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Catmint Guide: How to Plant, Grow, and Care for Nepeta

Catmint lavender flowers

Emanating grace and captivating the senses with their lavender-blue flowers, catmint plants belong to the Lamiaceae family, often known as the mint family which also includes catnip (Nepeta cataria). These hardy perennials bloom brilliantly from late spring to midsummer.

They are admired for their mounds of gray-green foliage that acts as an enchanting carpet on walkways and in herb gardens. This remarkable plant is not only a visual treat but also a magnet for several pollinators.

Bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds are often seen fluttering around its bloom, making it an essential element in gardens aiming to support these vital species. The spiky stems of catmint burst into a profusion of color, with hues ranging from pale pink to vibrant yellow.

Catmint plants are celebrated for being deer-resistant and rabbit-proof. Hence, they make an excellent addition to gardens plagued by these creatures.

They are also drought tolerant, being able to thrive in full sun as well as partial shade. Providing adequate afternoon shade is beneficial in hotter climates.

These perennials are native to Africa and parts of Asia. They are quite adaptable to a variety of climates and require well-draining soil to survive. However, they need adequate care during their first growing season.

These low-maintenance plants can be incorporated into various landscape designs, including your flower bed, herb garden, or border planting near walkways.

As a master gardener, I’ve been able to grow these stunning plants many times throughout the past decade. In this article, I’ll go over everything you need to know about catmint, including its plant care requirements and how to plant and propagate it.

Cat smelling catmint leaves on a pot

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

Botanical Name: Nepeta spp.

Common Name: Catmint

Family: Lamiaceae

Plant Type: Perennial

Hardiness Zones: 4 – 8 (USDA)

Sun Exposure: Full, partial

Soil Type: Well-drained

Soil pH: Acidic, neutral, alkaline

Bloom Time: Spring, summer

Flower Color: Purple, white, pink

Native Area: Asia, Africa

Catmint Plant Care

Catmint plants, primarily a member of the mint family Lamiaceae and belonging to the Nepeta genus, thrive best in well-draining soil that’s enriched with compost and occasional fertilizer.

Mostly native to Asia and Africa, these hardy perennials are drought tolerant and prefer a climate with full sun but can adapt to partial or afternoon shade.

Since these plants bloom from late spring to midsummer, with new plants flowering in their first growing season, it’s best to plant them alongside walkways or in your herb garden where you can enjoy their vibrant lavender-blue flowers.

Butterfly perching on catmint plant

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

Catmints also produce gray-green foliage, and their flower spikes make them particularly attractive to pollinators like bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies.

Additionally, they are deer and rabbit-resistant, though may occasionally attract aphids.

Their varieties, like the popular ‘Walker’s Low’, form mounds of color, with flowers ranging from pink to yellow. The bloom is long-lasting, making them a prime choice for gardeners looking for plants that can draw in pollinators over an extended period.

Bear in mind that, though they are part of the mint family, Catmints are more compact and sturdy in stem and structure, making them more resistant to pests and more forgiving of tough weather and soil conditions than many of their mint cousins.

Catmint will bloom from midsummer well into the fall, attracting numerous pollinators to your garden. You’ll find spikes of yellow and pink flowers appearing among the lavender-blue, beckoning bees and butterflies.

To encourage future generations of catmint and a continual appearance of these flowers, allow some of the seeds to fall to ground.

Light

Catmint plants thrive in diverse sunlight conditions. Ideally, they flourish under full sun where they can receive six hours or more of direct sunlight daily.

However, they also adapt well to partial shade, most especially benefitting from afternoon shade in hotter climates. It is noteworthy to mention that, though these plants are rather tolerant, their bloom may be slightly less abundant in less sunny locales.

Regardless, in harmoniously balancing their sun exposure, catmint plants will present you with an enchanting display of lavender-blue flowers from late spring to midsummer.

Catmint plant under full sunlight

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

Soil

While catmint plants exhibit hardy characteristics and can thrive in a broad array of environments, they prefer well-draining soil.

This drought-tolerant member of the mint family will flourish best when its roots can expand freely, safe from stagnating moisture. Adding compost to the soil will deliver necessary nutrients and improve drainage, promoting healthier and more vibrant plants.

Approximately 4 weeks after planting, it can also benefit from a balanced slow-release fertilizer, which continues to provide essential nutrients throughout the first growing season.

Despite these preferences, catmint plants are highly adaptable and can still grow in less-than-optimal soil conditions if required.

Water

Catmint plants hail from regions of Africa and Asia known for dry climate. As such, they are naturally drought-tolerant.

During their first growing season, these hardy perennials require regular watering to establish a robust root system. However, once established, a sporadic watering schedule suffices, especially if planted in well-draining soil.

Watering catmint plants in the garden with a sprinkler

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

Intense afternoon shade can cause the soil to retain more moisture, reducing the plant’s watering needs even further.

Regularity of water is paramount during particularly dry spells, yet overwatering can lead to problems with aphids or could potentially rot the root and stem.

Temperature and Humidity

Catmint plants are robust perennials that can adapt effectively to various climate conditions, from hot Africa summers to the cooler, temperamental climate of Asia.

The plants require full sun exposure for optimal growth but can endure partial shade, especially in the hot afternoon, preserving their gray-green foliage from yellowing under harsh sunlight.

They thrive in an environment with well-draining soil and moderate humidity. Moreover, Catmint plants are drought tolerant, proving hardy even in arid conditions once established after their first growing season.

Too much humidity, however, might attract pests like aphids, so ensure your catmint has good air circulation, particularly in more humid climates.

Fertilizer

Catmint plants are considered hardy and adaptable, requiring minimal attention in terms of fertilizer. During the first growing season, a light application of slow-release granular fertilizer mixed with compost can benefit new plants.

Applying it in late spring, just before the onset of the bloom period, can promote robust growth and abundant lavender-blue flowers. However, supplementing with fertilizer is not commonly required in subsequent years if plants are growing in well-draining soil enriched with compost.

Blooming catmint plants in the garden

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

Over-fertilization, especially with nitrogen-rich varieties, can lead to excessive foliage growth at the expense of flower production. Therefore, maintaining a balance is crucial for these plants.

Pruning

Pruning catmint plants isn’t a complicated task, with these hardy perennials requiring just a modest trim.

For optimal bloom, it’s best to prune after their first flush of lavender-blue flowers in late spring. This triggers a growth rejuvenating process in the stem, allowing for new plants and a second, more robust bloom in the midsummer.

Once the plant has finished blooming entirely, cut back the gray-green foliage by around a third. This will encourage the plant to form compact, neat mounds, a characteristic trait of the Walker’s Low variety, and keep your herb garden looking tidy.

The removed plant parts can be added to your compost pile, contributing to a healthy, well-drained soil in your garden.

Catnip plants in the balcony

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

Overwintering

Catmint plants are perennials that excel in various climates. In many regions, they can handle cold winters with little care, thanks to their gray-green foliage that can endure colder temperatures.

Nevertheless, to promote healthy growth for the following year, cut back the stems of catmint to the ground in late fall or early winter.

If the winter climate is harsh, covering the cut-down mounds with a layer of compost or mulch could be beneficial as it adds extra protection.

Remember that they appreciate well-draining soil, so avoid waterlogged conditions for a warmer overwintering environment. Despite these provisions, the new plants grown in the first growing season, particularly late in the year, might require extra protection through the coldest months.

Catmint vs Catnip

Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is a type of catmint that is probably the most well-known species in the Nepeta genus, at least among home gardeners. It isn’t the only kind of catmint that makes cats loopy, but it’s your best bet if that’s your aim.

Selective focus of purple flowers of catnip

Catnip – Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

Catnip grows to be two to four feet tall and two to three feet wide, and it requires identical maintenance and growing requirements as other catmint plants.

Its beautiful purple-spotted white flowers bloom from May to September. Catnip is relatively cold-hardy, growing well in USDA hardiness zones 3 through 9.

Types of Catmint

Nepeta x faassenii (Faassen’s Catmint)

Faassen’s Catmint blooming in the garden

Faassen’s Catmint – Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

Bred as a hybrid, Nepeta x faassenii, also known as Faassen’s Catmint, is a hardy member of the Nepeta genus.

One of the most popular varieties of catmint, it displays gray-green foliage and lavender-blue flowers that bloom from late spring till midsummer. Well suited for temperamental climates, the Faassen’s Catmint thrives in both full sun and partial shade.

This perennial plant is drought tolerant and prefers well-draining soil that’s been enriched with compost during the first growing season. Its beautiful bloom draws pollinators such as bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds, thereby enhancing the ecological vibrancy of your garden.

Nepeta subsessilis (Japanese Catmint)

Closeup view on the flowers of Japanese catmint

Japanese Catmint – Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

Nepeta subsessilis, known as Japanese Catmint, is a native of Asia. Its distinctive pink flowers appear in spikes and bloom in midsummer, adding a pop of color to your garden.

It stands robust against most climates, being drought tolerant while preferring partial to afternoon shade. While this variety is attractive to pollinators, it is deer-resistant, ensuring your plants remain intact and thriving.

Nepeta racemosa (Persian or Dwarf Catmint)

Persian Catmint blooming in the garden

Persian or Dwarf Catmint – Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

Nepeta racemosa, commonly known as Persian or Dwarf Catmint, is a compact and hardy variety perfect for small gardens or lining walkways.

The richly colored lavender-blue flowers bloom amidst mounds of gray-green foliage, creating a mesmerizing contrast that’s not just pleasing to the eyes but also a magnet for bees and butterflies.

This variety is also drought tolerant and can survive in a range of soil types, though well-draining soil with a good mix of compost and fertilizer are recommended for optimal growth.

Apart from being a magnet for beneficial insects, the Persian Catmint is also deer and rabbit-resistant, making it an excellent choice for a hassle-free herb garden.

How to Plant Catmint From Seed

Step 1: Preparing For Planting

Catmint plants need well-draining soil to thrive. Before planting, prepare the area by creating loose mounds of soil. Compost or a balanced fertilizer can be added to enrich the soil.

Consider the future climate of the plants. These plants prefer full sun but can also handle a combination of full sun and partial or afternoon shade.

Preparing egg cartons and soil for planting catmint

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

Step 2: Sowing Your Catmint Seeds

Sow catmint seeds in late spring to early summer. Space new plants evenly, with their stems sticking straight up. Water well, ensuring that the soil does not become water-logged.

Step 3: Caring for Your Catmint Plants

During their first growing season, catmint must be watered regularly to ensure establishment. Once established, they are very drought-tolerant and can even handle harsh climatic conditions.

You’ll notice rods of lavender-blue flowers making an appearance from midsummer, usually followed by a flush of new gray-green foliage.

How to Propagate Catmint

Step 1: Proper Site Preparation

For healthy growth, your catmint prefers a location with full sun to partial shade, with a tilt towards the afternoon shade in particularly hot climates. Also, ensure the soil is well-draining, as catmints dislike waterlogged conditions.

The catmint’s hardy character and drought tolerance means it thrives in a variety of soils but enriched, well-draining soil can significantly enhance its vitality. You could add compost or well-rotted manure to boost fertility.

Step 2: Planting Catmint

Start your catmint propagation in the late spring, by planting your new catmint plants in mounds of soil. Catmints are native to harsh climates in Africa and Asia, making them incredibly drought tolerant.

Place them about 18 to 24 inches apart to provide ample room for growth. They’re also deer-resistant, so these mounds could serve as natural barriers along your walkways.

Catmint seedlings on a black pot

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

Step 3: Caring for Catmint

Proper care starts from the first growing season. Regular watering is essential in this period until the plants are well-established. Despite being drought tolerant, new plants benefit from consistent moisture.

Applying a slow-release fertilizer midsummer can encourage a second bloom. Be on the lookout for aphids, which can occasionally infest the stem and lower side of the leaves. These insects are easily managed with organic insecticides.

Step 4: Managing Growth and Propagation

As your plants mature, they will naturally produce stems with spikes of yellow, pink, or lavender-blue flowers from midsummer to early fall, attracting an array of bees, butterflies, and even hummingbirds.

For an even fuller bloom next season, cut back the flower spikes once the first flush of bloom is over. Propagate new plants by division every 3-4 years in early spring.

Despite their alluring flowers and aromatic leaves, these perennials are pleasingly resistant to rabbits.

How to Pot or Repot Catmint

Step 1: Preparing the Soil and Pot

The key to growing successful Catmint plants is well-draining soil. This hardy perennial does not like standing water, and will easily adapt to varying soil conditions, provided they don’t get too bogged down.

If you are working with heavy clay soils, consider improving its drainage capabilities by adding organic matter or compost.

When you’re ready to pot your new plants, create a blend of garden soil and compost in the pot. Carefully remove the Catmint from its original container, keeping as much soil around the roots as possible, and transfer it into its new pot.

Fill in around the plant with your soil mix until it’s level with the top of the pot, lightly pressing the soil down for stability.

Catmint in black pots in the garden

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

Step 2: Watering and Adding Additional Care

In the first growing season, ensure you water it regularly to help establish a deep and healthy root system. Once established, Catmint plants are incredibly drought tolerant and require minimal watering unless in a period of intense heat or dryness.

While Catmint plants are generally low maintenance, a little bit of additional care comes from regularly adding all-purpose fertilizer.

This aids in maintaining vibrant leaf colors and promoting vigorous bloom spikes. Regular trimming will also encourage blooming and prevent the plant from becoming too leggy.

Common Pests and Plant Diseases for catmint

Aphids

Colony of green aphids on a green leaf

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

Common amongst many plants, gardeners might encounter aphids on new plants or fresh new stem growth of established catmint plants. These tiny insects suck the plant’s sap, causing distorted and yellow mottled leaves.

Encourage natural predators like ladybugs to your garden or use a mild pesticide to address the problem. Catmint is a hardy plant and can usually withstand minor aphid infestations without severe damage.

Rabbits and Deer

Wild rabbit on green grass

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

While catmint plants are generally known to be deer-resistant, the aromatic gray-green foliage and lavender-blue flowers of the plant can appeal to rabbits. Latex fencing or planting catmint close to walkways or human-activity areas can deter these pests. Gardeners also report that Walker’s Low and other similar varieties of catmint are more resistant to rabbit damage compared to others.

Fungal Diseases

Due to its member of the mint family (Lamiaceae) roots, catmint can be susceptible to some common mint family diseases including downy mildew and verticillium wilt.

Both diseases can cause yellowing and wilting of leaves and, in severe cases, may lead to plant death. Ensuring your soil is well-draining and your plants aren’t overcrowded can help prevent these diseases.

Additionally, compost and organic fertilizers can also strengthen your plants’ resistance to disease during their first growing season and beyond.

Common Plant Problems and Solutions for Catmint

Brown Tips on Leaves

When you notice brown tips on your catmint plants’ gray-green foliage, it’s likely the result of too much direct sunlight. These perennials, originally from Asia and a member of the Lamiaceae or mint family, thrive in full sun to partial shade.

However, prolonged exposure to intense sunlight can scorch them, causing the tell-tale brown tips. To counter this, ensure you plant them where they can enjoy afternoon shade and protection from extreme heat.

Yellowing Leaves

If your catmint exhibits yellow leaves, odds are it’s dealing with poor drainage. As a species in the Nepeta genus, it requires well-draining soil to maintain its overall health.

Sitting in waterlogged soil can lead to root rot, a disease best avoided in your herb garden. To resolve this, make sure to amend your soil with organic compost or fertilize it with a well-balanced fertilizer to enhance its drainage capacity.

Inadequate Blooming

Late spring till midsummer is the typical blooming season for many varieties of catmint, with spikes of blue, pink, and yellow flowers that draw pollinators en masse.

If your catmint fails to bloom satisfactorily, it might be due to a mismatch between the plant’s climate needs and its environment. While the plant favors full sun, remember that it must be coupled with the plant being drought tolerant – meaning excessive watering could dampen its blooming prowess.

Matching the hardy catmint with the right climate requirements and well-draining soil will sort this issue out. It’s well worth the effort, as this deer-resistant and rabbit-resistant plant can beautify your walkways and garden mounds spectacularly when in full bloom!

 

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