The genus Nepeta is a member of the mint family (Lamiaceae) and is made up of approximately 250 perennial species native to a variety of habitats, ranging from Mediterranean regions to Western Asia.
Unlike true mints, this square-stemmed, ornamental plant does not spread invasively, but slowly broadens at the base into a manageable clump in the ground or in containers.
- Nepeta has aromatic, soft, gray-green foliage on thin, arching stems typically ending in spikes of tubular, two-lipped blue or blue-violet flowers; some are white or pink.
- The neutral gray-green foliage and lavender-blue flowers partner easily with most garden plants, especially with other Mediterranean species
- Catmint thrives, even with some neglect, in any well-drained soil in full sun or partial shade.
- It needs no fertilizer and prefers a lean soil and moderately dry growing conditions to encourage flowering and scent. Summer irrigation hastens growth.
- Nepeta is drought-tolerant once established and, like many aromatics with gray foliage, is not bothered by deer and other wildlife pests such as rabbits, raccoons, or quail.
- Its blossoms attract bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.
Long Season of Bloom
Individual small tubular flowers are gathered on spikes at stem tips but give the appearance of nearly smothering plants with their prolific numbers.
- Flowering continues abundantly from early summer to fall as long as individual stems are deadheaded.
- Rather than removing individual stems with faded flowers, shear the entire plant by half about midway through summer.
- If the spent flowers are not removed and seeds are allowed to form, self-sowing may occur freely, but stray seedlings are easily pulled up.
- In winter or very early spring, cut the entire clump to ground level to make way for new stems.
- When plants become crowded, divide after shearing and transplant elsewhere in your garden or give away to friends.
Purchasing Nursery Plants
It is important to pay attention to plant labels when making Nepeta purchases. Growth habits of various cultivars vary considerably.
- Lower growing nepetas do well in rock gardens, in containers, or spilling over retaining walls. Place them along borders in perennial beds as edgings to contrast their wispy appearance against taller, sturdier plants and allow their foliage mounds to spill outward fountain-like.
- Nepeta x faassenii (sometimes mislabeled as Nepeta mussinii) is a hybrid with many cultivars ranging from 1-2 ½ ft. high and wider
- This species—closely related to Nepeta cataria, catnip—often attracts felines to bask in its foliage.
- ‘Walker’s Low’—named for a garden in England—grows larger, 2-3 ft. high and wide.
- ‘Six Hills Giant’ is considered to be a x faassenii hybrid that may grow larger than an expected 2-3 ft. height and spread.
- ‘Snowflake’ is a smaller version of the species that blooms in white. Other cultivars may have pink blossoms
- Nepeta racemosa (syn. Nepeta mussinii) is sometimes considered to be the parent of ‘Walker’s Low,’ but usually is a lower-growing species.
- ‘Superba’ has smaller foliage and blossom spikes and stays low, nearly mat-like.