How to grow catnip

The two best things to get for your cat is a laser pointer and catnip! They are both amusing for us, and the cat loves them too! Right? Catnip is well known to be a cats favorite and much of my time has been spent watching my cats act crazy once they get their paws on some! Buying organic catnip can get expensive though, so I started growing it myself. 

Grow catnip for your cats

My cats love it and I save money, Win/win, right?

Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is a member of the mint family. It's sometimes referred to as Catmint. When licked, sniffed or injested it seems to produce a euphoria response in cats. Here's an excellent explanation of why it works for cats. It's interesting to note that though catnip winds cats up, it tends to have a calming effect on us instead. 

Some people even make it into a tea for themselves for anxiety!

How to grow catnip

Catnip is a perennial in US zones 4-10. It is not terribly picky about where it grows and it can grow well in many different types of soils. It can grow in tight spaces, pots or can be given lots of room to spread. It will pretty much grow anywhere and in any condition, although it does prefer partial shade and well drained soil. 

Catnip seed can be sown directly into the garden as soon as danger of frost has passed. I use a compost rich soil and sow the seeds about 1/8" deep and about 18" apart. Cover and water lightly. Keep soil moist until seedlings pop through the ground. If you prefer to grow your catnip indoors, you can also sow the seeds in pots the same depth. 

If you'll allow your cat free access to the plants you'll want to plant the catnip away from other plants that the cats could damage if they start rolling around in the garden. I prefer to plant mine in pots and give them supervised access to keep them from ruining the plants. 

The catnip plant does not need much care aside from watering. If you want a bushier plant you can prune it a bit. Just give it a little trim making sure you don't take more than 1/3 of the plant at a time. Allow to grow back before pruning again. I like to side dress with compost about once a month. I will occasionally water the catnip with compost tea or weak black coffee. 

I don't like to use chemical fertilizers since my cats actually eat the catnip. I'm not sure if the pant being treated with pesticides or fertilizers would hurt the cats, but given their size I would rather err on the side of caution and grow my catnip organically.

You'll probably only have to plant catnip once. This is a picture of a catnip plant that I put outside and during the winter it froze. I've left it there and every year more catnip has grown. Even after I pulled out the root clump one winter, dozens of seedlings popped up in spring! 

As you can see, the catnip self-seeds very well. It also happened to seed itself into every single pot that was near it too, so keep anything with dirt far away after catnip goes to seed.

Catnip can actually be invasive if not controlled. This plant produces small white flowers with little purple dots. To save seeds, wait for the flowers to dry on the stems then snip the stalks and shake the seeds into a bag. 

This is kind of tricky because the best time to harvest catnip is after it has bloomed. If the flowers are not snipped off before they go to seed you can count on the seeds growing absolutely everywhere they land!

Catnip can be grown in pots to keep reseeding to a minimum.

How to grow catnip indoors

Catnip can also grown in pots indoors. This allows it to be grown over winter. Direct seed or transplant seedlings into a pot with several drainage holes and about an inch of pebbles in the bottom. 

I use compost only in the pot but you can certainly use regular potting soil. I prefer using compost because then I don't have to fertilize the catnip plant for quite awhile. If you don't have compost use a quick draining soil and fertilize monthly.

Place in a sunny window, preferably south facing. Make sure the leaves are not touching the glass, as it will probably get too cold for the plant. Pinch off flowers to encourage leaf growth.

You can start taking cuttings when your plant is about 8" high. Never take more than 1/3 of the plant at one time, and allow a period or rest/regrowth before harvesting again.

Harvest and store catnip

Catnip is easy to harvest and dry. After the plant has flowered, simply snip off the desired amount. Either hang the catnip in bunches to dry, or place in a dehydrator on low for a few hours. 

In the summer I line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place the catnip branches on it. I put the whole thing in my car in the sun for a few hours. The catnip is dry when it feel crunchy and crumbly between your fingers.

I store my dried catnip in glass jars though many people use ziploc baggies. Make sure that it is stored in an opaque container or placed out of sunlight in a cupboard. This will help the catnip to stay fresh longer. I keep mine in a cabinet in the living room and the cats come running every time I open the cabinet door!

grow your own catnip

I try to only grow one plant as that is enough to provide plenty of catnip to last my cats all year long! Plus, too many catnip plants in my garden seem to be an open invitation for the neighbors cats to come over! lol Happy planting!


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