Today’s post is all about growing Catmint, a highly underrated perennial favorite of mine that gives so much and asks so little in return. If you’ve never considered adding catmint to your perennial beds, hopefully this will change your mind.
You don’t hear gardeners singing the praises of catmint often enough, but those who know what a great flowering plant it is to add to their perennial borders are definitely very richly rewarded. I’ve heard catmint referred to as “the most well-behaved perennial” before and I think that’s definitely an accurate description. 🙂 I have the most lovely little grouping of catmint plants in a clump in my garden next to the side porch. I don’t even remember when or where I first picked it up to try it, but I think it was after hearing mention of it in an old episode of Martha Stewart Living. From the time it comes up in low, frosty green, almost silvery, mounds in the early spring, to the time when it finally starts to bloom with its showy sprays of tiny purple flowers from June right through until autumn, it just bring delight and ease to any sunny spot in your garden. The fact that this plant repeat blooms throughout the growing season as long as you keep up with deadheading spent blooms is pretty special for a perennial. Read on to learn more about growing catmint, or nepeta as you may have heard it called, if you’d like to give it a try too.
Do Cats Really Like Catmint?
While catnip and catmint are two totally different plants, cats are actually quite fond of both. It’s a compound called “Nepetalactone”, one of catmint’s volatile oils, that is so stimulating to them. I find that my cat isn’t quite as crazy or obsessive about catmint, but if I break off a little piece of a stem with flowers, or a bit of the aromatic graygreen foliage, he can’t seem to resist rolling all over them. Martha Stewart mentioned in the episode of her old show that I watched that she often found her cats in the line of taller catmint plants she had growing in her garden. It’s really a fun plant to grow if you have cats!
Planting catmint in your flower garden isn’t just great for cats either. Catmint is great for attracting bees and other pollinator species to your flower bed with its spikes of dense blue flowers. My plants always seem to have someone buzzing around in them when they’re in bloom.
Best Time for Planting
Like most herbaceous perennials, the best time to plant them is in the early spring or in the fall, but the second best time to plant them is right when you get them. If it’s mid-summer and you found some catmint plants at the garden centre, or had a friend divide their plant for you, get them in the ground right away and water them well and consistently. Once established, I do find catmint to be fairly drought tolerant and low-maintenance and it loves sunlight and heat. It can even be used in xeriscaping applications quite successfully.
The Best Places to Grow Catmint in Your Garden
Nepeta is definitely a perennial for sunny locations. I have a lot of shady little pockets around my property and when I’ve tried it in shade or part-shade, it just hasn’t thrived quite as well as I would have liked it to and I quickly realized that these are not the perennial plants for a shade garden. Once transplanted into sunny locations, my catmint plants have always been immediately happier. Catmint does best in rich, well-drained soil with full sun and a cottage garden style setting is an ideal place to really show off its beauty. A good layer of mulch around your plants to help the soil retain moisture can be very helpful to help your plants grow well, as with just about any gardening endeavor.
There are quite a few different varieties of catmint available, but the biggest difference between the types is the height of the mature plant, so you’ll want to choose your nepeta variety based on where you want it in your garden. Taller varieties like Six Hills Giant, which can be over 30 inches side, are great in the middle of a perennial border and smaller varieties like “Walker’s Low” catmint, which will reach a peak maximum height of about two feet tall, are absolutely stunning planted right up along a walkway, almost like a ground-cover.
Catmint is appropriate for many different USDA plant hardiness zones, right from zones 3-9. Here’s in zone 6b, it’s very content indeed.
Dividing and Transplanting Nepeta
One of the things that makes catmint so “well-behaved” is that it doesn’t have a fast growing habit like some other perennials. Its progress is slow and steady and it reaches its full mature size eventually, but not right away in the first season. When it comes to propagation by dividing and transplanting your catmint plants, you’ll want to keep this in mind. To make more plants out of your single catmint plant, dig up the entire plant, cut its root ball in half with a sharp spade or shovel, and replant each half in a different location. It’s best to do this in the spring when the plant is still fairly small, but you can get an idea of its overall size because catmint dies back completely during winters.
The plants should be happy right away with regular watering and lots of sun, but you’ll find that it might take your newly-divided plants up to two years to regrow to full size. They should bloom as normal immediately after transplanting, but the overall size of the plant will just be a bit smaller during that first growing season. The gardener who has patience will be rewarded though because a garden full of catmint is worth the wait.
That’s just about everything you’ll need to know about how to grow this favorite plant of mine! Where do you have catmint in your garden?
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Courtenay Hartford is the author of creeklinehouse.com, a blog based on her adventures renovating a 120-year-old farmhouse in rural Ontario, Canada. On her blog, Courtenay shares interior design tips based on her own farmhouse and her work as founder and stylist of the interior photography firm Art & Spaces. She also writes about her farmhouse garden, plant-based recipes, family travel, and homekeeping best practices. Courtenay is the author of the book The Cleaning Ninja and has been featured in numerous magazines including Country Sampler Farmhouse Style, Better Homes and Gardens, Parents Magazine, Real Simple, and Our Homes.