Catmint Herb: How To Grow Catmint
Catmint is an aromatic herb that is commonly grown in the garden. It produces clusters of lavender-blue flowers amid mounds of gray-green foliage. For example, the herb is thought to have been first cultivated in the Roman town of Nepeti, where it was used as herbal tea and insect repellent. This is also believed to be the origin of its genus name, Nepeta.
Difference Between Catnip and Catmint
Many people wonder what is the difference between catnip and catmint. While basically considered the same plant as they share many of the same characteristics, there are differences between the two species. Catnip (Nepeta cataria) has less ornamental value in the garden than its catmint (Nepeta mussinii) counterpart.
Catnip is also found to be highly attractive to cats, with many of them exhibiting a naturally induced euphoria around the plant. They may nibble on it or even roll around in the foliage. This type is most suitable for “cat-friendly” gardens. If you don’t want your garden overrun with felines, plant catmint instead, which is much less attractive to them.
How to Grow Catmint
The catmint herb is easy to grow. These plants are good for mass planting or edging and are suitable near vegetables as an insect deterrent — especially for aphids and Japanese beetles.
Catmint can be grown in sun or partial shade with average, well-draining soil. They are even heat and drought tolerant, making them excellent plants for dry garden areas. Catmint is most often grown by seed or through division.
How & When to Plant Catmint
The seeds or divisions of the catmint plant are planted in spring. They require plenty of space too and should be spaced (or thinned) to at least a foot (0.5 m.) or so apart. Overcrowded plants can lead to powdery mildew or leaf spot, especially in hot, humid climates.
Caution is needed when planting some types of catmint plants, as they can be aggressive growers. Therefore, you may want to add some edging around them. Likewise, catmint can be planted and grown in containers.
Care of Catmint
Basic care of catmint is easy. Water catmint plants regularly until they become well established. Mulch will help retain moisture and keep down weeds. Once plants are a few inches (5 to 10 cm.) tall, pinch them back to promote bushier growth.
Catmint blooms throughout summer and fall. Deadheading spent blooms promotes additional flowering. It can also help prevent reseeding. Faassen’s catmint (Nepeta x faassenii) is sterile however and doesn’t require deadheading. Shear the plants back to half their size in fall or following harvest.
Harvesting and Uses of Catmint Herb
Catmint can be used fresh, dried, or frozen for both culinary and herbal use. Harvest leaves as flowers begin to bloom, cutting the top leaves, stems, and flowers if desired. Spread out to dry in a cool, ventilated area and store the dried herb in an airtight container or bag to preserve its potency.
The leaves and shoots can be added to soups and sauces. Tea made from the leaves and flowers can be used for calming nerves and relieving coughs, congestion, and menstrual cramps.
Catmints: Plant Care and Collection of Varieties
The most familiar catmints are those with purple-blue flowers that bloom heavily in early summer. These come in a range of heights, from a foot tall up to as much as 3-4 feet tall, making them useful in many garden settings, including flower borders, rock gardens, and edging. A classic combination is to grow them with hybrid tea roses to cover the "bare knees" of the rose bushes and complement the many shades of rose blossoms with their soft blue flowers.
But there are also catmints with pale pink or white flowers, even one uncommon species with yellow flowers. All make great bee and butterfly attracting plants. Most are hardy in zones 3-8.
Special features of catmints
Faassen's catmint (Nepeta X faassenii) One of the most popular catmints, the flowers of this hybrid are sterile, so it doesn't need deadheading to prevent self-sowing. A number of cultivars of this species are widely available, including 'Blue Wonder', 1-2 feet tall, with dark blue flowers, 'Kit Kat', a long-blooming, 18 inch tall selection, and 'Walker's Low', with lavender-blue flowers on arching, 2-3 tall stems. 'White Wonder' is a white flowered cultivar. 'Six Hills Giant' is among the tallest, with 9-12 inch spikes of deep purple flowers on 3-4 foot tall plants.
Siberian catmint (Nepeta sibirica) is a tall (2-3 feet), upright growing plant with larger, greener leaves than Faassen's catmint and rich blue flowers in a whorled cluster that bloom over a long period.
Japanese catmint (Nepeta subsessilis) Unlike many catmints, this one prefers moist soils. One of the most commonly offered cultivars is 'Candy Cat', with dense clusters of pale, lavender-pink flowers on a 2 foot high plant.
Yellow Catnip (Nepeta govaniana) Native to the Himalayas, this unusual and hard-to-find catmint bears yellow flowers in small, loose clusters in mid to late summer.
Choosing a site to grow catmints
Most catmints prefer full sun and well-drained, not overly fertile soil, although plants in hot summer areas do well with some afternoon shade. Established plants are quite drought tolerant.
Container grown plants can be set out throughout the growing season. Space smaller cultivars 18-24 inches apart taller varieties should be set about 30 inches apart. Prepare the garden bed by using a garden fork or tiller to loosen the soil to a depth of 12 to 15 inches, then mix in a 2- to 4-inch layer of compost. Dig a hole twice the diameter of the pot the plant is in. Carefully remove the plant from its container and place it in the hole so the top of the root ball is level with the soil surface. Carefully fill in around the root ball and firm the soil gently. Water thoroughly.
Shear back plants by one-third after their first flush of bloom is past to neaten plants and encourage a second flush of flowers later in the summer. Keep plants vigorous by dividing every 3-4 years in spring or early fall. Give newly set out or divided plants regular watering until established. While not as enticing to cats as true catnip, felines may still try to roll on catmints. If there are cats around, it's a good idea to protect young plants for a while with a dome made out of chicken wire. An annual layer of compost in fall or spring should provide catmint with all the nutrients it needs.
Pruning Catmint in Summer
Catmint blooms all summer long from late spring into autumn, producing hundreds of small, tubular violet-blue flowers that are clustered at the tips of its stems. The UC Master Gardener Program of Sonoma County recommends deadheading catmint in summer to prolong its blooming. The individual flower heads can be removed as the flowers fade, but that can be overwhelming and time consuming with a prolific bloomer such as catmint. Another option is to cut back the entire plant by half after the first flush of blooms dies back in midsummer.
If deadheading the individual flower stalks, the Ohio State University Extension recommends making the cut far down the stem or at its base so that the pruned stem doesn't poke up noticeably above the surrounding foliage. Cutting back the entire plant is a faster way of pruning. Shear off the entire plant to half its height using sharp pruning shears. The second flush of flowers may not match the first in terms of number, but it will brighten up late-season beds better than no flowers at all.
Catmint – cultivation and care
Most species thrive best in sunny locations with sparse, well-drained soils and tolerate dryness very well. These include above all the gray-dusty species. But also on fresh to moist, nutrient-rich soil species of catnip grow, for example, the Japanese catnip (Nepeta subsessilis) or the Chinese dragon’s head (Nepeta prattii). Properly wet soils do not like these green-leaved species either. While most of the catnip prefers sunny locations, these species also thrive in secluded spots in the garden.
A pruning after flowering leads to a slightly weaker flowering in late summer. For areal plantings one sets about eight perennials per square meter.
The green-leaved varieties should be regularly supplied with fertilizer. The best is compost. It is not recommended to use artificial fertilizers because they like to use too much nitrogen. In contrast to the green-leaved varieties, the gray-powdered varieties require no fertilizer.
If you cut back the catnip after the main flower near the ground, the plant is thereby stimulated to a second flower in late summer. At the same time this prevents the perennial from sowing itself.
One can divide the perennials in the spring or multiply by cuttings. But they like to sow themselves.
The catnip is perennial and hardy. Nevertheless, it is important to choose a warm location for them, so that they survive the winter time without damage.
When kept in a pot, the pot should be covered with fleece or jute during the winter so that the roots do not freeze. Furthermore, it is recommended – both in the field and in the pot – not to cut off the stalks of catnip in the fall. They serve as protection against freezing wetness.
Diseases and pests
Catnip is generally considered very robust. The young plants of Japan catnip are sometimes nibbled by snails. In addition, there is occasionally the risk of infestation with powdery mildew.
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
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.
Where to buy catmint online
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.
Catmint likes well-drained soil, and thrives in full sun -- though some cultivars like a little afternoon shade. Water young plants or recently transplanted catmint with some frequency -- about 1 inch of water each week is sufficient to ensure a healthy plant. Older catmint plants are drought tolerant and take the same amount every three to four weeks. To test if your catmint needs water, insert a finger into the soil approximately 1 inch. If the soil feels dry, water the plant.
Pests aren't a huge problem with catmint -- most of the usual garden menaces don't like the smell of catmint and avoid it. While this is good news when it comes to bugs and other creepy crawlies, you may still have trouble with other critters -- namely, cats -- although a hungry deer can also make quick work of your catmint. While catmint isn't a huge feline favorite, some of the older cultivars can entice feline visitors to roll around, eat the plant or just generally destroy it through play. For example, Six Hills Giant (Nepeta faassenii 'Six Hills Giant') is one of the most cat-attractive types of Nepeta, as well as one of the largest. Avoid damage if you have cats in your yard by erecting a dome of chicken wire to protect young or fragile plants.