Nepeta: The Perfectly Behaved Perennial

I have a long lasting love affair with perennial Nepeta or Catmint. I have used this under-the-radar perennial for years as a deer resistant plant that gives a long season of color for the entire season. My garden design career of over 25 years means the selections have only gotten better. ‘Walkers Low’ and ‘Six Hills Giant’ (24″ to 30″ high and wide) were the only selections for a long time. But hybridizers have been working on a variety of cultivars that will fit into any size garden. If you have sun or partial sun and have a population of voracious deer, you really need to explore this plant category.

Alternating with Lambs Ears (Stachys byzantia), nepeta makes a statement at Chartwell in England
Alternating with Lambs Ears (Stachys byzantia), Nepeta makes a statement at Chartwell in England
The intense violet blue of 'Cat's Pajamas' Nepeta
The intense violet blue of ‘Cat’s Pajamas’ Nepeta
Nepeta or Catmint will attract cats
Nepeta or Catmint will attract cats but repel deer

For native plant purists. this is not a native plant selection and is native to Europe, Asia, and Africa. But I embrace this perennial category when it is necessary to stop the deer browsing and to enjoy the maximum color during the summer. If I just planted native plants that were deer resistant, my choices would be very limited.

If you rubbed the grey green foliage between your fingers, it would be pungent, not sweetly fragrant. But that is what keeps the deer away!

When Catmint blooms, the bees flock to it
When Catmint blooms, the bees flock to it

This is not Catnip! A common misconception! Both are part of the mint family and both belong to the Nepeta genus. But Catnip is Nepeta cataria and Catmint is Nepeta mussinii.  Catnip has a weedier appearance and an insignificant white flower, while Catmint is often used as a pretty, lavender flowering perennial in beds. And Catmint flowers more continuously than Catnip.

Catnip leaves contain a compound called nepetalactone which gives cats a euphoric high. Nepetalactone also repels insects, so you can use it around the house to repel insects like ants. But I have found that cats show a definite interest in Catmint, rolling around in the leaves, rather than eating them like Catnip.

A definite sun-lover, Catmint can also be planted and enjoyed very successfully in partial shade. A great edger, perfect for planting around flagstones and pathways, you can brush the foliage and enjoy the astringent scent. A sun lover and perfect to edge and cascade over a wall, this perennial is a reliable plant that comes back for many years without any trouble. Attracting a wide variety of pollinators, Catmint in full bloom is always abuzz with bees and other critters. Flourishing in all kinds of soil, I have it planted in dry rocky areas and it thrives.

Lining a pathway, catmint is a perfect complement
Lining a pathway, Catmint is a perfect complement
In a heavily browsed deer area, catmint planted on walls works perfectly
In a heavily browsed deer area, Catmint planted on walls works perfectly

There are so many new varieties available now. ‘Neptune’ has really large flowers with only 8″ to 12″ foliage compared to the old varieties and is one of my favorites. ‘Cat’s Pajamas’ is a much more intense violet and is probably my choice for many landscapes as it is only 12″ to 14″ and flowers continuously for long periods of time (months!). Many more varieties are available to suit any garden.

I have it Catmint planted on top of a wall
I have Catmint planted on top of a wall
Cascading over a pathway, Catmint works as a great edger
Cascading over a pathway, Catmint works as a great edger
Catmint pairs nicely with many other perennials
Spikes of lavender blue flowers boom continuously for weeks

Planted in containers, Catmint is very well behaved and will bloom for most of the growing season. And if you cut it back to the ground, the plants will send up a new set of fresh blooms.

The leaves can be harvested and dried for teas and is the perfect companion for rose gardens. The lavender blue blooms perfectly complement the color of roses.

8 Replies to “Nepeta: The Perfectly Behaved Perennial”

  1. Loved this post and the pictues, especially the pairing with lambs ear! I just planted some and will head out tomorrow to get the Nepeta – thanks for the tips on the new varieties too!

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