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

Nepeta siberica (Siberian Catmint)
© Marie Iannotti

 

All About Growing Catmint Plants

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.

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.

The lavender-blue varieties are often used as a substitute for lavender plants, where lavender is not particularly hardy.

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.

There are several species and many hybrid of Nepeta. Some, including the one commonly called catnip (Nepeta cataria), have scents that are very attractive to cats, both as a living plant and dried. However catnip can look rather weedy in the garden. If you would like to grow some for your pets, put it in an inconspicuous spot and be prepared for any wandering cats to find it and roll around in it.

Botanical Name

Nepeta spp. and hybrids

Common Names

Catmint, Catnip

Hardiness Zones

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

Mature Plant 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). New catmint varieties are being introduced regularly, so the best thing to do is to shop around and read the plant description, before you buy.

Sun Exposure for Catmint

You will get the best flowering, if you plant your catmint 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 for Using Catmint in the Garden

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, where it softens hard lines. Catmint plants will gracefully spill over walls and walkways and are also great contrast to  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

How to Grow Catmint

Catmint is one of those plants that thrives on neglect.  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.

Choose a sunny spot with well draining soil. A lean soil and somewhat dry growing conditions will encourage both more flowers and a stronger scent. Too much fertilizer will only make it grow lots of flimsy foliage.

Caring for Your Catmint Plants

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 Affecting Catmint

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