Nepeta cataria. Not just for cats! Tall pink and white flower spikes are great in fresh and dried arrangements. Use the leaves in salads, sauces, teas, and soups - and of course fresh or dried for the cats! Catnip seeds are a good choice for a bee attractor that works well in containers on cat-free balconies. Protect seedlings from cats.
Catnip (and a few of its close relatives) contain the compound nepetalactone, which is extremely attractive to domestic and wild cats. It has the same effect on leopards, lynxes, and tigers as it does on house cats. Roughly 33% of all cats do not respond to catnip, and the response is believed to be hereditary.
Known in antiquity as “catswort.” Bees are highly attracted to its flowers, but the flea beetle is deterred by it. The universal appeal of this species to cats is underscored by the fact that the herb’s common name in every Western language contains some variation of the word “cat.” Continue reading below for some pro tips on how to grow catnip from seed.
Season & Zone
Season: Warm season
Exposure: Full sun
Zone: Hardy to Zone 4
Sow seeds indoors in late winter, and transplant or direct sow in 2-6 weeks after the last frost date. Catnip can also be direct sown in the fall where it is to grow. Bottom heat will speed germination. Ideal temperature for germination: 21-27°C (70-80°F). Seeds should sprout in 10-20 days.
Sow on the soil surface or barely covered with perlite. Thin plants or transplant to 30cm (12″) apart. Keep seedlings well protected from cats.
Catnip does very well in containers, raised beds, or borders in full sun to partial shade. The main challenge to growing it is protecting it from cats. After the main bloom, plants should be cut back hard to encourage a second bloom and tidy shape.
To save the summer catmint bounty, harvest when fully grown, and keep the plant picked regularly.
Usual seed life: 5 years.
Attracts pollinators (and cats), but repels aphids, flea beetles, Japanese beetles, ants, weevils, and squash bugs.
More on Companion Planting.