Catnip Plant: How To Grow And Care For Catnip

Commonly known as the “Catnip plant” Nepeta cataria is an easy to grow hardy perennial herb and one of the top mosquito repellant plants belonging to the catmint plant group or mint family.

Cats find its scent addictive so if you grow catnip in your garden, expect many cats in your neighborhood to stay play around this plant. Its pungent fragrance highly excites and attracts cats. Another Nepata commonly known as catmint, Nepata mussinnii, does not generally appeal to cats.

The catnip leaves that work as marijuana for cats appear coarse-toothed and elliptical to triangular in shape. Apart from attracting cats to your garden, anyone can use the leaves and other parts of the catnip for a variety of purposes.

catnip plant nepeta cataria

Naturalized in parts of North America, catnip grows to 3-4 feet with downy and light green foliage. It produces small lavender flowers on spikes up to 5” long. [1]

How To Grow And Care For The Catnip Plant

With proper growing and catnip plant care, you will easily grow your plant and help it produce more flowers.

While planting catnip, till the soil to a depth of 3 to 4 inches, and add 1 inch of compost. Work the compost into the top soil.  Catnip does well in many soils but prefer a moderately rich loam and well-drained soil.

Plant catnip seeds 15 to 18 inches apart with the seeds slightly covered. Water the seeds lightly after planting, try to keep the soil moist during the growing season.

The perennial plant catnip grows in a soil pH range of 6 (mildly acidic) to 7.5 (mildly alkaline). Seeds germinate in 7 to 10 days but can sprout in as few as 5 or 6 in propagation media such as oasis root cubes.

When grown outdoors in USDA zones 3a through 9b, catnip prefers full sun but will tolerate partial shade. They can grow indoors under standard fluorescent lights and will do exceptionally well under high output T5 fluorescent plant grow lights.

Why Cats Love Catnip?

Ever wonder why cats roll around the leaves of catnip plant?

This is because of the active ingredient called nepetalactone. When cats smell this substance from the leaves or stems, it stimulates their receptors that detect pheromones. Due to this, cats experience an overwhelming amount of happiness. Some will just roll around while licking the catnip leaves, while others would just sniff it.

Catnip nepeta works as a mild feline hallucinogen. However, it does not pose any danger to cats. Catnip contains the same properties as the male cat urine. This may cause the feline friends to appear as though in heat.

Some pet owners use catnip to keep their cats indoors. They first dry the catnip leaves by hanging or over drying. Then, they sprinkle dry catnip leaves to a pillow, cushion or an old sock making it a homemade catnip toy. You may also use fresh catnip leaf as it provides more excitement.

Watering Catnip

Water young plants twice a week for the first two weeks, reduce watering to every other week after plants become well established. The plant is drought tolerant and can resist heat as it grows older. During the dry catnip season and high temperatures, increase watering to once a week or even more if needed.

Fertilizing The Catnip Plant

Feed catnip plants with a water-soluble fertilizer every two weeks. Begin fertilizing the soil two weeks after planting and continue until the first week of the summer season. Suspend fertilizing during fall and winter as the plants will not use the nutrients. Follow instructions on the label for proper application.

Mulch Application

Apply a 1 to 2 inch layer of mulch around the base of the plant during late fall before the first frost. Mulching helps plants survive the cold temperatures. Remove the layer of mulch in early spring as soon as the new growth emerges. Hay, bark or leaf mold works well for mulching catnips.[3]

Pruning Of The Herb

Remove spent flowers by pinching them off to prevent self-seeding. After flowering, catnips become scraggly and need cutting back.

Prune after the first bloom to encourage a second flowering before the winter season. Cut the catnip plants down to 3 or 4 inches after the first frost. This helps encourage new healthy growth during the spring.

Propagating The Catnip Plant

Apart from seeds, you can propagate the catnip herb via stems tip cuttings during spring and summer. [4]

  • Use 3-4 inch long cuttings of stems.
  • Remove all the leaves except the top two or four.
  • To encourage branching, pinch the cutting at the tip.
  • Dip the end in rooting hormone and place in a rooting medium.
  • Keep the soil and cuttings moist. Monitor them for a week or two.
  • Cuttings take around 5 days begin to show roots in the soil.

Pests and Diseases

Catnips are susceptible to spider mites and whitefly. Since the herb comes from the mint family the herb is prone to diseases such as mint rust, anthracnose and verticillium wilt. [5]

Uses For The Catnip Herb

The herb is often taken as tea to calm stomach upsets and also help with sleep. Also used for medicinal purposes for treating:

  • Headaches
  • Coughing
  • Insomnia
  • Smallpox
  • Scarlet fever

Studies have also shown it used as a natural healing quality when applied on cuts. Other medicinal uses are as an:

  • Astringent
  • Antibiotic
  • For toothache

… and much more.

All in all, the primary uses for the catnip herb are for culinary or medicinal purposes. The catnip tea serves as a mild sedative especially if combined with mint, chamomile and lemon balm. [6] [7]

Catnips are also used for landscaping as a ground cover and considered a mosquito and insect repellent plant. Extracts from the plant can be used to create essential oils. The catnip oil also repel cockroaches, dust mites, deer mites and ticks.

Apart from cats and lots cats, the effect of catnip can also attract bees, butterflies and birds.

Catnip Cautions

In some areas catnip is considered an invasive plant or noxious weed.

The plant self-sows, remove the flowers to reduce volunteer seedlings the next season.

Pregnant women should avoid catnips as it induces uterine contractions which are dangerous.