to plant near the front of a border, close to a path or in a raised bed, to spill out and soften the edges. The low spreading growth and soft colour makes catmint ideal for underplanting rose bushes and it looks especially striking planted in groups or in long drifts.
How to plant catmint
The best times to plant catmint are in autumn or spring, although container grown plants can be planted during summer so long as they’re kept watered during dry spells until established. Depending on the ultimate spread of the variety, space plants between 30 and 60 cm apart.
How to care for catmint
Once established, catmint is easy to grow and requires little care. Flowers are produced over a long period, but it’s a good idea to trim them back after blooming to keep the plant neat and to encourage more to form. Once growth dies back in late autumn, cut back the dead stems before new growth appears in spring. The dead leaves are a favourite hibernation place for ladybirds so, if possible, delay cutting back until early spring. Catmint benefits from being divided every few years as flowering declines when plants form large, congested clumps.
How to propagate catmint
Catmint can be divided once plants are several years old. Dig up the plant in autumn or early spring; break up the clump into pieces, each with plenty of roots and shoot buds, and replant into soil that has been refreshed with well-rotted compost or soil conditioner. Water well to settle soil around the roots.
Growing catmint: problem solving
Catmint is generally trouble-free given the right growing conditions, but plants rarely thrive if the ground is heavy and poorly drained, or if in shade. In very dry summers, powdery mildew may occur as a white coating on the leaves and stems sometimes die back. Cut off unhealthy shoots and gather up and bin affected fallen leaves.
Advice on buying catmint
- Catmints do best in free-draining soil. Make sure you can give them the growing conditions they need, before buying
- Check the plants over to make sure they’re healthy and have no signs of pests or disease
- Choose from a variety of catmints, with different heights and spreads, and flower colour
Where to buy catmint online
Catmint varieties to grow
Catmint is available in a number of different species and varieties, ranging in shape and habit from low spreading mounds to upright clumps.
Catnip, Nepeta cataria has silvery-green leaves and violet, white-spotted flowers. Said to have the most aromatic foliage, although doesn’t flower as freely as many other varieties. Height x Spread: 90cm x 60cm
Nepeta x faassenii (sometimes also called Nepeta x mussinii) forms wide, spreading mounds of silvery-grey foliage and bears long stems covered with lavender-blue flowers. H x S: 60cm x 45cm
Nepeta ‘Junior Walker’ is more compact and upright than other catmints. H x S: 40cm x 40cm
Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ is vigorous, forming a substantial mound of blue-mauve flowers 60 cm high and wide. H x S: 60cm x 40cm
Nepeta racemosa ‘Walker’s Low’ bears deep violet flowers and has green leaves. H x S: 90cm x 90cm