Growing Catnip: the Ultimate Guide to Growing and Caring for this Feline Favorite

Table of Contents
Growing Catnip

It is recommended to plant catnip during the spring season, after the threat of frost has subsided. It is advisable to select a location that allows your feline companions to indulge in the herb without causing harm to surrounding flora. Ensure that the catnip plants are spaced 18 to 24 inches apart in a well-lit area with fertile and well-drained soil.

To enhance soil quality, incorporate several inches of aged compost or other organic matter. Regularly monitor soil moisture levels and water when the top inch of soil becomes dry. Promote abundant leaf growth by administering a water-soluble plant food. Once the catnip reaches a height of 6 to 8 inches, the leaves can be harvested at any time.

Catnip can be a great training tool for cats – you can use it to train cats to go to certain places or play with certain toys. 

In this article, I’ll be covering how to grow these members of the mint family, from planting to watering to harvest and storage. I’ll also cover some ways you can use it. Stick around and I’ll tell you everything you need to know about growing catnip! 

Where to grow

  • Catnip is a prolific grower and can tolerate most conditions, as long as you have well-drained soil and full sun is available. 
  • It can easily tolerate dry, rocky soil with low nutrients. In many places, it’s an invasive species
  • The best soil pH range is between 6.1 and 7.8, close to neutral. 
  • The best soil is a sandy loam

Like many herbs, catnip does not need much water. Waterlogged soil will kill the plant. Don’t add water unless the leaves are wilting. Catnip doesn’t do well in humid environments either – make sure there is lots of room for airflow between plants if your region is typically humid. 

Full sun is ideal for catnip. Shade is only necessary in hot climates. 

Planting and Germination

  • Start your catnip indoors about 6 weeks before your local frost date, and only plant the seedlings outside once this date has passed. 
  • Catnip transplants well – just be aware that if you bruise the leaves, cats will be attracted to the smell immediately. 
  • Plant seedlings 18 to 24 inches apart in your garden, which will allow room for air circulation. 
  • You can sow seeds directly into the soil in warmer regions with an early frost date. 

Catnip also does well as a potted plant, and it’s nice to have a plant growing in your house that you can cut leaves from. 

  • Make sure your pot is a foot or so in diameter
  • Use well-draining potting soil and place it on a windowsill that gets lots of light. 
  • If you have no such windowsill, you can use grow lights.

To increase the likelihood of successful germination, you can cold-stratify your catnip seeds in the freezer overnight. Then, soak them in water for 24 hours. You should start to see seedlings rising from the soil within 5 to 10 days.

You don’t have to grow catnip from seed if you have fully-grown plants from last year – they can also be grown from cuttings.

Watering and Fertilizing

Catnip should not be watered too frequently, since waterlogged soil will kill the plant. Water just enough to keep the soil moist

Fertilizing is optional for catnip since it tolerates rocky, nutrient-poor soil. Mix some compost into the soil before planting, and then your catnip should be fine. If your soil is particularly low in nutrients, then any all-purpose liquid plant food will do the trick – simply follow the instructions on the label. 

Harvesting and Storing

  • The best time to harvest catnip leaves is when the plant blooms at the end of its growing season. 
  • Mature plants are roughly 18 inches tall
  • Do your harvesting in the morning before the heat of the afternoon comes. 
  • Cut off the stems and remove the leaves and flowers – this is what you’ll use for food or for giving to your cat. You can cut off the entire plant if you want to – it’s a perennial so it will grow back. 

You can dry your catnip by hanging the stems in a dark, dry room with good airflow. After 2 to 3 weeks, the leaves will be dried and will crumble into powder that you can use.

A quicker way is to use your oven or dehydrator.

  • Remove the leaves from the stems and place them on a cookie sheet. 
  • If using your oven, set it to low heat, less than 100 degrees C. You may have to test it a few times to find the perfect temperature.  
  • In a few hours, the leaves will be dry and ready to store – check on them every so often because different herbs dry at different rates.

Drying catnip, like any herb, is the best long-term storage solution. Store your catnip powder in a jar, or an empty plastic herb container from the store.

Uses of Catnip

growing catnip indoors
growing catnip indoors

Catnip is 100% safe for cats to consume. You can give your cat the leaves from the plant, whether fresh or dried, and toys are even available that contain catnip. 

Teas made from dried catnip are often used to calm the stomach and nerves and aid in digestion. It’s also commonly used in soups, stews, and sauces for added flavor.

The compound that acts as a cat attractant, nepetalactone, also acts as an insect repellent. You can rub the leaves on your skin to help protect against mosquitoes, ticks, and spiders.

Catnip Varieties

Different varieties of catnip exist that can be used for different purposes: 

  • Common Catnip: this is the variety that cats go crazy for. 
  • Catmint: similar to the common catnip, but does not stimulate cats. 
  • Camphor: a variety that smells of camphor rather than mint, which repels cats. 
  • Greek Catnip: a pale-white variety of catnip. 

Lemon Catnip: as the name suggests, it has a lemony scent, but looks much the same as common catnip.

Pruning and Pests

Funnily enough, the biggest pest for catnip is cats. If not protected, small catnip plants can get destroyed by cats. 

Pruning off flowers is a good idea to tidy up the plant and limit its growth. The plant also sends out shoots underground, so keep a watchful eye on the ground around the plants. 

Besides cats, catnip can also suffer from other more common garden pests

  • Catnip can be affected by fungal diseases such as blight, and bacterial conditions such as bacterial leaf spot
  • The best way to prevent these diseases is to water the ground around the plant and not the leaves. 
  • If any leaves are showing discolored spots, prune them off immediately and burn them or put them in the trash. 
  • This herb is also affected by insects such as aphids, thrips, whiteflies, spider mites, and flea beetles. These are typically treated with an insecticidal soap. 

Conclusion

For cat owners, catnip is a wonderful treat that can be used to spoil them a little. It also has uses for people – it’s a source of tea you can grow in Europe and North America. 

Catnip is a herb that’s easy to grow, and in fact, it has to be controlled so it doesn’t take over your garden patch! Let that be words of encouragement to you. Remember not to overwater it and don’t water the leaves. Best of luck and happy gardening! 

Frequently Asked Questions

How Do I Grow Catnip From Seed?

Start your seeds indoors 4 to 6 weeks before your local frost date. Plant them in your garden after the frost date, and space them 18 inches apart. Water them occasionally, only enough to keep the ground moist. 

Can You Grow Catnip Indoors?

Absolutely! It makes a great indoor potted plant. Use a pot about a foot in diameter and place it in a well-lit windowsill or under a grow light. 

Does Catnip Grow Wild?

Yes, it does. In fact, in some regions, it’s considered an invasive species because of how prolific it is.

How Big Does Catnip Grow?

A fully mature plant is about 18 inches tall and wide.

Does Catnip Grow Back Every Year?

Yes, Catnip is a perennial plant, thus it grows back every year.

Will Growing Catnip Attract Cats?

Yes, cats are attracted to catnip plants and they may follow the smell of catnip into your garden.