Common names: Catnip
The common names catnip and catnep are, for all intents and purposes, the same name and as anyone who has grown this plant will attest to – it drives cats crazy. Interestingly enough, they only tend to bother those plants that are already bruised in some way to release the distinctive fragrance of this member of the mint family. The old garden saying, “If you set it, the cats will eat it, If you sow it, the cats won’t know it.” holds true. Cats don’t bother the plant unless the leaves have been crushed or they learn its location after crushing.
Nepeta itself is, rather unromantically, the name used by the Roman Pliny for the plant. Historians think it may have been named after Nepi – in Italy.
- Height: 12” to 36”
- Sun needed: Full
- Bloom color: Blues/whites
- Bloom time: Midsummer
- Planting space: 18” to 24” apart
- Soil preferred: Open sandy soils, well drained
- Propagation method: Seed, cuttings, division
There has been some discussion among botanists about the general plant classifications in this family. It wasn’t all that long ago that many of the common garden varieties were classified as forms of N. x faassenii. This always confused me because the original N. x faassenii is a sterile hybrid and it is this confusion that likely proves I am not a botanist. In the latest go-round of name classification, the varieties have been moved into different families and it this format that I present to you. No matter what species they are lumped under, the variety names will hold true as will their wonderful garden performance.
‘Citriodora’ is a lemon-scented catnip that deserves a place in the garden for its lemon-fragrant leaves. The flowers are not overly spectacular so grow it in the herb garden.
Nepeta x faassenii
This is a sterile garden clone and is the classic 18” tall, pale lavender-blue garden plant.
This is my favorite in the family. It grows to 36” tall in my garden and with a bit of support from nearby plants, stands upright to give a wonderful display of blue-violet flowers.
‘Bramdean’ well shaped – not leggy and lavender-blue flowers for extended bloom time
‘Dawn to Dusk’ soft pink blooms with a darker calyx
‘Pool Bank’ rich blue flowers and darker calyces, long blooming
This is a 12 to 18” tall form with many varieties worthy of garden space.
‘Arctic Blue’ soft powdery blue flowers – long blooming.
‘Karen’s Blue’ soft blue flowers and quite compact growing
‘Little Titch’ mauve blue and quite ground-hugging
‘Snowflake’ small white flowers but not impressive (unless you like white catnip)
‘Superba’ mauve flowers with darker calyces
‘Walker’s Low’ a blue-mauve and very long flowering in my garden
The species grows upwards of 36”
‘Blue Beauty’ (Souvenir d’Andre Chaudron in Europe) is shorter than the species at 18 to 24” tall but is a long blooming variety. The flowers are a deep lavender-blue and held upright over the plant with little need for support. This variety does tend to wander a bit so a yearly shovel edging will be required.
Nepeta x sintenisii
This is the new botanic listing for one of the best garden varieties.
‘Six Hills Giant’ this U.K. developed plant should be in every perennial garden. Its deep violet-blue flowers are quite spectacular on 18 to 24” tall plants.
This plant is now listed in some garden catalogs. Up to a few years ago, it was only found in specialist seed catalogs. It has good glossy foliage and a mounding growth habit. The flowers are lavender-blue and quite large. Well worth finding and growing as it makes an excellent garden show. This species needs well-drained soils if it is to survive the winter in colder climates. It blooms a bit later than most of the other catnips but while some authors place it as a fall-blooming plant, it does not act that way in my garden.
Nepeta x hybrida
‘Dropmore Blue’ is an excellent Canadian introduction and easily found. At 12”, it demands a place in the front of the border but it has long-lasting bright blue flowers for an extended blooming season (one of the longest blooming Nepeta varieties). Its long blooming season makes it ideal for perennial container growing.
I love this plant and grow several different species and varieties. The deep blue of the flowers is welcomed in mid-summer and on a still night, I enjoy wandering the garden and giving the plants a brush with my hand to release their fragrance. This family wants full sunshine and gets rather floppy if shade is provided instead. The soil should be well-drained.
Once established the plants will grow in drier ground but they do best in average garden soil with regular waterings. Several of the species will have to be kept in check with a yearly edging with shovels and they do like to wander about the garden by self-sowing. Luckily, they are easily weeded and haven’t become a nuisance. I note that more fertile soils will create bushier growth but reduce the flowering. A single application of compost in early spring or very late fall is all this plant requires for food.
This plant will rebloom if sheared after the original blooming is finished. The problem with this is that as soon as you shear it, the neighborhood cats will go berserk and likely invade and flatten the remaining plant in their all-consuming desire to cover themselves with the catnip fragrance.
Potions and Poisons
There are no special concerns with this culinary herb. It has been used for years for calming and headache cures as well as inducing sweating.
Catnip as Insect Repellent Research
Catnip Chemical Repels Lady Beetles (and Other Insects)
Let me start out by saying that the plant itself is not likely going to have any influence – it is the chemical within the plant that has the effect.
Now, if you could figure out a way to constantly keep the plant “bruised” so it would emit the fragrance constantly – then maybe…. But still – one never knows so I present this to you for your edification and amusement.
In the fall, when the weather chills down, the multicolored Asian lady beetle, Harmonia axyridis, comes inside—sometimes in large swarms—to escape the cold. It’s an unwelcome guest because when it feels threatened, it releases a nontoxic yellow liquid that smells and produces stains.
But in this study, researchers found that almost all adult male and female lady beetles tried to avoid the compound nepetalactone (found in catnip)—and note it also shows promise for repelling some cockroaches, flies, termites, and mosquitoes.
In the future, we might see sprays containing this compound or smellier plants (that come with cats attached to lie in the catnip) 🙂 or some kind of trap.
But for now – I’ll let you experiment with potpourri made from catnip or hanging bouquets around doorways etc. and don’t count on it working really well but….