How to Grow and Care for Catmint

Catmint plant with small lavender-blue flowers on thin spikes above billowing foliage

The Spruce / K. Dave

Catmint (Nepeta) is a genus of perennial herbs in the mint family that also includes catnip (Nepeta cataria). They are extremely easy-to-grow plants with few pests or problems. Nepeta has slightly aromatic gray-green foliage with a delicate, lacy appearance. Its billowing foliage is topped with spikes of flowers in early summer, with repeat blooms throughout the season. The flowers can be white, pink, or lavender-blue.

Most catmint varieties have a somewhat sprawling growth habit, making them nice plants for edging planting areas and for running 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. It grows quickly and, in most climates, can be planted from spring to early fall.

Common Name Catmint
Botanical Name Nepeta spp.
Family Lamiaceae
Plant Type Perennial
Mature Size 10-24 in. tall, 1-2 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Full, partial
Soil Type Well-drained
Soil pH Acidic, neutral, alkaline
Bloom Time Spring, summer
Flower Color Purple, white, pink
Hardiness Zones 4-8 (USDA)
Native Area Europe, Asia, Africa
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Watch Now: How to Grow and Care for Catmint Plants (Nepeta)

Catmint Care

Catmint is one of those plants that thrives on neglect. Many of the newer varieties of Nepeta are sterile hybrids that produce 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 the plant grow lots of flimsy foliage.

As with most plants, the mature size of catmint depends on the variety you are growing. Most catmints are floppy, bushy plants that mature at about 10 to 24 inches tall and 12 to 24 inches wide. However, there are some varieties that are more compact, and there are others that will grow 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide. 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.

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 a lush second bloom.

Catmint is rarely bothered by any pests and diseases.

Catmint plant spike with small lavender-blue flowers and buds closeup

The Spruce / K. Dave

Catmint bush purple flowers edging a gravel path

The Spruce / K. Dave

Light

You will get the best flowering if you plant your catmint in full sun, however, the plants will also grow well in partial shade.

Soil

Humus-rich, well-draining soil is ideal. Many species grow easily in a wide range of soil types, including dry clay and sandy or rocky soil. It's not fussy about pH, growing well in a wide range (5.0 to 8.0).

Water

First-year plants need frequent watering, every couple of days during the first week, then about one inch of water per week for at least one more month in the absence of rain. Once rooted, catmints are drought-tolerant and don't need watering.

Temperature and Humidity

Catmints like cool temperatures and benefit from afternoon shade in warm climates. They are often not tolerant of high heat and humidity.

Fertilizer

Catmint is not a heavy feeder. In the first year after planting, a handful of compost, added to the plant’s base in the fall, is sufficient. In subsequent years, the plant needs no further fertilization.

Catmint Varieties

  • Nepeta x faassenii 'Six Hills Giant’ is one of the tallest-growing cultivars, It has lavender-blue flowers and grows up to 36 inches tall and 30 inches wide, so be sure to give it plenty of room in your garden.
  • Nepeta subsessilis ‘Sweet Dreams' features pink flowers with burgundy bracts. It likes a bit more water than most Nepeta varieties. It grows to 2 feet tall and 3 feet wide.
  • Nepeta racemosa ‘Walker’s Low’ has lavender-blue flowers with 8-inch spikes. This 2007 Perennial Plant of the Year reaches 2 feet tall and 2 feet wide and is one of the hardiest and most reliable varieties.
  • Nepeta racemosa 'Little Titch' is a dwarf variety with pale blue flowers. It is just as long-blooming as many of its larger cousins, but its growth stops at about 8 to 10 inches tall and 15 inches wide.
Nepeta x ‘Six Hills Giant’
 
Nepeta racemosa ‘Walker’s Low’
 

Pruning

Catmint plants will gracefully spill over walls and walkways. Most catmints will repeat-bloom if they are 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.

Propagating Catmint

Catmint plants 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.

  1. In the spring, find a section of the plant with undeveloped shoots and a good root system. Slice it vertically with a spade. If the plant is very big, you can even divide it into smaller sections.
  2. Carefully dig up the divided section(s). Backfill the resulting hole in the landscape so that the section remaining in the ground isn't exposed.
  3. Replant the division(s) in a new location. Water it well and keep the soil moist until it has overcome the transplant shock and shows new growth, which usually doesn't take longer than one month.

Another easy way to propagate catmint is from cuttings:

  1.  In the late spring to early summer, cut a healthy piece of stem 4 to 6 inches long with a sharp knife or pruners. Remove the leaves from the lower half of the stem. 
  2. You can insert the stem in a small container filled with well-moistened potting mix, or place it in a glass with non-chlorinated tap water.
  3. Keep the cutting in a location with bright light but away from direct sunlight. Water regularly to keep the soil evenly moist, or exchange the water in the glass every few days. You should see new growth in the potted cutting, or roots develop in the cutting in water, after a couple of weeks.
  4. Transplant the new plant in garden soil or a larger pot.

Growing Catmint From Seeds

If you want to grow catmint from seed, make sure it's from a non-hybrid variety, or from a seed company offering hybrid varieties.

  1. Start the seeds indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last spring frost in seed flats or small pots filled with potting soil mix. Press the seeds into the soil mix and only cover them lightly, as they need light to germinate.
  2. Pinch the growth tips of the seedlings once they are 2 to 3 inches tall so they grow bushy rather than tall and leggy.
  3. When all danger of frost has passed, plant them in a garden bed or in larger containers.

Potting and Repotting Catmint

Like most types of mint, catmint grows well in a container. In fact, many gardeners prefer to grow it in a container because it prevents the plant from spreading uncontrollably.

Use a pot at least 12 inches in diameter, with large drain holes. Unglazed clay is ideal because it lets excess moisture evaporate.

Fill the pot with a quality potting mix, which usually comes with slow-release fertilizer. Water it slowly and thoroughly until the soil is evenly moist. Like all container plants, catmint needs regular watering to keep the soil moist, even though it's drought-tolerant when planted in garden soil.

When roots grow out of the drain holes or the plant becomes root-bound, it’s time to transplant it to a larger pot or divide and replant a section in a same-size container with fresh potting mix.

Overwintering 

Catmint is a hardy plant up to USDA zone 4 (-30 to -25 degrees Fahrenheit) and overwintering is only required when you grow it in containers in cool climates because the winter freeze can kill the roots. Bring the container inside when the temperatures drop in the fall and place it in a cool room near a bright window. Or, if all your rooms are well-heated, overwinter it in an unheated garage. Either way. cut down on watering during the winter but don’t let the soil dry out completely. The plant will go dormant and bounce back in the spring.

Common Problems with Catmint

Catmint is rarely bothered by any pests and diseases. The plant is low-maintenance and easy to grow and propagate, some of the many reasons catmint is so popular with gardeners.

catmint used as edging in a garden
The Spruce / Leticia Almeida
FAQ
  • What is the difference between catmint and catnip?

    Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is a type of catmint and is arguably the best-known species in the Nepeta genus, at least among home gardeners. It's not the only type of catmint that makes cats loopy, but it's your best bet if that's your goal. Catnip has similar growing and care needs to other catmint plants and matures at 2 to 4 feet tall and 2 to 3 feet wide. It blooms from May to September and has white flowers spotted with pale purple. Catnip is relatively cold-hardy and grows well in zones 3 to 9.

  • Where should I plant catmint?

    Catmint is a classic choice 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. Catmint is also a wonderful plant for edging, where it softens hard lines. It is great for providing contrast to spiky plants like iris and yucca. The pastel blues of many catmint flowers pair well with pink and yellow flowers, such as those of daylilies and yarrow (Achillea).

  • Can you plant catmint and lavender together?

    You can. Catmint and lavender are both part of the mint family. Lavender is more finicky to grow. Because of its similarity to lavender, catmint is often used as a replacement in areas where lavender does not grow well.