Fragrant catnip has a heady effect on cats.
image by cygnus921: flickr.com
It's no myth about cats loving catnip. The aromatic member of the mint family drives them crazy, makes them loony, and even makes them sleepy when luxuriating in the heady stuff. But if you really want to please your kitty, grow some fresh catnip. Many folks don't know that what you grow yourself is far more potent and feline-pleasing than the dried stuff you buy in the grocery store. Catnip seeds are easy to sow and grow in the outdoor garden, but may very well present you with an annoyance. You'll quickly be adopted and relentlessly plagued by every neighborhood cat within a couple of miles. Better to sprout it indoors and transplant to cat-proof hanging baskets outside.
Cut the top from an empty Styrofoam egg carton to make a very handy seed-starting tray. The tray will provide you with small clumps of catnip seedlings that will be very easy to transplant. Poke several drainage holes in the bottom of each cell with a toothpick or fork.
Fill the cells up to a quarter-inch from their tops with potting soil. Make an eighth-inch hollow in the center of the soil in each cell with your finger. Put a tiny pinch of catnip seeds in each hollow and gently cover them with soil, even with the surface.
Moisten the soil with a spritz of water from a plastic squirt bottle, but don't make it soggy. Cover the planting tray tightly with a sheet of plastic wrap, or seal it in a clear plastic bag to create a mini-greenhouse.
Set the growing tray in a warm, sunny windowsill in a location safe from your own inquisitive feline. Check the soil daily to make sure that it's still moist. It shouldn't be allowed to dry out. Remove the plastic when the sprouts begin peeking out of the soil. Keep them growing inside on your windowsill until they're about 2 inches tall.
Transplant your catnip seedlings to sunny locations outdoors. You can separate the clumps into individual plants and space them about 18 inches apart in your garden. Or you can simply move them in clumps. Just keep in mind that they are fast growers and will voraciously take over planting areas, so you might want to contain their spreading growth habit. Be sure to keep catnip uniformly moist, but not wet.
Transplant seedling clumps into hanging baskets if you want to grow them outside but have no desire to have hordes of cats rolling around in your planting beds. This will keep cats out of the desirable herbs while they're becoming well established. You also can transplant some of them into pretty indoor containers if you wish.
Pinch shoots back when the catnip plants are 3 inches to 4 inches tall to encourage bushy growth and promote prolific summer blooming.
Harvest catnip when the flowers start blooming. Shear off the upper stems, leaves and flowers. You can use all parts fresh, frozen or dried.