Greetings from Snoops and Kommando Kitty. We have returned with a special edition of Cat Forum. Last week, we were bemoaning the lack of things to do during the winter. This week we have a project for your humans to help you with. What could be more exciting that having your own catnip plant/patch?
Catnip’s official name is Nepeta cataria. It’s related to mint and lemon balm, and is very easy to grow an maintain. Unfortunately, it can be toxic to cats in large quantities. So if you (or a loved one) tend to overindulge, you will want to grow it in a protected area. We recommend that you have your human do the work while you supervise.
Growing Catnip Indoors
- It must receive as much direct sunlight as possible. It prefers up to five hours a day. (Plant lights are a possibility if you live someplace that doesn’t get that much direct sun.)
- It likes the temperature to be between 55-85 degrees Fahrenheit. And like us, it doesn’t like really hot, humid conditions.
- Catnip prefers to be in soil with average-medium moisture. Don’t keep the soil wet – that can lead to root rot. Don’t panic if it wilts, it will recover.
- Feed it with weak organic liquid fertilizer every couple of weeks.
- Cut off budding stems before they bloom. For the average gardener, keep the plant trimmed to a height of 6 inches. You’re looking for a bushy, leafy plant. (It can grow up to 2 feet tall if your human is talented.)
- The pot needs to be at least 8 inches wide and 8 inches deep with drainage holes. Use potting soil for best results.
Growing the Most Potent Catnip
If you want really high-grade catnip, you need to grow it outside. You need sandy soil. Your human may also want to consider burying pots of it rather than just spreading the seeds, because it is what humans call “invasive.” (We’re really not sure what’s wrong with having a yard full of catnip, but apparently it bothers some humans.)
Here’s the recipe for top-notch catnip straight from the University of Maryland:
- Plant the seeds 1/8″ deep in 10-inch pots filled with a mixture of coarse river sand, moist sphagnum peat moss, and sterilized loam (include 4 tablespoons of dolomitic lime for every gallon of the mixture.) Germinate for 10-20 days at 61-74 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Water until water runs out of the pots. Spray the soil 3-4 times per day to keep it moist. (Outside it will require the equivalent of 1 inch of rain per week.)
- Dig holes 12-18 inches apart for each pot after the frost has passed.
- Thin the seedlings so only the healthiest ones remain.
- Place tomato cages around the seedlings to prevent animals from digging them out.
- Watch for webbing on the bottom of leaves (a sign of spider mites). Remove spider mites with spray from a water hose.
- Pinch back the shoot tips to create thick plants. Cut the main stem to 1 inch above ground after each bloom. Pinch off spent flower heads to inhibit the spread of seeds.
- Pull off the leaves from the cut stems or pinch them from the growing plant. Dry in a paper bag for 1-2 weeks before using.
What is the most potent part of the plant?
The active ingredient in catnip (Nepetalactone) is found in the essential oil. The oil is found mainly in the pistil (the bud). So make sure you have plenty of buds mixed in with your stems and leaves.
How do we help keep the plants insect- and disease-free?
Remove dead or dried leaves regularly.
How do we grow bushy catnip plants?
After flowering, cut the plants back to no higher than 3-4 inches above the ground (you can go as low as 1 inch). It will grow back in a couple of weeks.
How long does it take to grow catnip?
Seeds generally sprout within 5-10 days, but may take up to 20 days if you’re planting outside and it’s still chilly. The plants should be thinned to 18 inches apart when they are 2-5 inches high. You can start harvesting after 12-15 weeks.
Fun Fact – According to one report, catnip is more effective than DEET in repelling mosquitoes. It was shown to be 10x more effective than standard mosquito repellents according to a paper at the 2001 American Chemical Society annual meeting.