How to grow Nepeta common name Cat Mint

Nepeta is a reliable perennial, very hardy and tolerant of all conditions 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. 

There are some less common varieties  of Catmint which  have  white and occasionally yellow flowers, such as N.govaniana. 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, well drained 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. If you are looking for a similar colour scheme to Lavender, but conditions are too wet, Nepeta is a good alternative. It is also long flowering and sometimes produces a second flush of flowers. 

The larger species Nepeta faassenii 'Six Hills Giant' will sprawl and can go a bit 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.

Once planted Nepeta is really easy to establish. It has the added 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 it does attract cats, 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 hidden by the plant growth and 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 bee line for it and rolling about.

Nepeta is best cut back 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. I cut back just 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.


Plants to go 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 delicate mauve flowers early in the year, see centre image below.  Even though this variety is fairly 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) centre image and contrasts well with Alchemilla (lady's Mantle,)image below right. It can also be planted similarly to lavender repeated throughout the border.  Cat mint mixes well with roses, and most cottage garden plants. The image above left was taken at Birmingham Botanical gardens 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