My Kingdom...For Some Catnip!

by Lee Chambers


Oh, catnip…that mysterious substance!

For most cats, it’s an incredible mood elevator.  Once they’ve inhaled it, you can see a range of actions and reactions; rubbing and rolling against the plant (or the toy that’s laced with it), pawing at it, licking and chewing it, meowing at it, or even trying to claw at the hand that holds it.  If they eat it, it acts as a sedative.

Roughly two-thirds of domestic cats are affected by catnip, which is a perennial herbaceous plant that’s part of the mint family.  They experience its effects for anywhere from 5-15 minutes, then it wears off and they return to their normal demeanor.  Even big cats like leopards, cougars, lynxes and servals are also reactive to catnip (THAT must be something to see!)

That magic ingredient that brings the euphoria?  It’s called nepetalactone, and it’s a stimulant found in the leaves and stems of catnip.  The good news is that catnip is safe for cats, but should always be given in small doses.  The more they’re exposed to it, they may no longer respond to it.  Some recommend that it shouldn’t be given more than once every two or three weeks to prevent habituation.

Grow Your Own!

If you’d like to grow catnip, here are some things you need to know.

  • You can plant catnip in your garden as seeds or from plants. If you’re planting seeds, you need to prepare them.  The outer coat of catnip seeds is tough and needs to be slightly damaged (stratified) prior to planting.  Put the seeds in the freezer overnight, then place them in a bowl of water for 24 hours.  This will make it easier for the seeds to sprout.
  • After you stratified the catnip seeds, they can be planted indoors or outdoors. Thin them to one plant per 20 inches after the sprout.
  • You can also plant catnip from started plants or plant divisions. Spring or fall is the best time for planting catnip starts or divisions.
  • Catnip plants should be planted 18-20 inches apart. They do best in well-draining soil in the full sun, but will do well with part-sun and a variety of soil types.  Once established, they don’t need much fuss.
  • They don’t need to be fertilized, as fertilizer will decrease their smell and flavor. Just be sure they’re watered beyond rainfall if they’re in pots, or if you’re having drought conditions.
  • Catnip can become invasive in some areas, so you may want to control it. The plants can spread easily by seed, so in order to control the spread, you should remove the flowers before they go to seed.

Fun factoid:  Butterflies, as well as cats, are attracted to catnip plants.  Happy gardening!


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