The cat owner's garden: Grow catnip and create a cat-friendly oasis

Catnip in flower

Catnip (Nepeta) is a popular and easy-to-grow perennial known for its small blue flowers and ability to attract insects such as bees and butterflies.
Flowering time typically extends from June to October, depending on the level of care and environment.

Catnip is a genus of flowering plants in the Lamiaceae family, commonly known as catmint, native to Europe, Asia and Africa and naturalised in North America. The tubular flowers can be lavender, blue, white, pink or purple, and spotted with small lavender-purple dots.

Nepetalactone is a substance in certain types of catnip (Nepeta) that acts on the sense of smell in cats, including our common domestic cats and large predators such as jaguars and tigers.
It can make some cats go wild and happy, but it doesn't work for everyone. Besides its fun effect on cats, catnip has also been used in medicine for a long time. People have used the leaves and flowers to make tea, which can help with various health problems. As early as 1735, it was mentioned that catnip could help with stomachache, colic, fever, menstrual pain, calm the nervous system, strengthen the stomach, and even diarrhoea and colds. There were also some who believed it could be used against cancer.

Catnip varieties

Catnip comes in many different types, each with its own look and benefits for the garden.
Here are some of the most popular ones:

  1. Nepeta cataria - Common Catnip: This type is best known for making cats happy. It has white to light purple flowers.

  2. Nepeta faassenii - Blue Catnip: This has beautiful lavender-blue flowers and is a great garden centrepiece.

  3. Nepeta racemosa - Dwarf catnip: Perfect for garden borders with its blue flowers.

  4. Nepeta grandiflora - Large Crowned Catnip: Has large, beautiful flowers and is great for adding colour to the garden.

  5. Nepeta mussinii - Mussini's Catmint: This is low and bushy with light purple flowers, good for dry places.

  6. Nepeta sibirica - Siberian Catnip: This type thrives in cooler climates and has deep blue flowers.

Each variety has its own charm and can be used differently in the garden, not only for their appearance but also to attract cats and as herbs with various beneficial properties.

Grow catnip in the garden - Your guide

To get the most out of your catnip. And extend its flowering period, follow these tips:

  1. Location: Choose a sunny location with well-drained soil. Catnip thrives best in full sun, but can also cope with partial shade.
  2. Water: Catnip is drought tolerant, but it is important to water regularly, especially during periods of drought. Make sure the soil is not too wet as this can lead to rotten roots. - If your soil is very heavy, you can add more coconut flour to make it more airy.
  3. Fertiliser: Catnip does not require much fertiliser. A light fertilisation in spring with a slow-release, organic/organic fertiliser is often sufficient.
  4. Pruning: To promote a new flowering period and keep the plant looking good, you can prune it by removing wilted flower stems and cutting it back to about half its height when the first flowering period is over.

By following these steps, you will be able to enjoy the beautiful blue flowers of your catnip and create an attractive environment for garden insects.

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Caring for catnip

Caring for catnip (Nepeta) is fairly straightforward. This makes it a popular choice for both experienced and new gardeners.
Here are some tips on how to care for and maintain your catnip so it thrives in your garden:

Planting

  • Location: Catnip thrives best in full sun, but can also thrive in partial shade. Choose a location with good drainage, as the plant doesn't like standing in water.
  • Land: The plant is not demanding in terms of soil type, but grows best in well-drained, slightly sandy to loamy soil.

Water and fertiliser

  • Irrigation: Catnip is drought tolerant, so it only needs regular watering until it's established. After that, it can often get by with the water it receives from rain.
  • Fertilizer: Catnip generally doesn't need much fertiliser. If you want to promote growth and flowering, you can apply a light fertiliser such as herbal fertiliser early in the season.

Cropping

  • Pruning: Cut the plant back in early spring to encourage bushy growth and again after the first flowering to encourage a second flowering period.

Overwintering

  • Winterisation: In most climates, catnip is perennial and will come back every year. In very cold climates, you may need to cover the plant over winter to protect it.

Issues

  • Diseases and pests: Catnip is generally resistant to most pests and diseases. However, slugs can sometimes be a problem.

Tips

  • If you have cats, you can plant some catnip in pots or a confined area, as cats like to roll in and chew on the plant, which can damage the plant in the garden.

By following these simple tips, you can ensure your catnip grows healthy and blooms beautifully throughout the season, while attracting cats and beneficial insects to your garden.

Do cats eat catnip

Yes, cats like to gnaw and roll in catnip (Nepeta cataria) because of the scent the plant emits. The active ingredient nepetalactone in catnip affects most cats, which can make them appear playful. Some cats will eat the plant and others will mainly just sniff and rub up against it.
Eating catnip in small amounts is generally safe for cats, but eating too much can occasionally cause mild stomach upset.

FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions

Catnip has a substance called nepetalactone that affects cats in a special way, causing them to roll around, rub against things and play more. This effect usually lasts between 10 to 15 minutes, after which the cat may stop being interested in catnip for a while.

Yes, catnip (Nepeta) is a perennial, meaning it grows back year after year. It's hardy and easy to grow in many climates, making it a popular plant in gardens.

Yes, catnip is a perennial that can overwinter outdoors in most climates. It dies back in winter and re-sprouts from the roots in spring.

No, cat grass and catnip are not the same. Catnip often refers to fast-growing grasses that cats can eat, while catnip (Nepeta cataria) is a perennial that affects cats behaviourally through scent.

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