Nepeta, commonly known as catmint or catnip, is a herbaceous perennial plant native to Europe, Asia, and Africa, and belongs to the Lamiaceae family. which includes many aromatic plants like mint and lavender. With its beautiful appearance, delightful fragrance, and intriguing effects on cats, Nepeta has earned a special place in the hearts and gardens of many.
Leaves and Flowers
The leaves of Nepeta are a defining feature, known for their aromatic quality and unique texture. These leaves are typically heart-shaped or ovate, with serrated edges, and often have a gray-green to silvery hue. When brushed or gently crushed, the leaves release a fragrance particularly enticing to cats. Beyond their aromatic appeal, the leaves of Nepeta add an attractive foliage element to garden designs, creating a soft and lush appearance.
The flowers appear in clusters of tubular blossoms ranging from shades of lavender and blue to pink and white, depending on the specific species or cultivar. These blooms are arranged on upright stems that rise above the foliage, creating a captivating vertical element. The contrast between the flowers and the surrounding foliage adds depth and dimension to the garden landscape.
Preferred Growing Conditions
When planting Nepeta, ensure proper spacing to allow for good air circulation and prevent overcrowding. Providing between 12-18 inches between each plant is recommended; spacing recommendations may vary depending on the specific variety. Nepeta thrives in full sun to light shade, so choose an area that receives at least 6 hours of sunlight daily.
While Nepeta can tolerate various soil types, providing moderately fertile and well-draining soil will help the plant flourish. In its initial phase, water the plant thoroughly to help establish its root system. Once established, Nepeta is relatively drought-tolerant and prefers slightly dry conditions over waterlogged soil. Allow the top inch or so of soil to dry out between waterings, and water deeply but infrequently to encourage the development of deep roots.
Regular pruning and deadheading are important aspects of caring for Nepeta. After the first flush of flowers, usually in late spring to early summer, consider cutting the plant by about one-third of its height. This encourages fresh growth and often leads to a second bloom later in the season. Deadheading, or removing spent flowers, promotes continuous flowering and prevents self-seeding. If you wish to prevent the plant from self-sowing, consider cutting back the entire plant after the second flush of flowers in mid-summer.
Nepeta is generally resistant to pests and diseases, making it a low-maintenance plant. Its aromatic leaves contain compounds that repel many common garden pests, including aphids and certain beetles. However, be mindful of powdery mildew, a fungal disease that can affect Nepeta in humid or poorly ventilated conditions. To prevent powdery mildew, ensure proper spacing, provide adequate air circulation, and avoid overhead watering. If necessary, you can apply fungicides as a preventive measure.
Effect on Cats
The most famous attribute of Nepeta is its effect on cats. Cats exhibit behaviors such as rubbing against the plant, rolling on the ground, and even frenzied playfulness. This unusual reaction is believed to be due to the scent of nepetalactone, which stimulates the cats’ sensory receptors, providing a euphoric and stimulating effect. However, not all cats are affected by Nepeta, as the sensitivity to nepetalactone is inherited and often varies.
Gardeners can choose from several popular Nepeta cultivars to suit their preferences and garden design. ‘Walker’s Low’ is a commonly grown variety known for its long-lasting blue-purple flowers and compact habit. ‘Six Hills Giant’ is another favored cultivar, featuring large flower spikes and a more vigorous growth habit. Other cultivars such as ‘Cat’s Meow,’ ‘Junior Walker,’ and ‘Walker’s Low Catmint’ offer variations in flower color, size, and growth habit, providing gardeners a wide range of options.