By Mary Gold, Sonoma County Master Gardener
If you’re looking for a hardy, vigorous but easily controlled, plant for your
Nepeta is native to a variety of habitats, ranging from cool and moist to hot and dry, within the non-tropical areas of the Northern Hemisphere. It has aromatic, gray-green foliage growing in a mound, typically with spikes of tubular, two-lipped blue or blue-violet flowers. Nepeta is easy to spot in Sonoma County; lately, it seems to be growing everywhere! Rightly so, for it can grow in any well-drained soil in full sun or partial shade and practically thrives from neglect. It needs no fertilizer; in fact, it prefers a lean soil and dry growing conditions, which encourage its flowering and scent. Pests and diseases are rare, although it can sometimes be affected by leaf spot. It is drought tolerant after it is established, and, like most gray foliage plants, is deer resistant while attracting bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.
Nepeta flowers abundantly from early summer to early fall as long as it is sheared by half after the first blooms fade, about halfway through the summer. This encourages new flowers to appear, which easily last through early autumn. In the winter or early spring make sure to cut out last year’s growth to make way for new stems. An easy way to do this is to simply shear it to the ground. Otherwise, the center will become woody and unsightly. The mounds or clumps of foliage will enlarge over time and these are easy to divide and plant elsewhere in your garden or give away to friends. Nepeta can also be propagated by soft-wood cuttings in early summer. Some species seed freely, which can mean invasion if the spent flowers are not removed. Fortunately, the seedlings are easily pulled. It also grows beautifully in containers.
The Master Gardeners love Nepeta. Stephanie Wrightson, who lives East of Santa Rosa, inherited several Nepeta in an otherwise Spartan garden. “We live in the Valley of the Moon and my yard is open to the golf course. From the two mountain ranges, we have many deer, quail and dog-sized rabbits…none of the animals bothers the Nepeta.”
Sandy Metzger loves “the gray-green foliage because it’s neutral and goes with anything…the lavender-blue flowers and the musty-spicy fragrance…the way the foliage mounds or spills outward like a fountain…a great habitat plant.”
Nepeta’s delicate, lacy appearance, its abundant flowering habit, its ease of care, drought tolerance and deer resistance make it one of our favorite Superstars.
© 2010 Sonoma County Master Gardeners