As a cat owner, your sole purpose in life (according to your cats!) is to spoil them all day, every day. One of the best ways to show your cat how much you love her is to have fresh catnip growing inside so she can enjoy it whenever she pleases. Growing catnip indoors is an easy way to give your feline friend the pampering she deserves. Gardening for your cat is rule number two in the cat owner’s bible. Rule number one is, of course, worship and adore at all times!
What Is Catnip?
Common Name: catnip
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Zone: 3 to 9
Bloom Time: May to September
Height: 2.00 to 3.00 feet
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Dry to medium
A member of the mint family, catnip (Nepeta cataria) isn’t just for cats. It is a calming herb that makes a great tea and adds flavor to salads and savory dishes. Catnip is a mild sedative for humans, operating quite similarly to chamomile.
Catnip, also popularly called catmint, is a perennial that grows loose branching foliage. It is great for growing outdoors in USDA hardiness zones 3-9, and also makes an excellent container plant. The growing season for catnip is in the spring and summer, then in the winter, the plant rests.
This herb produces tiny, unshowy white flowers. Like mint, catnip growth is only limited by the pot it is in. Plants will grow into their containers and eventually outgrow them. Although the plant is perennial, many people choose to start a new one each year to keep the size manageable. Growing catnip indoors is an easy endeavor and one that all cat owners should consider. It will save you money, and you’ll be top in your kitties life, at least for a little while.
Cats will rarely attack or bother the growing plants unless the leaves are crushed or rubbed, which releases the chemical that attracts them and causes that all too familiar catnip fever. When it’s just growing, the plant isn’t that interesting to most cats. Of course, there are those cats who love the plant so much they will happily lay on top of it to their heart’s content.
Catnip is commonly sold in garden centers, and seeds are readily available online, as well.
Why Do Cats Go Crazy For Catnip?
Our feline companions go crazy for catnip because it contains a chemical called nepetalactone. When the catnip plant foliage is rubbed or crushed, the essential oil is released, and the aroma acts as a beacon to all cats in the vicinity — a little catnip fever! Inhaling the smell causes cats to go nutty, running around the area like lunatics. When the catnip is eaten, though, the effect is quite the opposite. After eating catnip, cats generally roll around, mellow out, and often completely zone out. Some cats, however, have the opposite reaction and get wild or aggressive.
Not all cats react to catnip. In fact, a cat’s sensitivity to catnip is hereditary, and only 50-60% of cats have a reaction. Kittens have no response to catnip since the sensitivity doesn’t show itself until later. The catnip trait doesn’t appear until the feline is between 3-6 months old. Monitor your cats the first time they have catnip to see where they fall on the catnip sensitivity spectrum.
The effects of catnip generally last between 1-2 hours, which the first 10-15 minutes being the most intense. Some kitties have been known to overindulge, though it is rare. Keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t eat too much.
How To Grow Catnip Indoors
Catnip grows well on a bright, sunny windowsill. Growing catnip indoors requires minimal care or effort, making it a great houseplant for even the most black-thumb beginning gardener. If you’re planning an indoor window herb garden, don’t forget the catnip plant. It is an easy addition to any herb garden, indoors or outdoors. This guide will show you how growing catnip will make all the felines in your home your best buddies. The growing season for catnip is the same indoors and out. During the winter months, growth will slow as the plant’s rest.
- Catnip seeds grow best if they are stratified before planting. This may sound complicated, but it is actually quite simple. First, place them in a bag or bowl in the freezer overnight. In the morning, place them in a bowl of water and let them sit for 12-24 hours. This process breaks down the naturally occurring protective coating around the seed and allows for quicker and more reliable germination. Growth will be faster and more successful with this gardening method.
- Choose a pot that is at least 8-inches deep and 8-inches wide to accommodate the growth of the catnip plant. Make sure it has drainage holes in the bottom. We highly recommend not using breakable containers (like clay or ceramic) in case your furry feline friends get overly enthusiastic and try to knock it down.
- In a large bowl, mix potting soil with water until it is moist without being soggy.
- Fill the container with the potting soil mix, packing it down lightly.
- Sprinkle the stratified catnip seeds on top of the soil, pressing them into the dirt until they are lightly covered.
- Place the pot or container in a warm, sunny location with lots of light. Light is essential for prolific catnip growth.
- Mist the soil every day with water to moisten the soil but be careful it doesn’t get soggy.
- The seeds will sprout new growth in 8-15 days.
- After the seeds sprout, reduced watering to every 4-7 days. Continue this until the seedlings reach 1-2 inches tall and are established in the pot.
- After the plant is established, you can reduce watering to every 7-12 days, or when the top inch of soil is slightly dried out.
- As soon as the catnip plant reaches 6-8 inches tall, you can start the harvest by pinching off leaves for your kitty.
- It’s best to clip the flower buds off the plant as that encourages leaf growth, and the plant won’t expend energy on flower production. If you want to enjoy the blossoms, let them bloom and then deadhead them immediately after they’ve passed, so they don’t go to seed.
- In the winter, reduce watering and let the plant rest.
- Harvest from the pots as desired throughout the growing season. This perennial herb will continue to grow as long as it receives proper care.
Sharing Catnip With Feline Friends
Cats react to fresh and dried catnip. You can pull leaves directly off the plant for your furry friend. Crush the leaves between your fingers to release the smell the felines love. Catnip is also fantastic dried. Use a dehydrator, or line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set it out in the full sun to dry naturally. If you use the outdoor drying method, be aware you might suddenly have an influx of neighborhood kitties in your yard! Store dried catnip in an airtight container in a cool, dry location. Or, keep it in the freezer to maintain maximum potency. The herb will lose its effectiveness over time. And, that is why you should always have plants growing to renew the supply of catnip in your home.
Catnip Plant Care Tips
- The biggest challenge to growing catnip indoors is ensuring the plants receive enough light. Plants must receive at least 6 hours of full sunlight per day, or they will get leggy.
- When you see flowers on the plant, pinch them off. This encourages the foliage to grow out. Your feline friends will thank you!
- Water consistently. How often you water will depend on where the plant is located but plan on watering the growing plant at least once a week. Check the top layer of soil for dryness before watering. It should be dry to the touch.
- If you do not have a windowsill or space where there is enough sunlight, use grow lights. Indoor gardening often requires supplemental light sources, especially during the winter months. T5 fluorescent plant grow lights are an excellent choice, as are the energy-efficient LED lights.
- When your plant gets scraggly, it should be pruned. Alternately, wait until it has flowered, then cut the entire plant down, leaving approximately 3″ in the pot. New growth will appear in a few weeks.
- Catnip plants are susceptible to root rot, so be careful about how much you water, and make sure you only use pots or containers with holes in the bottom for good drainage. It is better to err on the side of too little water than too much. Do not let the soil get soggy, as this is the leading cause of root rot.
Propagating Catnip Plants
One plant can be the start of a whole garden of catnip (Nepeta cataria) plants. Catmint is easily propagated from stem cuttings as well as seeds. Your feline friends say this is a fantastic idea! Actually, a kitchen garden of catnip is what your cat really requests.
- Remove a piece of new growth from the plant early in the season. Use scissors to take the stem cuttings, so the plant isn’t harmed.
- Lightly bury the cutting in a pot or container filled with moistened potting soil. You can start several new plants at one time.
- Like growing from seed, the plant needs lots of light and a regular water routine. Never let the soil get soggy, though.
- As soon as new growth appears, the catnip plants are established and can join the watering schedule of your other plants.
Humans Can Also Enjoy Catnip
Tea – Catnip is excellent brewed in a teapot. Fresh or dried leaves are both great.
Salad – Use fresh catnip leaves in a green salad for a unique flavor addition.
Pesto – Try catnip leaves in pesto, using it to replace some of the basil leaves.
Roasted Vegetables – Finely dice catnip leaves and include them in a marinade for vegetables.
If you have cats in your home, a kitchen or windowsill catnip plant is essential (your cat told me to say that!). In fact, any home that has a feline resident should have several pots with catnip growing. Growing catnip plants is a sure way to enhance your cat’s life, provide a unique culinary herb for the humans, and turn the home into a mini garden.