How to grow Nepeta common name Cat Mint

Nepeta is a reliable perennial, very hardy and tolerant of all conditions and it returns reliably each year. Catmint produces clouds of soft blue and mauve in a garden and is a viable alternative to Lavender where the growing conditions are not suitable for Lavender.  The fact that Nepeta is tolerant of most growing conditions, including partial shade, dry and drought areas, means it is useful for more difficult spots in the garden. 

Cat mint will tolerate wetter conditions where Lavender will not; to thrive, Lavender requires much drier conditions than Catmint, especially over winter. Lavender will struggle on heavier wet ground as a Mediterranean plant. It needs to be dry, in well-drained soil and sunny; contrast Catmint which will grow almost anywhere.  Nepeta is native to a number of habitats and so is less fussy where it grows. Catmint will grow in sun or partial shade and in both moist and dry soils. It is very tough and is almost a grow anywhere plant. The only conditions it will resent is really boggy ground.  It is also long flowering and, if but back, will sometimes produce a second flush of flowers. 

Once planted Nepeta is really easy to establish. It has the bonus of being very attractive to bees and pollinators. Walk past a clump on a warm day and it will be buzzing with the sound of bees.  It is a plant which thrives in almost any conditions and does not need feeding, which can make it leggy. Apart from bees, as its name suggests, it is attractive to who love it. If you are not a cat lover and don't want sections of your plant rolled on, insert a few sticks, which will be  concealed by the plant growth but serve to deter cats from taking a roll in the Nepeta. If you like cats, you may just want to sit by and watch them go bonkers for the cat mint, making a beeline for it and rolling about.

When and how to Cut back Nepeta

Many varieties of Nepeta, especially the larger species such as Nepeta faassenii 'Six Hills Giant', can sprawl and can go thin in the middle. To avoid this, you can either stake the plant,  or as Catmint responds well to the Chelsea Chop, reduce its size earlier in the year. In late May or early June, depending on the spring, cut catmint back by about a third. This will delay flowering slightly and make for a more compact shrub.

You can also cut back Nepeta after flowering, and when doing so, if you look carefully at the plant you will see newer growth which foliage has a fresh look contrasted against the tired older foliage. So later in the season you can cut back the old foliage, let the new growth through and this may also produce a small late flush of flowers, if the summer is good. 

The intensity of the blue fades after flowering and its worth shearing off the dead heads as it will often throw up some new flower shoots.  Catmint is a very tough plant.  An easy garden plant which rewards year after year, drought tolerant and requires minimal maintenance.  

Catmint it is a much under-estimated plant which has lovely aromatic foliage, spikes of soft blue flowers, and is so easy to grow hardly any advice needed.

Best Varieties of Nepta to Grow

One of the tallest varieties of Nepeta is N. Six Hills Giant which reaches 90cms, (3ft) and because of its size, and to prevent it sprawling may benefit from being staked. 

N fassenii has the AGM with pale lavender flowers and grows up to around 45cms (18")

Nepeta 'Neptune' is a compact variety growing to just 30 cms (1ft)

N. racemosa  'Walkers Low' is very similar to Six Hills Giant except smaller growing to 60 cms (2ft)

N. racemosa 'Snowflake' as the name suggests has white flowers.

There is a good range of Catmints in terms of size, offering more variety than the commonly grown Nepeta racemosa 'Walker's Low'

The long and the short of it.

Nepeta neptune compact a low growing small variety

Left is Nepeta Neptune compact, which only grows up to .3m so low growing and ideal for the front of a border or a rockery.

Contrast with Nepeta, which grows up to 1.8m tall but has a unique feature of being an upright variety so although it is tall it stays erect. This variety was growing at Arley Hall. 

Plants that look good with Nepeta - Cat Mint

There is also a variety commonly used in hanging baskets, Nepeta glechoma 'Variegata', N hederacea also known as variegated ground ivy, which has very pretty with delicate mauve flowers early in the year, see centre image below.  Even though this variety is universally used in summer bedding arrangements trailing down from hanging baskets and tubs, it is in fact fully hardy and can be overwintered.  

Catmint blends well with many plants because of its soft blues flower spikes. Nepeta looks good with Hemerocallis (Day Lilly) above centre image and contrasts well with Alchemilla (lady's Mantle,)image below right. it looks good planted in repeated throughout the border as shown in the image above left taken at Birmingham Botanical Garden where Nepeta was used to good effect in many parts of the garden.   

Planting combination Nepeta and Artemisia

 Silver Planting combination Nepeta and Artemisia

N.hederaces Variegata the Nepeta used for bedding

N.hederaces 'Variegata'  used in bedding

Soft blue Nepeta with frothy lime green Alchemilla

Soft blue Nepeta combined with frothy lime green Alchemilla

last updated 18.09.2021