Create a Cat Friendly Garden with Catnip

sadecatnipEvery animal lover knows how important it is to keep the family cat happy.  Many cats enjoy playing with cat toys and scratch posts but they really enjoy a little nip of catnip. To provide a constant supply of catnip, why not grow your own.

Catnip or Nepeta cataria and catmint or Nepeta mussini are used interchangeably but they are really two different plants. If one really does not want to attract a lot of cats to the garden space then plant catmint.  If, on the other hand, the gardener really wants to drive their cats crazy, then plant catnip.   This plant produces a stronger fragrance and many cats will even eat it down to the ground.

Catnip and catmint is a hardy perennial herb that belongs to the mint family.  It grows 3 to 4 feet in height and presents the gardener with light green leaves on stems that produce small lavender flowers on 5-inch long spikes.  This plant is very flexible in its environmental requirements.  It will grow in any soil but really likes a moderately rich loam soil.  If the fragrance of the plant is not very strong, mix a little sand into the soil and keep the pH in the range of 6.1-7.8.  This plant can grow in full sun but finds shade just fine.

Catnip or catmint is started through many different propagation techniques.  It can be started from seed in the late fall or early spring.  To grow a thicker crop, plant the seed in the fall and cover with a thin layer of soil.  Seeds can also be started indoors and moved to the garden after the last frost.   This herb can also be started through stem cuttings and root ball division.

Regardless of how you get your start of this herb, keep in mind that in some areas it can be viewed as a noxious or invasive species.  It is hardy in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 3a-9b.

When designing the garden space, use this herb as a border or mass plantings. In the spring, cut catnip or catmint back to ground level.  This will encourage healthy growth.  Once the plant has bloomed, cut again to promote a second bloom for the season.

Catnip or catmint can be grown indoors for your cat’s pleasure but if you do not want your cat rolling around in a potted plant or developing the habit of chewing on plant material, there is another approach.  Fresh catnip can be rubbed onto the toys, bed, and scratch post of your cat. The rubbing action will release the catnip oil onto these items and this is what really excites a cat.  If your cat is an indoor cat, simply sprinkle fresh catnip onto their food and let them enjoy the herbal snack.

Another approach to using catnip with your cat is to dry it.  To do this, simply pick the catnip in the morning after the dew has dried.  Hang up in a well-ventilated room and let dry completely.  Once the leaves and stems are dry and crisp, strip the leaves off the stems and place in an airtight container.  The stems can also be chopped up and stored in the airtight container or just put out for your cat to enjoy.

The dried plant material can be rubbed onto existing cat toys, bed, and scratch post or used as stuffing for homemade toys.

Cats are not the only animals that like catnip and catmint.  Bees, butterflies, and birds are attracted to this plant.  Humans also benefit from this herb.  It is picked, candied, and used for a dessert.  The oil from this herb is used to relieve headaches and/or nervousness.

Always remember before planning and planting a cat friendly garden, make it a pesticide-free area and never mix it with plantings that are poisonous to cats.


Mindy McIntosh-Shetter has been an Agricultural Science educator, and is a horticulture and/or environmental blogger who earned a degree from Purdue University in Agriculture Education with a minor in biology, and natural resources. Presently she is finishing up her Masters in Environmental Education and Urban Planning for the University of Louisville while working on her own agriculture/environmental blog.

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