Last updated May 9th, 2020
Catnip is a hardy perennial herb of the mint family bearing aromatic leaves attractive to cats. Follow these step-by-step instructions on growing your own and keep your cats happy and enriched!
We have a few things in common, my cats and I. We like laptops, long catnaps on a Caturday morning, and our recreational herb of choice, catnip! Of course, I don’t like catnip for the same reasons the cats do; you won’t find me head shaking and wriggling in ecstasy on the kitchen floor (well, maybe if I’m trying to fish out an old cat toy stuck under the fridge, but that’s no fun). No, instead of catnip parties, I prefer catnip in my nighttime tea blend.
Catnip (Nepeta Cataria) is a staple in our house and is a great form of cat enrichment for any cat. Since we host many nighttime catnip parties for the kitties while sipping on my nighttime tea blend, it made sense to start growing our own. What’s really satisfying is knowing that this catnip came from our garden with zero pesticides or fertilizers. The Chirpies get to enjoy their favorite herb freshly cut during early summer during the growing season or dried throughout the winter months. When the promise of Spring is around the corner it’s always exciting to get a head start with the catnip seeds indoors while waiting for the last frost. In our climate, this could be as late as April or May.If you love spoiling your cat with catnip why not grow your own? You don't need a green thumb as it's one of the easiest and most prolific plants that need very little care.Click To Tweet
You can grow catnip either by buying a few plants in the herb section of your local nursery or growing it from seed. Below is a step-by-step tutorial on how to grow catnip from seed, along with some tips on care. But firstly let’s explore why catnip is the bee’s knees of all herbs…
Benefits of catnip for your kitties
Our previous post on catnip focused on the use of catnip for environment enrichment and below is a recap:Catnip can be used to encourage your cat to use his scratching post
Catnip is a mood booster for depressed or grieving cats
It can enhance your interactive play sessions
Can encourage your couch potato to get moving!
Catnip is a fun way to ‘spice’ up treat time without the bad calories of edible treats!
Can be used effectively when introducing cats, the perfect ice-breaker!
Spruce up old tired cat toys by marinating in a tin with catnip
Catnip is non-addictive, so sniff up kitties!
May temporarily improve appetite in sick and older cats
Catnip has zero calories versus edible treats laden with all things bad for kitty. I went through a phase where the cats trained me to give them treats every night and it became a bad habit that I needed to break.
Benefits of catnip for humans
With all these benefits for cats, what’s in it for the humans? Plenty actually. I once found Scout, our tortie cat very attracted to the aroma of my nighttime tea blend. It’s no wonder, catnip is listed as one of the ingredients right next to other well-known calming herbs such as passionflower and chamomile. Yes, catnip has mild sedative properties for humans so it makes sense to be included in a bedtime brew. But Scout’s curious kitty nostrils detected the vapors of nepetalactone, the key compound present in catnip. I’ve since learned how to grow this magical herb so that both the cats and the humans can benefit from its wonderful properties.Sorry, Scout, catnip tea is not for kitties
The plant has been used in herbal medicine and cooking since medieval times and was a favorite as a remedy for colic in babies, relieving menstrual cramps, relieving stress, anxiety, insomnia, stomach cramps (due to its antispasmodic properties) and many other ailments. It’s also used for meat tenderizing, in cooking as a herb as well as an insect repellent, especially effective against mosquitos. A few freshly crushed leaves rubbed on arms and legs works like a charm on those warm humid summer evenings hanging out with the Chirpies in their catio. There is not enough scientific evidence to prove catnip’s effectiveness in preventing fleas, but it’s worth having catnip in your garden. I have to report that we are lucky not to have had any fleas in the past.
Things you should know about planting catnipCatnip grows best outside in full sun. If you have to grow it indoors, make sure it receives at least 6 hours of full sun every day Catnip can be grown in containers for inside or balconies but would require more watering Catnip is a hardy herbaceous perennial and comes back more robust every year. Catnip also grows in part shade. In fact, in In hotter climates, it is better to ensure that the plant gets some shade to protect from the harsh afternoon sun. Some people find the odor of catnip to be slightly skunk-like so if you find this to be the case then indoor growing may not be suitable for you. I find coffee to smell skunk-like but I still enjoy drinking it anyway! Don’t be surprised if your neighbor’s cat suddenly decides that your backyard is the coolest place to be. For this reason, you can protect your catnip plants with an arched-shaped piece of wire mesh. This way any enthusiastic rubbing and licking by cats would not damage the plant base. Catnip plants are prolific, spreading easily and in some places it can be seen as a weed. If you don’t want your garden taken over by catnip just be sure to cut the flowers before they go to seed. In addition to this, after planting in pots, bury the whole catnip pot in the garden. This prevents their roots from straying too far and popping up everywhere. Catnip thrives in poor soil and is not really fussy about the substrate it grows in. A less compact, sandy substrate yields a more aromatic harvest of nepetalactone goodness!
What you will need to get started
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- You will need a seed starter kit. I used a windowsill “greenhouse” 12 plant starter kit which doesn’t take up a lot of space on a sunny windowsill. You don’t need soil as it contains ready-made sphagnum peat moss pellets in which you will be burying your catnip seeds.
- Catnip seeds available online or at your local garden center.
- Water-filled spray bottle
- Patience and love
Prepare the seeds by stratification
Before planting the catnip seeds, they need to be stratified. This is almost like giving the seeds a ‘shock treatment’ or cold treatment to break the dormancy cycle so that they germinate quicker. This is an optional step but I think it’s worth the effort as catnip seeds are tiny but tough! If you don’t stratify the catnip seeds they could take up to four weeks to germinate!
- Place the seeds in a freezer bag and freeze overnight.
- Soak the seeds the next day. Fill a bowl with hot tap water (not boiling water) and sprinkle the seeds in the water. Leave to soak for 12 to 24 hours.
- Do not soak longer than 48 hours
SIDE NOTE: There is a difference between catnip (Nepeta Cataria) and catmint (Nepeta Faassenii). Both have very similar properties and the terms are often used interchangeably but it’s Nepeta Cataria that gives your cat his kicks!
In one of our Caturday Doodles, we explain more about these two related herbs, catnip and catmint.
Voilà! Now that you have mimicked the ‘abuse’ that the seed would have been through in nature, it’s ready for planting. You have also successfully activated the seed’s ‘internal clock’ advising it that it’s safe to germinate!
And now for the fun part, planting the catnip seeds
1. Fill the bottom tray of your seed starting kit with warm water until the little pellets are covered.
2. Soak the pellets for a few minutes. You should see each pellet rise up and puff out as they become soaked, resembling a sponge.
3. Drain off all the excess water from the tray.
4. Gently tear open the middle part of the netting of each pellet to make way for the seeds.
5. Dig a shallow hole in each pellet, about 3mm or 1/8 inch and drop in 3 to 4 catnip seeds in the hole of the pellet.
6. Cover the seeds with a thin layer of the pellet mixture and then cover with the plastic cover. The mini greenhouse dome retains warmth and moisture which is the ideal setting for germination to occur.
7. Initially store your catnip greenhouse away from sunlight in a warm dark spot in your home. This could be on top of a shelf, on top of the refrigerator or a wall heater. While waiting for the seeds to germinate spray with water and ensure the pellets do not dry out.
8. After 10 -14 days little green seedlings will appear just above the soil. Your catnip seedlings are now ready to bask in full sunshine, ideally on a south facing windowsill. Keep the seedlings moist and prevent them from drying out by misting with water every day.
9. Be sure to elevate your catnip sprouts out of the way of curiously sniffing feline noses! Once the sprouts start developing their true leaves it already starts giving off a distinctive catnip scent and you don’t want the cats destroying the plant before it has even begun.
10. When all threat of frost is over plant the 4-5 inches high individual catnip plants in their permanent home in the garden or in containers. Plant them about 18-20 inches apart. It may seem like too much space, but these plants grow up to 2 feet wide and 3 feet tall so it’s important to prevent crowding. Water the catnip plants regularly during the first four weeks of growth.
Spread the love for bushier growth
Frequently prune the catnip for bushier growth by pinching off some shoots and leaves. It encourages more growth and lushness and prevents the catnip from becoming too leggy. Oh and this is where the fun begins; your cat will enjoy these pruning sessions too as they get the off-cuts! Everybody wins!
A fun stop – The hanging catnip highway salad bar
Hanging baskets is an attractive and practical solution for containing catnip plants. It’s easily accessible for the cats to nibble, but the swaying motion deters them from attempting to jump into the basket. I love the eco-friendly coco liners of these hanging baskets and we have a few of them hanging in the catio for kitties’ snacking pleasure. We even keep some baskets out in winter as we discovered that freeze dried catnip or ‘catnipsicles’ is darn tasty too according to Jimmy fancy Feet.
Sly Pie’s word of cautionThe wrong way of germinating seeds, don’t ‘incubate’ them. In the Spring, Sly Pie enjoys sitting inside some of the catnip baskets that were left out from last winter. New catnip shoots have emerged and he has taken a liking to ‘incubating’ them. I wonder if he thinks they’ll grow quicker. I think the look below says it all!
We hope you try your hand at growing this aromatic wonder herb. Your cat will be getting his kicks from his homegrown greens while you relax with your nighttime tea, all from your own garden! Do you grow catnip and have you tried growing it from seed? Please chirp us a line in the comments!
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