Does your cat go crazy when exposed to catnip? If so, she is among the 50 to 75 percent of felines who respond to this plant. Maybe you’d like to grow your own catnip to keep kitty supplied with this safe herbal plant? If so, read on.
What is Catnip?
Catnip, a cousin of mint, is an herbal plant that is native to Europe, Africa and Asia. It has been imported to North America, where it can now also be found growing. In outdoor growing conditions, catnip grows to about three feet tall, and has small flowers that may be lavender, pink or white. Its stems and leaves contain an oil, nepetalactone, that tends to stimulate the pheromones of a cat when they smell it, causing euphoria.
Will My Cat Respond to Catnip?
The answer to this question largely depends upon her parents. Did her mom or dad respond to catnip? If so, your cat is more likely to have a reaction to catnip than other cats. Before deciding to grow your own catnip, you should first buy some catnip to see how your cat reacts. If there is no reaction, there’s really no reason to try to grow catnip.
Growing Catnip Indoors
Even if you live in an area that doesn’t have a lot of outdoor space, it is possible to grow catnip indoors. Just like most herbs, catnip will thrive indoors under the right conditions.
You can buy catnip seeds, as well as small catnip plants that are ready for planting, at most home and garden stores. You can also take a cutting of new growth from a friend’s catnip plant and grow your own catnip that way.
Place the seeds in small individual pots, using fast-draining potting soil. Make sure to place the pots where they will receive direct light for at least five hours each day. Although catnip needs to be watered often, you must make sure that the pot has plenty of drainage to let it seep out. It’s best to let your catnip plant get too dry rather than too wet, as root rot can easily occur. It is also recommended to feed your catnip plant with a weak liquid indoor plant fertilizer during its growing season.
Indoor catnip will likely reach heights of no more than two feet tall. Keep an eye out for insects that like to live on catnip, including whitefly, mealybugs and aphids. Try to treat these with a nontoxic option, so as not to poison your kitty inadvertently. The most important thing to remember when growing catnip indoors is to place the pots away from your cat’s reach.
Growing Catnip Outdoors
Catnip plants can be grown outdoors in USDA plant hardiness zones 3 through 9. If you’re unsure which zone you live in, this interactive plant hardiness zone map can help you determine it based on your zip code.
If you have the space outside your home to grow catnip, be sure to plant the seeds or small plants in the spring. Bury seeds at least an eighth of an inch below the soil, spacing them 15 inches apart. Water the catnip seeds very well for the first ten days, after which time you should start to see plants sprout.
Remember that catnip can take over an entire garden, as it is an invasive plant, so plant wisely. Outdoors, it will thrive in poor, slightly alkaline soil that has good drainage. Full sun to partial shade is recommended outdoors. Some gardening specialists recommend growing outdoor catnip near vegetables to attract your cat and keep rodents and rabbits away from your growing vegetables.
You should also protect outdoor growing catnip from neighborhood cats, using garden fencing or an enclosure if possible. It’s perfectly fine for your cat to roll in your growing catnip, however. Some cats will lie among the catnip, rubbing on it and chewing it. If your cat tries to destroy your plants, place bamboo sticks two to three inches apart to keep your cat from being able to attack your plants.
Whether you are growing catnip indoors or outdoors, it should be dried before exposing your cat to it. (There’s nothing wrong with giving fresh catnip to your cat, however. Most cats respond best to dried catnip as the oil is stronger, but you can break fresh catnip leaves to release the scent of the oil and attract kitty).
Harvest outdoor catnip on a dry, sunny day, cutting off the whole plant at its base. Take catnip indoors and hang it upside down in a dark, dry area. Once the catnip has dried, store it in airtight freezer bags to preserve the oil that makes cats go crazy. You can put dried catnip inside cat pillows or toys before giving to your cat
Catnip is a perennial plant, so it should grow back year upon year. Simply snip off its flowers and pinch off its leaves in the fall to promote its regrowth the following year.