Some of my longtime readers will recall that I’m a bit of a cat-aholic. While I started with just one cat, Monsieur Pierre, he was joined a few years later by the sweet Raz, who we nursed back to health only to lose a year ago to feline leukemia. Then of course came Genghis Khan kitty and his littermates, who all had the good fortune of being adopted, and the Marvin Brothers – Groucho, Whitey and Shy Boy – all dumped in the same spot in the woods as Raz, Genghis and his siblings. And this year, because we seem to have an invisible sign hanging on our gate that says “All Stray Cats Welcome Here” we now have Rocky, who started off with us as a wild thing and is now happily napping on our front porch as I type this.
All of these cats can only mean one thing: growing catnip. With catnip going for $2.50 a bag in the Doctors Foster and Smith catalog and at the local store, I give thanks that I have plentiful catnip growing in the garden. Growing catnip isn’t difficult, and if you have bright sunlight, a bit of soil and a pot or some garden space, you can grow catnip. Here’s how.
Catnip is a low-growing, shrubby perennial. You can start it easily from seeds. Place a seed in a pot of sterile garden soil under grow lights or on a sunny windowsill. If your cats are catnip fiends, keep them out of the area where you’re growing your stash of catnip or else they’ll be all over it and the plants won’t grow to maturity. Transfer the plants to your garden in full sun after all danger of frost has passed. You can also purchase catnip plants in the herbs section of your favorite home and garden center as a small plant.
Because catnip is a perennial, make sure it’s planted in your garden in a place that won’t be disturbed. Here in zone 6B, it needs no special winter protection. Last year was one of the coldest winters on record in our part of the world and my catnip survive -1 F temperatures overnight. I’m convinced that catnip can withstand anything.
It may seed itself around the parent plant, and you can transfer the seedlings to other parts of your garden if you like or give them away.
If your cats constantly chomp on the growing plant, place bamboo stakes around the plant to keep them away.
Harvest catnip when the plant is full of leaves and about 8 to 12 inches tall. It’s best to harvest the leaves before the plant flowers; it’s easier to dry it. Gather bunches of stems in your hand and using sharp kitchen scissors, snip off springs with 6 to 8 inches of twig left on them. Snip off as much as you like from mature plants. From younger plants, I suggest pinching off a few leaves only so as to leave enough on the plant so that it can make its food and set down deep roots.