How to Grow Catmint (Beginner’s Guide)

Catmint is often outspoken by its bigger sister catnip, but it offers plenty to like about it.

(They’re technically NOT the same plant!)

People often use “catmint” and “catnip” interchangeably because they’re so similar!

For starters, it’s deer, rabbit, and pest-resistant. It doesn’t need water other than rainfall. It doesn’t even need plant food.

And it’s a flowering perennial that’ll provide you with blooms for years. Plus, you can harvest it and use it for recipes or tea.

It’s like the catnip made for people.

Let’s dive in and learn about this flowering perennial and give it the attention it deserves.

Last updated: 11/10/21.

Quick care guide: Catmint

Plant type Perennial
Origin Europe, Asia, Africa
Scientific name Nepeta
Other names Catnip, catswort, catwort, Nepeta cataria, dwarf catnip, catnep, field balm
Soil type Loamy, well-draining, sandy, dry, rocky, clay
Soil pH 6-7 (slightly acidic)
Sunlight requirement Full sun, partial sun
Bloom season Spring, summer
Colors Purple, blue, white, green, yellow, pink, violet, gray
Max height 6 feet
Max width 3 feet
Low temperature 50F
High temperature 85F
Ideal temperature range 60F
Humidity Medium
Watering requirements Often during first year of growth, minimal afterwards
Fertilizer requirements None
Fertilizer NPK 5-10-5
Days until germination 2-3 weeks
Days until bloom Less than 1 year
Speed of growth Moderate
Hardiness zones 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10
Plant depth 0.25″
Plant spacing 12-18″
Propagation Seeds, division, cuttings
Common pests Spider mites, gastropods, thrips
Common diseases Root rot, bulb rot, powdery mildew
Indoor plant No
Outdoor plant Yes
Grown in container Yes
Flowering plant Yes
Beginner friendly Yes
Care level Low
Uses Decoration, color, centerpiece, pathing, bordering, background plant, foreground plant, compliment plant, pollinator attractor, pest repellent, culinary, teas

What’s catmint?

 

Catmint, also known as dwarf catnip, catwort, or confused with catnip, is a lesser-known ornamental herb that has a lot more uses than its popular counterpart, catnip.

In my opinion, you can use this little gem of a plant for landscaping, plant cover, and even herbal tea.

You can also use it in a variety of culinary dishes to add some flavor. Unlike catnip, catmint is also prettier to the eyes with its blue-purple flowers and lush green foliage. It’s highly debatable, but why not be a little bit hipster and grow the lesser-known Nepeta?

It also has natural insect repelling properties and can be planted with a variety of companion plants. Deer-resistant, rabbit-proof, plus it’s hardy to most climates for up to 24 inches of height!

It has a dense, weedy appearance and may get messy if you don’t keep it trimmed. It’s jungle time! If you don’t like the weedy look there are cleaner compact variants like Fasseen’s.

Catmint comes from Africa, Asia, and Europe and was brought to the Americas in the 1800s. It’s been used as a culinary ingredient, food, meds, and cat fodder. It can make cats go euphoric due to the nepetalactone inside the leaves.

It’s a cool-weather perennial that flowers with trumpet-shaped blooms with green/gray foliage. It smells slightly minty and similar to catnip. It blooms especially well in the spring and early summertime, followed by a brief lull period in the peak summer.

Then it’ll resume blooming in the fall if it’s cut back.

The flowers are white, blue, or pink. The foliage is lush green. They’re excellent for pathing, edging, or bordering. It’s a crawling plant that rarely grows more than a few inches. But there are a few taller cultivars like the Six Hills Giant.

It’s easy to grow as it’s very beginner-friendly. It’s very low maintenance and requires no work.

The foliage is billowing with spiky flowers that bloom in the early summer. It can add some nice color to your garden early during the season. It also blooms over and over during the summer and fall.

Types of catmint

There are over 200 different types of Nepeta perennials and more are being discovered by growers each year.

However, only about 2 dozen are actively being grown. Note that the majority of catmint is sterile from the nursery so you may not be able to propagate it.

Some of the most popular ones are the following:

  • Walker’s Low (blue flowers and clean look)
  • Snowflake (white blooms with 12” height)
  • White Wonder (similar to snowflake)
  • Blue Wonder (1-2 feet tall with dark blue blooms)
  • Fassen’s catmint
  • Persian catmint

What’s the difference between catmint and catnip?

A lot of people consider them to be the same thing and use catmint vs. catnip interchangeably.

The truth is that they’re actually different species, which is why they have different names. They possess similar characteristics and the care for each is nearly identical. The main difference is their blooming seasons, height, and variants. Catnip is cold hardy and does well in similar zones.

Both are part of the mint family. Catnip is weedier. Catmint is prettier. Catmint blooms more often than catnip with white flowers.

How to propagate catmint

Catmint flower closeup shot macro.
Look at those petals, friend. (By Tanaka Juuyoh – https://www.flickr.com/photos/tanaka_juuyoh/8929943172, CC BY 2.0)

There are multiple ways to grow catmint, but the most rewarding (and fun) is from seed.

That way, you get to see it grow from a baby and reap the rewards of it. We’ll cover both growing from seed and divisions. Both of them are super easy.

From seed

This is the recommended method because you can control what goes into it. If you want organic catmint, you can get organic seeds, use organic soil, etc. Most hardware stores or nurseries sell the seed packets. Or you can order them online.

The best time to plant catmint is in the spring. Note that even though it’s an herb, it does require a lot of space between each plant. So be prepared for that.

Start by using a planting kit (seed starter). You can also use a 3” pot with potting mix.

Sow seeds indoors over the winter for spring planting. Plant 2-3 seeds per compartment and water. Each seed only needs a tad bit of soil backfill. No need to go overboard. These things plant themselves. Cover with a humidity dome and place near a sunny window.

Keep it moist and humid, but not waterlogged. If you don’t have a strong source of sunlight, use a grow light. If the last frost has passed, you can sow outdoors.

Note that cold stratified seeds (storing in the freezer for 1 night, the water for 1 night) can help increase germination rate.

Within 1-2 weeks, you should see them germinate. Remove the cover and continue to water over the winter. Keep them warm until after the last frost. Then they’re ready to be planted in your garden.

When you transplant them to the garden, you need to provide adequate space between each plant, or else they can overcrowd.

When they do, they’re prone to fungus or mildew issues due to the dense foliage. It traps moisture between the leaves and in the soil, so this causes leaf spot, blight, etc.

Plant each one at least 30cm apart. Water lightly and keep moist. Thin to at least 12” apart.

Rooting

You can root it by digging up the soil around it and then gently cutting it in half. Then plant each one as its plant.

Each piece should have its piece of the root system and replant them about 12 inches apart.

Do this regularly every 2-3 years to keep it producing. If you don’t divide it, it’ll start to lull. Avoid rooting in the peak summer season. Cut vertically with a garden shear.

Cuttings

It doesn’t get easier than this. Cut the stems and then plant them before flower buds form.

Do this in the spring after the last frost and you’re good to go. It does cut your flower yield in half and will slow down the blooms for the season, but you’ll double your number of plants.

They can be cut from the top 3-4 inches of each stem. Remove the leaves from the stem and only keep the top few pairs. Root with rooting hormone and then plant the exposed end into a container or soil in a protected location. Water as normal.

You can test if it’s rooted by tugging on it after 3-4 weeks. You can then transplant it into it’s a new home or flower pot.

Some people root their plants indoors in a jar of water.

As long as none of the leaves are submerged, you should be fine. Replace the water every other day and watch for roots.

How to grow catmint

This section has a bunch of guidelines to get the most out of your catmint plant. Note that depending on the cultivar you have, care may vary.

But the care should be relatively similar for all types of Nepeta. No need to get analysis paraysis over it.

Hardiness zone

Catmint grows best in USDA zones 4-8. It can grow in warmer zones, but it doesn’t tolerate excessive heat or afternoon scorching well.

It can also be planted in lower zones even if it’s cold, but it’ll need some compost or winter mulch for protection. For best results, plant within the ideal zones range.

Soil

Catmint isn’t picky and does fine in any type of soil as long as it’s well-draining.

Avoid using soil that’s overly clumpy as this can lead to water back up and make it wet or soggy.

This can cause root rot or mildew issues. Add mulch to help retain moisture and prevent excess watering. It thrives in lean soils with dryer conditions. This will help encourage more flowering and stronger scents.

Humus-rich soil is ideal. You can use dry soils, clay soils, rocky soils, or potting mix if you’re growing catmint in a container or pot. Fertile soil produces bushier plants.

pH

Catmint prefers slightly acidic soil with pH between 5-7. You can lower the pH of your soil by using lime or other natural amendments.

If you don’t know what your soil’s metrics are, use a soil test kit. Catmint is tolerant of different soil types so it’ll probably adapt regardless.

Plant depth

Plant each seedling 0.25″ deep with barely any soil covering it. If you’re doing cuttings or root divisions, plant it as deep as the original catmint plant.

Spacing

Space each catmint plant at least 12” apart, but 18” is preferred. They grow dense foliage and will compete and also raise the humidity of the garden, which may lead to mildew or fungus. Container planting helps because it makes it easier to control.

Mulch your soil regularly to help keep the moisture retained. It also helps eliminate weeds, which will compete with your catmint for nutrients. Compost, bark, or straw help improve plant vigor and control temperature.

Sunlight

Catmint is tolerant of heat, so it can be placed in direct sunlight if you want the best yield. It can also be grown in partial sunlight if you have hot weather in the summertime to prevent scorching.

There are different types of catmint, but most will prefer full sun. It blooms in late spring to mid-summer with blue, white, and violet colors. If you prune it right, it’ll bloom once again in the fall.

Watering

Water regularly (1 inch per week for the first season) on a schedule until the plants are established with their first few pairs of leaves.

Once they grow tall enough (3-4 inches tall), you can tone it down. You can use a mulch to help reduce frequency. Don’t let it go dry between waterings.

Keep it moist, but not wet. No need to worry about it. They’re relatively hard to drought, so no need to overwater.

Account for rainfall and hot days, both of which will call for a watering adjustment. Note that once it’s fully established, catmints will rarely need supplemental watering other than the occasional water to keep the soil nice and moist.

First-year plants are when you water the most, but then, they become drought tolerant next season. So reduce watering.

Shredded bark, straw, or mulch can help retain water and reduce weeds. It also improves drainage, which is critical for catmint.

Humidity

They like moderate humidity. Avoid excess humidity by pruning, cutting foliage, and spacing properly. Don’t overwater and keep it dry. 

Temperature

Catmint can tolerate heat and drought but prefer cooler temperatures. Afternoon shade helps them thrive, so choose your planting location well.

They grow best in zones 4-8. High heat will hurt them as will humidity, but this is only for the most extreme locations.

Plant food

Catmint doesn’t need fertilizer or plant food. Under typical conditions, they don’t need any supplemental foods or soil amendments and do fine on their own.

If you add plant food and you don’t know what you’re doing, you can end up with stems that flop or lots of leaves and fewer flowers. If this is the case, stop fertilizer by weaning off or use one that has less nitrogen (NPK).

Other than some mulch or compost supplemented to the base of the plant in the fall, you don’t have to worry. Once rooted, it needs no other supplements or food.

Too much plant food will make it grow skinny leaves. Remember: it thrives when you neglect it.

Pruning

Prune when plants are 8cm tall.

This will help them grow even more and become bushier. If your plants are thin or leggy, it means they either don’t have enough plant food, excess nitrogen in the fertilizer/soil, or lack of pruning.

Prune regularly to help encourage growth. Remove the spent blooms immediately. Deadhead as winter comes plus throughout the summer and fall.

This will promote more flowers. It also helps the plant from reseeding. Use a sterilized pair of shears or pruners and cut them back to half their size.

Note that some of your catmint may enter a summer lull period when the first blooms are done. Cut them back by ⅓ to help encourage another round and new leaves. Cutting them back helps them grow more, as backward as it sounds.

Catmint is floppy and bushy that max out at 2 feet tall and about 2 feet wide.

But some will grow taller and others wider. This makes them good for coverage, but you need to keep it well-draining or else risk fungal infections.

Shearing regularly helps to get it to bloom again during the season. This is how you encourage repeating blooming when they’re done initially flowering.

The second round of blooms won’t be as voluminous as the first one, but at least you have one!

Overwintering

Catmint is hardy in zones 4-8, but if you grow it in a lower zone, it may need winter protection.

You can add some tidbits of mulch to help protect it from the cold, or use a cold frame. If it’s too cold, it’ll wither and you’ll have to replant it indoors over the winter.

But that means you’re growing it as an annual, which is fine.

Compost can be used around the base of the plants in the spring with barked mulch to help deter weeds. It also helps retain moisture in the substrate.

Harvesting

If catmint is cared for properly (or lack thereof!) It’ll bloom continuously throughout the spring and fall. Just be sure to deadhead as it blooms to encourage it to keep growing.

Harvest when the plant is established and the flowers are in full bloom. You can use the cuttings fresh or dried. They can also be frozen to keep them stored for extended periods.

Catmint tea is refreshingly minty and tasty during the winter. The leaves can be harvested when they’re around 6 inches tall. But the longer you let it be, the more concentrated the flavor becomes.

Harvest in the evening after all the water has dried. Cut the top ⅓ of the stem as much as you need.

The leaves can be dried by hanging them in a bunch in a dark dry room until they crumble. Store in mason jars or bags in a dark area out of sunlight.

Companion planting

Catmint companion plants.
Peonies bring out the reds while catmint does the blues.

Some of the best plants to grow with catmint are the ones that offer complementary coloring. Think of pink and blue, or pink and white, etc.

Consider planting with yarrow, iris, daylilies, daisies, peonies, coreopsis, and delphiniums. It’s a good filler plant to use between gaps and offers more color for your garden. It grows well as a rock garden plant or near a wall for that cascading effect.

It can also cover up dirty plants with nasty bases, like rose bushes. So it serves a variety of purposes. Bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds will come.

Pests

Catmint is a relatively pest-free herb but some of its biggest annoyances are thrips.

Thankfully, aphids, cabbage worms, squash bugs, and the other most common garden pests aren’t willing to take a bite out of it. If you notice a thrip infestation, use manual removal, insecticidal soap, neem oil, or horticultural oil. Use as directed.

Dish soap also works.

Spider mites, slugs, and other gastropods can show up. You can control them with beer traps or by spraying them down with a hose.

It’s resistant to deer and attracts birds, bees, and other beneficial pollinators.

Diseases

The main issues you need to watch out for are fungal problems. These are common if the plant is left to grow crazily and covers the soil with its dense leaves.

This raises the humidity and prevents evaporation, which can lead to mildew, fungus, or leaf spot. Cooler wet weather can result in yellow rings on the leaves.

Dry up the water and prune the infested foliage. Blight may be caused by the Cercospora fungi, which brings yellow circles that turn brown on the wilted leaves. Again, dispose of infected leaves and keep them dry.

Don’t touch the catmint when it’s wet, get rid of moisture, keep weeds in control, and remove infested foliage. This should help get rid of leaf spot and blight.

Best uses

Catmint can be used for cooking, teas, boiled stews, and soups. It can also be used to repel pests when placed next to pest-prone plants.

The leaves can be preserved in an airtight container to persevere. The plant is versatile because it can be used fresh, dried, or frozen for storage.

Smaller varieties can be good for flower beds or mixed beds. Annual veggies can be benefited because they bring in beneficial pollinators.

It also suits mixed beds or xeriscapes with dry conditions. It needs no water when established other than rainwater. You won’t believe it until you try it.

Catmint is also commonly planted near roses. The colors of it complement roses and the green foliage covers the rose knees.

Catmint also does well as a boarding or pathing plant where it can add some foliage. It can also be planted to contrast other spiky plants like yucca.

Common questions about catmint care

 

Here are some other commonly asked questions about catmint care that you may find useful.

If you have more questions that need answers, post a comment at the end of this page and I’ll get back to you.

Can cats eat catmint?

Catmint will make cats go crazy like they’re drunk because of the natural oils in the foliage.

Consider cat-proofing your flower bed if you plan to grow it. If cats eat it, it acts as a stimulant like coffee or energy drinks. It gets them up and feisty.

Small amounts won’t harm your cat unless it’s sensitive or has allergies. But you shouldn’t let them munch on it on purpose. Note that it has the opposite effect on dogs.

Is catmint easy to grow?

Yes, catmint is extremely easy to grow. It basically takes care of itself once you get it started.

It only requires care in its first year with regular watering and pruning. After that, it’s just a matter of pruning it, collecting/harvesting, and then propagate it.

It can be used in xeriscapes or areas with poor water reach.

Can you grow catmint in pots?

Yes, catmint can be grown in containers. This is easier to deal with because you can move it with ease.

Just make sure that the container you use is big enough (tiny plants will do OK in 3” diameter containers). Upgrade as needed. Avoid plant food as it builds up. Don’t overwater.

There should be at least 3 drainage ports on the bottom. Use rocks or pebbles at the base to help it drain and prevent clogging.

When you’re using pots, you must use a higher quality soil because it’s a smaller controlled environment for your plant to consume nutrients from the surroundings. When you upgrade pots, do NOT use the same soil. Reseed it with fresh soil.

Is catmint poisonous to dogs?

Catmint shouldn’t harm dogs in small quantities, but your dog may be sensitive or allergic to it.

So avoid contact by fencing it off. Nepeta contains an oil that has the opposite effect on dogs compared to cats.

It usually makes them sleepy and tired, whereas cats will be jumpy and alert. The oil in the leaves may adversely affect your dog’s behavior, so avoid ingestion.

What can I plant next to catmint?

You can plant complimentary plants that have matching color combinations or complimentary colors. It also does well with edible plants because it brings in pollinators.

Plant non competing perennials so it doesn’t sap up the nutrients and stunt the other ones.

Some good choices are salvia, yarrow, lamb’s ear, winecups, Jupiter’s Beard, poppy mallow, southernwood, catnip, rue, daisies, etc.

Does catmint attract bees?

Catmint will do more than bees. It also brings in birds and other beneficial pollinators to your garden.

So if you have veggies growing or other edible plants in your garden, you can use the bait of catmint to help get them pollinated. Bees, birds, wasps, etc.

The good insects that want in your yard.

Does catmint grow in the shade?

While catmint does well in partial sunlight (shade), it does best in full sun. It likes cool weather with dry conditions. If you want the best yield, opt for full sun.

However, if it’s especially hot, partial sun is good. It completely depends on your climate.

Why is my catmint floppy?

Taller variations will flop when they’re tall or when there are excess nutrients in the soil.

Consider reducing plant food or staking to help prop it up. If you notice yellow or brown circles on the leaves, there’s probably a leaf spot or blight situation going on.

Don’t overwater. Stop supplementing with fertilizer. Prune regularly.

Further reading/references

No wonder why cats like it

Catmint leaves.
It’s all yours!

With its minimal maintenance, ease of care, and versatility of catmint, it’s the one perennial herb that gives and gives.

Border your garden. Compliment roses. Repel aphids. Use it to boil tea or add some flavor to your dishes.

It requires no plant food. No water when established. And reseeds itself without your intervention. It can be grown in your garden soil or in your favorite pot. You can even fresh cut it, friend.

What more could you want from a garden plant that doesn’t ask for a whole lot?

What do you think? Do you have any questions or tips for catmint care? Post your thoughts in the comments and let the world know!

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