Whether you have a cat of your own or care for a nearby colony, you understand the power of catnip. This herb has long been associated with cats' "zoomies," as it induces a state of euphoria, excitement, and overall silliness in your furry friends. While you can buy catnip at your local pet store, it can be more fun to grow your own. But is catnip a perennial or an annual?
Catnip is a perennial plant. This means that the catnip seeds and bulbs you plant around your home tend to last for three years at a time or more as long as they have proper care.
As the weather takes a turn, you need to prepare your garden for winter. Careful garden wintering can help next year's catnip crop grow in even stronger than this year's. With a little bit of preparation, then, you can ensure that your catnip tea drinkers (or the cats in your neighborhood) have the chance to enjoy the fruits of your labor for years to come.
Is Catnip Perennial Or Annual?
Catnip is a perennial plant. This means that, as long as it receives the proper care, catnip can grow back after wintering throughout the coldest months of the year. More specifically, you shouldn't have to buy new catnip seeds or sprouts if you want to renew your plot after a long winter.
That said, catnip that undergoes a significant amount of stress or that isn't wintered before the first freeze may not have the same resilience as a well-loved plant.
You need to take certain steps to ensure that your catnip is as safe from the freezing weather as possible if you want to ensure a healthy crop in the years to come.
You can learn more about what other perennials you might find in your area in this post: 10 Zone 4 Perennials That Bloom All Summer
Identifying Types of Catnip
There is more than one type of catnip that gardeners can plant in their gardens. Lemon catnip, for example, tends to have a stronger citrus smell than its commercially-sold cousin.
Camphor catnip tends to confine itself to smaller spaces than traditional catnip, capping out at a height of two feet instead of embracing nepeta cataria's unfettered growth.
Finally, there's also Greek catnip. Instead of the usual purple flowers, Greek catnip boasts light pink blooms and is, like camphor catnip, smaller in size than several other subsets of the plant.
All of these catnips have similar effects on cats, though you may want to test them on yours to see which may most effectively induce the "zoomies."
How To Prepare Your Catnip For The Winter
"Winterizing" your catnip allows you to help your plant along as the weather starts to turn cold. When you take steps to protect your catnip from the elements, you ensure that it grows back healthier and happier when spring comes around.
Even though catnip, as a perennial, will already grow back, this extra step can often improve your catnip crop.
To successfully winterize your catnip, you can:
- Remove fallen leaves or other debris from your catnip bed
- Redirect birds or other creatures that might try to survive off of your catnip over the winter
- Cut back your catnip to prevent pests from taking root
- Rely on mulch to protect the health of your soil and catnip roots
If your area sees particularly heavy snow or cold weather every year, you may also want to consider transplanting your catnip or moving a catnip container indoors. Even if you don't cultivate your catnip over the winter, keeping it in a less-volatile area may ensure better growth when the spring comes back again.
Learn more about the process of winterizing catnip in this post: How To Overwinter Nepeta (Catnip)
Should You Deadhead Catnip Plants?
The process of "deadheading" your catnip sounds more ominous than it is. To deadhead your catnip, you remove any buds or flowers that the plant has developed over the year.
This process serves two purposes. To start, it discourages pests from flocking to your catnip, thus ensuring that the plant stays healthier throughout the winter.
Deadheading also keeps your catnip from overusing soil resources throughout the winter. When your catnip doesn't have to try and protect its flowers, it can instead focus its internal energy on its roots. As a result, your catnip plant may come back from its winter hibernation healthier than ever.
It is in your best interest, then, to deadhead your catnip plant before the first frost of the season. You can do this with a sharp pair of gardening scissors. Once you have your catnip's extra leaves and flowers in hand, you can either dry your cuts for future use or compost them.
When To Expect Catnip In The Spring
Whether you're a new gardener or an old hand, it's always exciting to see the first green sprouts start to appear in the spring. When, though, should you expect to see your catnip coming back from its long winter nap?
The rate at which your catnip grows will depend on your climate, garden type, soil type, and several other factors. You can, however, usually expect to see your first catnip sprouts in early April. You can usually harvest your first batch of catnip in late spring.
Does Catnip Spread?
Because catnip is part of the larger mint family, many gardeners may assume that uncontained catnip might spread via runner roots. This is a safe assumption, as catnip has been known to grow aggressively and wildly if not appropriately contained.
Specifically, it's recommended that most gardeners keep their catnip in containers to avoid excessive growth. Uncontrolled catnip can grow to be up to three feet in height when cultivated. Comparatively, wild catnip can transform from a manageable plant into a bush topping out at between eight and 12 feet tall.
Catnip that you plant in your garden can develop runner roots and develop offshoot patches if not properly contained. As such, it's in your best interest to regularly prune your catnip and ensure that the plants around it are in good health.
Preventing Catnip Spread After Harvesting
If you want to avoid catnip spread, make sure that you don't dry your harvested catnip outside. You need to leave your catnip in a dry location for several days if you want it to dry for proper use. Unfortunately, if you leave your catnip outside, the wind might blow catnip seeds across your yard.
Untended catnip seeds can develop into offshoot patches over the course of the next several years. Again, this growth is slow, but it can still spell trouble for anyone looking to avoid a catnip infestation.
How To Distinguish Between Catnip And Catmint
As mentioned, catnip falls under the umbrella of the mint family. Mint tends to be prolific and can rapidly overwhelm any yard or garden that it's planted in if it is not sufficiently contained. What about catmint, though? Does it have the same overwhelming properties as mint, or is it more like catnip?
Specifically, catmint grows blue flowers while otherwise looking relatively similar to catnip. You can find catmint low to the ground in full shade or sun, as the plant will grow well in either set of conditions.
While you can dry catmint leaves to use in tea or as an anti-inflammatory agent, it will not have the same effect on cats as catnip.
How To Grow Long-Lasting Catnip
If you're preparing your garden or containers for catnip this year, you need to know what kind of environment the plant prefers to grow in.
Catnip will most often thrive in full sun, but it can successfully grow in partial shade as well. Ideally, you'll want the soil you plant catnip transplants or seeds in to be somewhat sandy and well draining.
Try to avoid planting catnip in clay. You may also want to test the pH of your soil and ensure that it is slightly acidic as opposed to alkaline.
The fantastic news about catnip is that you can plant it at just about any time of year to great effect. As long as local temperatures stay above freezing, catnip tends to thrive between Zones 3 and 7.
Make sure you prune your catnip regularly to both prevent unwanted spreading and keep seeds or transplanted sprouts from growing over one another.
Water your catnip twice a week during the dry season and once a week during bouts of heavy rain. You can harvest your catnip regularly and still encourage continued growth all the way up until the first freeze of the year.
Catnip brings brand-new life to your garden, but you need to know how to care for it if you want it to thrive. This perennial can keep coming back to your garden for several years if you provide it with the TLC that it needs. With that in mind, deadhead your catnip when winter comes and prepare your garden for the cold.
For more information about how you can successfully grow catnip in your garden, or for help preparing other herbs this winter, check out our other gardening guides.