Catmint (Nepeta) is a perennial herb that is a member of the mint family. It is an extremely easy-growing plant with few pests or problems. Nepeta has slightly aromatic grey-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 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 spp.|
|Mature Size||10 to 24 inches tall and 1 to 2 feet wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun to part shade|
|Soil Type||Clay, well-draining|
|Soil pH||Slightly acid|
|Bloom Time||Late spring, summer|
|Hardiness Zones||4 to 8|
|Native Area||Europe, Asia, Africa|
How to Grow Catmint
Catmint is one of those plants that thrives on neglect. Many of the newer varieties of nepeta are sterile and 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.
You will get the best flowering if you plant your catmint in full sun, however, the plants will also grow well in partial shade.
Humus-rich, well-draining soil is ideal. Many species grow easily in a wide range of soil types, including dry clay.
First-year plants need frequent watering, but once rooted, catmints are drought-tolerant.
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.
Add compost to the plant’s base in the fall, but once rooted it needs no further fertilization.
Varieties of Catmint
- ‘Six Hills Giant’Nepeta x faassenii is one of the tallest-growing Nepetas and has lavender-blue flowers. It 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. This variety likes a bit more water than most Nepetas. 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 Nepetas.
- 'Little Titch'Nepeta Racemosa is a dwarf variety that is just as long-blooming as many of its larger cousins. It's growth stops at about 8 to 10 inches tall and 15 inches wide.
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.
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 in the spring. Find a section of the plant with undeveloped shoots and a good root system and slice it vertically with a spade. Replant the division, and keep watering it until it becomes established.
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.
Landscape Uses for 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. Catmint plants will gracefully spill over walls and walkways and are also great contrasting features to spiky plants like iris and yucca.
The pastel blues of catmint flowers pair well with pink and yellow flowers, such as those of daylilies 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.
Catmint vs. 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.