Growing Catmint (Nepeta): Pick the Best and Enjoy the Show
Walker's Low Catmint (Nepeta) with Alba Jupiter's Beard (Centranthus ruber).
The Catmints (Nepeta) are some of our best garden perennials, as they are long lived, very easy-to-grow, resistant to browsing animals (deer and rabbits), and they feature a profusion of color in various shades of blue. And yes, as the name suggests, cats often find them irresistible.*
Mostly perennial, this genus is widespread across the Old World parts of Europe, Asia and Africa. Many species are excellent in the xeric (low water) garden, and they grow well in a wide range of soil types, including dry clay. They grow well with at least a half day of sun, but flower best in full sun. And for pollinators, especially honeybees, catmints are an excellent source of nectar. I often joke in my presentations that "if you can't grow catmint, you should take up another hobby." They are a great beginner's perennial.
Choose the Best Catmint Varieties
There are several hundred species of Nepeta and many additional selections (cultivars) that had been selected for improved garden performance. But I recommend caution when purchasing catmint plants for your yard. I strongly recommend planting only sterile hybrids and avoiding any Nepeta that are propagated from seed. The seed-grown catmints can be aggressively weedy, spreading themselves throughout the garden and crowding out neighboring perennials.
I've experimented with numerous species and selections of Nepeta in my gardens over many years. And based on my experiences I can enthusiastically recommend two outstanding, sterile (no seeds), long blooming varieties.
- Nepeta faassenii 'Select Blue' - a selection I made back in the early 1990's from a patch of plants I found in an office park landscape, this low growing, non-spreading plant has beautiful lavender blue flowers. In early summer after the first flush of flowers have faded, Shear off the flower spikes just above the foliage to get the plants to re-bloom again later in the summer.
- Nepeta 'Walker's Low'- named after an English castle and not for its size, this cultivar has showy deep blue flowers on tall flower spikes. 'Walker's Low' grows as a neat, non-suckering, well behaved plant and blooms for many months from late spring into mid-summer. Deadheading (shearing off the faded flower spikes just above the foliage) will encourage stronger re-blooming.
Catmint's blue flowers mix beautifully with all the other flower colors. And they thrive in the same growing conditions of these perennials:
- European Sage (Salvia sylvestris): 'May Night', 'Little Night', 'Caradonna', 'Lyrical Rose', and Salvia daghestanica
- Jupiter's Beard (Centranthus ruber): 'Albus', 'Coccineus', 'Roseus'
- Yarrow (Achillea): 'Coronation Gold', 'Moonshine', 'Red Velvet', 'Terra Cotta'
- Cotton Candy Lamb's Ear (Stachys lavandulifolius)
- Poppy Mallow or Wine Cups (Callirhoe involucrata)
*Nepeta cataria and a few other Nepeta species are the "drug" of choice for house cats. They contain nepetalactone which binds to the olfactory receptors of cats, typically resulting in temporary euphoria.
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