How to Care for Catmint
You've planted your catmint (Nepta spp.) in a sunny location with well-drained soil and you're waiting for it to thrive. You may have already picked some for its pleasant aroma, or as a gift for your feline friends. To keep your catmint looking its best, you need to give it ongoing care and attention.
Hardy from U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 to 8, c*atmint doesn't like soil that's overly fertile*, so unless you have exceptionally poor soil quality as determined through a soil sample test, there's no real need to pile on the fertilizer. The National Gardening Association recommends laying down approximately 1/4 inch of compost once a year in either the spring or fall to keep your catmint well fed. A thin layer of compost allows the organic material to break down into the soil quicker.
Catmint might practically thrive on neglect, but pruning it keeps it looking its best. Prune it after the first flush of bloom -- usually in late spring -- to ensure a second blooming later in the summer, shearing the entire catmint plant back by about one third.
Catmint isn't as aggressive as its relative, catnip (Nepeta cataria, hardy from USDA zones 3 to 7), but it still can take over a garden if it isn't properly tended to. Choose a season when the catmint plant is dormant, either early spring or late fall, and divide plants about once every three to four years. Water the newly divided plants regularly until they're well established.
Catmint likes well-drained soil, and thrives in full sun -- though some cultivars like a little afternoon shade. Water young plants or recently transplanted catmint with some frequency -- about 1 inch of water each week is sufficient to ensure a healthy plant. Older catmint plants are drought tolerant and take the same amount every three to four weeks. To test if your catmint needs water, insert a finger into the soil approximately 1 inch. If the soil feels dry, water the plant.
Pests aren't a huge problem with catmint -- most of the usual garden menaces don't like the smell of catmint and avoid it. While this is good news when it comes to bugs and other creepy crawlies, you may still have trouble with other critters -- namely, cats -- although a hungry deer can also make quick work of your catmint. While catmint isn't a huge feline favorite, some of the older cultivars can entice feline visitors to roll around, eat the plant or just generally destroy it through play. For example, Six Hills Giant (Nepeta faassenii 'Six Hills Giant') is one of the most cat-attractive types of Nepeta, as well as one of the largest. Avoid damage if you have cats in your yard by erecting a dome of chicken wire to protect young or fragile plants.
Catmint Vs. Lavender
Both catmint and lavender bear spikes of pale purple flowers, but each plant has varieties with flower colors ranging from white to dark purple. Although there are some differences among species, most species of lavender have narrow, dark green to gray-green leaves. Lavender blooms appear from early through midsummer. The plant grows to about 1 foot tall and spreads to approximately 2 feet wide. Catmint will need protection from cats with chicken wire or by inserting thin, 8- to 10-inch sticks into the ground among the foliage. Being related to mint, catmint can spread easily to areas of the garden where you may not want it. Lavender is mostly trouble-free as long as it has good air flow and soil drainage to prevent mildew.
- Pests aren't a huge problem with catmint -- most of the usual garden menaces don't like the smell of catmint and avoid it.
- Being related to mint, catmint can spread easily to areas of the garden where you may not want it.
Nepeta is a clumping perennial. To successfully divide catmint, use a pointed shovel or spading fork to dig around the entire plant, approximately 4 to 6 inches from the plant itself. Pry the clump of catmint you wish to transplant away from the main plant using your tool and disentangle the root system, being careful to leave as much of the root system in place on both the parent plant and the division as possible. Plant the division immediately.
Even though newly divided plants need plenty of water, make sure your soil drains well. Catmint that stays continuously wet dies easily, no matter the season. First the leaves discolor, and then the plant is gone. If you have heavy clay soil, amend it to include extra organic material to help with the drainage.
- The New Sunset Western Garden Book; Kathleen Norris Brenzel, Editor
- Washington State University Extension: Plants for Water Wise Pollinator Gardens: Catmint (Nepeta Faassinii and Hybrids) N. x Faassenii, N. Mussinii
- Washington State University Extension: Plants for Water Wise Pollinator Gardens: Lavender (Lavandula Species)
Elizabeth Tumbarello has been writing since 2006, with her work appearing on various websites. She is an animal lover who volunteers with her local Humane Society. Tumbarello attended Hocking College and is pursuing her Associate of Applied Science in veterinary technology from San Juan College.