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Gardening 101: Catmint

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Gardening 101: Catmint

March 25, 2019

Catmint, Nepeta

As the name suggests, catmint is a member of the mint family, but please don’t immediately dismiss this beautiful perennial if you’ve had trouble with invasive mint before. Flowering nepeta is much easier to grow, plus more well-behaved.

Catmint is a great beginner’s plant because it is durable, has a long lifespan, succumbs to few pests or problems, and has a long season of blooming, from mid-spring onward.

To learn more about this surprisingly tame mint-relative, please keep reading:

Purple Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ is a foil for Rosa gallica officinalis (known as the apothecary rose, it is an ancient variety found in medieval gardens). See more in Landscaping Ideas: A Classic Cottage Garden on Cape Cod. Photograph by Justine Hand.
Above: Purple Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ is a foil for Rosa gallica officinalis (known as the apothecary rose, it is an ancient variety found in medieval gardens). See more in Landscaping Ideas: A Classic Cottage Garden on Cape Cod. Photograph by Justine Hand.

Blooming begins in mid spring and can continue through summer if the first flush of flowers are deadheaded (shearing off the faded flower spikes above the foliage). Blooms come in soft colors ranging from violet blue, lilac, white and pink and all have aromatic grey-green foliage with a delicate, blousy appearance. Nepeta is hardy in USDA Zones 4-8, so where lavender is not hardy, catmint is a great alternative.

a yellow Leverkusen rose contrasts beautifully with purple Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ against the backdrop of a dry-stacked wall. Photograph by Justine Hand.
Above: a yellow Leverkusen rose contrasts beautifully with purple Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ against the backdrop of a dry-stacked wall. Photograph by Justine Hand.

There are  hundred species of catmint—and many more cultivars. Tip: Purchase only sterile hybrids and avoid any propagated from seed or they could spread willy-nilly.

New varieties of these popular perennials are introduced regularly, so read the plant description before you buy. Some grow much larger than others. for instance, N. ‘Six Hills Giant’ can reach a height of 3 feet at maturity. Others, such as petite Nepeta racemosa ‘Little Titch’, will form a compact mound of green foliage no more than 10 inches high, with long-blooming blue flowers.

Popular and widely available variety, is Nepeta x faassenii is a silvery green perennial that forms mounds to a height of
Above: Popular and widely available variety, is Nepeta x faassenii is a silvery green perennial that forms mounds to a height of 2 feet and wide. It produces carefree lavender flower spikes. Photograph by HQ via Flickr.

Cheat Sheet

  • Many Nepetas are irresistible to felines. Catnip is Nepeta cataria; if you plant it, prepare for energetic rolling and leaf nibbling.
  • Catmint is superb in xeriscape designs, planted next to small boulders and on the edges and paths of carefree cottage gardens.
  • Honeybees adore Nepeta nectar; deer and rabbits luckily leave the plant alone.
  • Plant catmints with other low-water companions such as coneflowers, yarrow, black-eyed Susans, and salvia.
  • Nepeta is a classic ground cover beneath roses as it discreetly and attractively covers the bare knees of rose bushes.
A path to a timber summerhouse is edged with Six Hills Giant catmint. See more of this garden in  Garden Ideas to Steal from Wollerton Old Hall in Shropshire. Photograph by Clare Coulson.
Above: A path to a timber summerhouse is edged with Six Hills Giant catmint. See more of this garden in 10 Garden Ideas to Steal from Wollerton Old Hall in Shropshire. Photograph by Clare Coulson.

Keep It Alive

  • Plant catmint from spring through autumn in a warm, sunny (or partially sunny) spot; it flowers best in full sun.
  • Nepeta appreciates average water but becomes drought-tolerant once established.
  • Catmint can grow well in a variety of soil types.
  • To maintain compactness and urge repeat bloom, trim back spent blooms.
  • Clumps of catmint can be divided in early spring.
Mingling with white hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala petiolaris) in a planting box on a Manhattan balcony is N. faassenii ‘Walker’s Low’. See more in Garden Designer Visit: A Manhattan Terrace with Panoramic Central Park Views. Photograph courtesy of Nicholas Calcott.
Above: Mingling with white hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala petiolaris) in a planting box on a Manhattan balcony is N. faassenii ‘Walker’s Low’. See more in Garden Designer Visit: A Manhattan Terrace with Panoramic Central Park Views. Photograph courtesy of Nicholas Calcott.

In my clients’ gardens, I routinely plant Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’, a stunning tidy mounding cultivar that produces deep blue flowers on upright stems. (It grows to a height of from 18 to 24 inches in clumps that are up to 18 inches wide.)

See more growing tips in Catmint: A Field Guide to Planting, Care & Design in our curated guides to Perennials 101. Read more:

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