Catmints (Nepeta) are Easy Growing, Drought-Hardy Garden Performers

Nepeta siberica (Siberian Catmint)
Nepeta siberica (Siberian Catmint) Tall growing and extremely hardy. Marie Iannotti

Overview and Description:

Catmint (Nepeta) is a member of the mint family. It is an extremely easy growing plant with few pests or problems. The billowing foliage is topped with spikes of flowers in early summer with repeat blooms throughout the season. Certain varieties are very attractive to cats, both as a living plant and dried. The lavender-blue varieties are often used as a substitute for lavender plants, where lavender is not particularly hardy.

Nepeta has slightly aromatic grey-green foliage that has a delicate, lacy appearance. The flowers can be white, pink or lavender-blue, and bloom on long spikes. Most catmint varieties have a somewhat sprawling growth habit, making them nice plants for edging and along paths. However, there are a few tall growing varieties, like ‘Six Hills Giant’, with a more upright habit. As with many scented, gray foliage plants, catmint is deer-resistant.

Botanical Name:

Nepeta faassenii

Common Name(s):

Catmint, Catnip

Hardiness Zones:

Catmint is widely adaptable and will be reliably perennial in USDA Zones 4 - 8.

Mature Size:

As with most plants the mature size will depend on the variety you are growing. Most catmints are floppy, bushy plants that space about 10 - 24 inches (H) x 12 - 24 inches (W). However, there are some varieties that are more compact and other that will grow 4 ft. (H) x 3 ft. (W) and new varieties are being cultivated regularly.

You will need to read the plant description.

Exposure:

You will get the best flowering in full sun, however, the plants will also grow well in partial shade.

Bloom Period:

Expect your nepeta to start blooming in early summer with repeat blooms throughout the growing season. Deadheading or shearing your plants will give you stockier plants and the lushest second bloom.

Design Tips:

Catmint is a classic for planting under roses. The pale colors of catmint complement most roses and the soft, frilly foliage hides the ugly ‘knees’ of the rose bush.

It is also a wonderful plant for edging, for spilling over walls and walkways and for softening spiky plants like iris and yucca. The pastel blues combine wonderfully well with pinks and yellows, such as day lilies and yarrow (achillea). Because of its similarity to lavender plants, catmint is often used as a replacement in areas where lavender does not grow well. Check out 1 Plant 3 Ways, for more design tips using Nepeta.

Suggested Varieties:

  • Nepeta nervosa ‘Felix’ - Compact plant with vivid lavender-blue flowers. 12 inches (H) x 24 inches (W)
  • Nepeta x ‘Six Hills Giant’ - One of the tallest growing nepetas, with lavender-blue flowers. 36 inches (H) x 30 inches (W)
  • Nepeta subsessilis ‘Sweet Dreams’ - Pink flowers with burgundy bracts. Likes a bit more water than most Nepetas. 2 ft. (H) x 3 ft. (W)
  • Nepeta racemosa ‘Walker’s Low’ - 8 inch spikes of lavender-blue flowers. 2007 Perennial Plant of the Year (2 ft. (H) x 2 ft. (W) and one of the hardiest and most reliable

Cultural Notes:

Catmint is one of those plants that thrives on neglect.

Too much fertilizer will only make it grow lots of flimsy foliage. A lean soil and somewhat dry growing conditions will encourage both flowers and scent.

Many of the newer varieties of nepeta are sterile, producing no viable seeds. This is a plus if you don’t like the weedy, self-seeding habit of older catmint varieties, but it means you will need to either buy plants or make plants from divisions or cuttings.

Maintenance:

Most catmints will repeat bloom if sheared back after their initial flowering. Some won’t provide much of a second show, but their foliage will be refreshed and tidied by the shearing.

You don't need to divide catmint plants. They will continue to grow and bloom well for years. But if you’d like to divide them to make more plants, all nepeta varieties respond well to division in the spring.

Problems & Pests:

With its scented, fuzzy, gray leaves, problems with Nepeta are very rare. If something should attack the leaves, you can cut the plant back and it will very quickly regrow.