Companion plants for catmint

Catmint Companion Plants: Tips On Planting Next To Catmint Herbs

If your cats love catnip but you find it a bit drab in the garden, try growing the gorgeous blooming perennial catmint. While the cats may find the catmint irresistible, other nibblers such as deer and rabbits avoid it. What about catmint companion plants? With its lovely blue hues, companions for catmint aren’t hard to find and planting next to catmint is a sure way to accent other perennials. Read on to learn about catmint plant companions in the garden.

About Catmint Companion Plants

Catmint (Nepeta) is an herbaceous perennial from the mint family and, like other members of this family, has aromatic leaves. It is often confused with catnip and is, indeed, closely related, but where catnip is grown for its highly aromatic herbal properties, catmint is prized for its ornamental qualities.

While there are a number of excellent catmint companion plants, the combination of roses and catmint stands out. Planting roses next to catmint not only looks beautiful but has the added benefit of covering up the bare stems of the rose while at the same time repelling detrimental insects and encouraging beneficial ones.

Additional Companions for Catmint

Catmint’s blue flowers combine beautifully with other perennials that enjoy the same growing conditions such as:

  • European Sage/Southernwood
  • Salvia
  • Jupiter’s Beard
  • Yarrow
  • Lamb’s Ear
  • Poppy Mallow/Winecups

There are plenty of other combinations of plants that work with catmint too. Try growing catmint plant companions such as verbena, agastache, lavender, and tufted hairgrass together.

Plant a striking border of catmint along with irises and Siberian spurge, or accent the aforementioned rose and catmint combo with a pop of color from yarrow. Likewise, combine yarrow and catmint with agastache and foxtail lilies for long-lasting blooms and ease of maintenance.

Spring irises combine beautifully with catmint, allium, phlox, and white flower lace. For a different texture, combine perennial grasses with catmint. Dahlias, catmint and sneezeweed give long-lasting brilliant blooms through early fall.

Black-eyed Susan, daylily, and coneflower all look gorgeous with the addition of catmint.

There are really no ends to the planting combinations with catmint. Just remember to combine like-minded plants. Those that share similar conditions as catmint enjoy full sun and average garden soil with moderate to little water and are hardy to your region.

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FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’ is a mounding aromatic perennial. This mint relative is clothed in soft gray-green oval leaves. From late spring to autumn, plants provide a generous offering of deep lavender flowers. Butterflies, bees and hummingbirds flock to the blooms in sunny gardens with sandy well drained soils.

HABITAT & HARDINESS: Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’ is reported to be a chance seedling of Nepeta racemosa and Nepeta nepetella.

Mrs. Patricia Taylor spotted the seedling in the lower part of a Mrs. Walker’s garden in Ireland during the 1970’s. Mrs. Taylor took cuttings and the plant was introduced into the trade in 1988 by Four Seasons Nursery of Norwich, England.

Nepeta racemosa and N. nepetella were first crossed by Dutch nurseryman, J. H. Faasen, in the 1930’s so the plant is sometimes referred to as Nepeta x faassenii ‘Walker’s Low’.

Plants are hardy from USDA Zones 4-9.

PLANT DESCRIPTION: Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’ is a dense mounding perennial with many square grayish stems.

Leaves are oval or heart shaped with silvery gray-green color. The fuzzy aromatic blades are 1-2” long with scalloped or crenate edges.

Beginning in late spring or early summer, a profusion of tubular blue-violet flowers are borne on arching spikey stalks. The flower display almost covers the handsome foliage for several weeks into the summer.

Blooming lasts for about 6 weeks and will often repeat and continue into early autumn.

Plants grow to 2.5’ tall with a 3’ spread.

CULTURAL & MAINTENANCE NEEDS: Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’ thrives in full sun and average to dry sandy soil. Plants tolerate drought, heat, moderate salinity and shallow rocky soils.

In extremely hot and humid southern states, plants will fare better if they are sited in afternoon shade.

In summer, shear plants to remove spent flowers and stimulate another round of blooming. Plants can be trimmed lightly or cut back by as much as half to promote a more compact habit.

Cold hardiness is enhanced if winter pruning is avoided. Instead wait until the dormant season ends to remove tattered growth.

‘Walker’s Low’ is well behaved. Plants lack the vigorous rhizomes that cause other mint relatives to become invasive. Seed are sterile and cannot sprout in unexpected places.

This cultivar is pest resistant and does not need fertilizer. The aromatic foliage is unpalatable to deer and rabbits.

Despite the name, plants are not usually attractive to cats. So – cats will not come into the garden and love your catmint to death.

LANDSCAPE USES: This is a good Groundcover or Edging for the Perennial Border or Herb Garden. Plants are also used as Butterfly Nectar Plants or as part of a Grouping or Mass Planting. Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’ has Showy Blooms and is appropriate for Containers, Cottage Gardens, Deer Resistant Plantings, Water-wise Landscapes, Low Maintenance Plantings and Rock Gardens.

COMPANION & UNDERSTUDY PLANTS: Try pairing Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’ with Achillea millefolium, Callirhoe involucrata, Coreopsis verticillata ‘Moonbeam’, Panicum virgatum ‘Prairie Sky’, Solidago nemoralis or Schizachyrium scoparium ‘Standing Ovation’.

Blephilia ciliata has similar height, flower color and culture and could be substituted as a native alternative in some situations.

TRIVIA: Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’ garnered the Royal Horticultural Society’s 2012 Award of Garden Merit and the Perennial Plant Association’s 2007 Perennial Plant of the Year award.

If I could only grow one perennial plant in my garden, I would choose nepeta (also known as catmint or catnip).

I would need to be a poet to be able to fully describe the beauty of this perennial. Because I am not one, I can give you a mere list of reasons on why you should be growing catmint as well.

11 reasons why you should be growing nepeta in your garden

  1. Nepeta flowers earlier than most other summer perennials, much earlier than Salvia, for instance.
  2. Catmint flowers twice a year. Not many plants manage to to do that, especially here in the North.
  3. The colour of the nepeta flowers is very unique. A mixture of lavender and blue that makes you feel refreshed and calm. It is a magic colour at which you could stare for hours.
  4. Once the petals fall, the remaining spikes keep much of their decorative power. Because of this, even after flowering nepeta is decorative.
  5. Even the leaves of nepeta have a strong appeal, having a charming silvery-blue colour.
  6. Nepeta is one of the best companion plants for roses and most of the perennials. If blue-purple does not fit your colour scheme, no problem, there are also white nepeta varieties out there!
  7. True, catmint looks great next to roses. But it also looks amazing if planted by itself!
  8. You don’t have a garden? No problem! Nepeta flowers well also in pots.
  9. By now you might be thinking: “Hm… the plant sounds interesting, but wait, did you say it was called catmint? Isn’t this the plant that attracts cats?”. Yes, the genus nepeta has been said to attract cats. However, we grow in our garden 5 nepeta varieties, have at least three cats visiting the garden, but we have never seen any of them being particularly interested in any of our catmints. Therefore, don’t worry, cats will not ruin your flowerbeds if you plant catmint.
  10. Catmint is one of the best bee friendly perennials present in our garden.
  11. Catmint is winter hardy and grows well in full sun or partial shade.

Now that I have shared with you some of my excitement and love for this plant, let’s start exploring the world of growing nepeta into more details.

Nepeta “Six Hills Giant”Allium hollandicum “Purple Sensation”, Anemone sylvestris and Nepeta “Six Hills Giant”, 23.06.15Blue Salvia nemorosa, yellow Alchemilla mollis and the lavender Nepeta racemosa (out of bloom)

Nepeta varieties

In this chapter I will describe the nepeta varieties we grow in our garden. All the information reported in this article is based on our experience with these varieties.

There is a little bit of confusion on what is the correct Latin name for several catmint varieties. For instance, some refer to Nepeta racemosa “Walker’s Low” as Nepeta faassenii “Walker’s Low”. This is just to make you aware that if you go to a nursery and see a Nepeta faassenii “Walker’s Low”, this is the same plant as the one I have been talking about. In this article I am using the naming of the Royal Horticultural Society.

Nepeta faassenii “Six Hills Giant”

This catmint is truly spectacular. It produces a large clump, with beautifully blue-grey leaves. You should find the right spot for this plant, as nepeta Six Hills Giant needs space to grow. One of ours is planted in a crowded flowerbed. To make the plant more visible (and give some space to all the surrounding plants) we are forced to place some supports around it. Don’t make the same mistakes as we did and plant nepeta Six Hills Giant in a spacious place. This catmint variety looks stunning also, if not more when planted alone, see the design chapter for more tips.

Nepeta racemosa “Grog”

This catmint is shorter than nepeta Six Hills Giant, and flowers first among all our varieties (it starts around the 20th of May). Nepeta Grog has only one minor problem. It self-seeds a lot. Each year in spring and autumn we are forced to remove literally thousands of catmint seedlings around the spot where Grog grows. This was good at the beginning, as we could quickly increase the number of catmint plants in our garden. However, now, we are quite saturated with Nepeta, and are forced to remove most of the seedlings. Nevertheless, the tons of catmint we had available, enabled us to experiment with the plant. This is how we found out Nepeta Grog does well in half shade and in pots.

Nepeta racemosa “Walker’s Low”

Contrary to its name, Nepeta Walker’s Low is not very low. It is about the same height as the other catmint varieties, besides nepeta Six Hills Giant, which is larger. Nepeta Walker’s Low is a great perennial that produces flowers of a more intense blue colour than the other catmints in our garden. It also does not self-seed too much.

Nepeta faassenii

After falling in love with the other nepeta varieties, I decided we needed to have more catmints in the garden (this was before we realised Grog crazily self-seeded). To cut on the expenses, I bought Nepeta faassenii seeds. Although I am not a fan of propagating plants by seeds, it was super easy growing catmint from seeds. I just threw a handful of seeds in a seed tray with some generic soil, let it stay outside in a sunny spot, and in late summer I transferred the nepeta plants into the flowerbeds. The young plants happily survived the winter and flowered the next season.

Nepeta faassenii is a hardy catmint of an average size, very similar to nepeta Grog. It does not self-seed as much as Grog, therefore if you do not need many catmints in your garden and do not want to weed out the nepeta plants, I would recommend getting Nepeta faassenii instead of Nepeta racemosa Grog.

Nepeta racemosa “Snowflake”

This is our latest addition to the catmint family. A white nepeta! Nepeta snowflake is a hardy perennial, similar in size to Grog. Although it is great to have a white nepeta in your collection, I believe Snowflake is not as decorative as the blue catmint plants. Firstly, its leaves do not have a marked blue-grey tinge as the leaves of the blue varieties. Secondly, the spent spikes of nepeta snowflake are green and not purple. This drastically decreases the decorative value of the white nepeta. And finally, the white colour of the Snowflake flowers is nowhere near as charming and calming as the spikes of nepeta Six Hills Giant and its blue brothers.

The only advantage of Snowflake over the other nepeta varieties is that Snowflake is white. If you need a white perennial as a companion plant, I would recommend white salvia, instead of white nepeta. The former is more compact, which means the white colour is more intense. However, nepeta Snowflake is definitely not a bad perennial, and you should consider it, especially if you need a plant with white flowers that blooms before salvia does.

Planting Nepeta

It is very easy caring for nepeta. Catmint prefers sun, but we found out that Nepeta Grog will also grow in partial shade. It has no particular soil preferences, as long as your soil is not extreme (extremely sandy or heavy clay). Use your own experience. If other plants grow in your soil, catmint will as well.

Pruning Nepeta

Prune catmint in summer, once it is done flowering. Deadhead it, or simply cut it by a third, to promote the development of new flowers. We have discovered that if the plant is left unfertilised, the second flowering will be not nearly as decorative as the first one. Therefore, it is important that you fertilise catmint after you have pruned it.

I find it difficult to decide when to deadhead nepeta. If you do it too early, its spikes have still many flowers which are attracting bees. If you do it too late, you are postponing its second flowering. You just have to be strong and deadhead nepeta although there are still some flowers left.

Once it has flowered the second time, prune it once more. Blue catmint will still look decorative even when the petals have fallen, due to the beautiful purple spent spikes, but you should deadhead it! Firstly, this will make your flowerbed look tidier; Secondly, catmint will save energy for next year as it will not need to waste it to ripen its seeds; And thirdly, if you cut the spent flowers, nepeta will not self-seed as much.

You should be pruning catmint the last time in late autumn. Just cut it to the ground and that’s it.

Pollinator attraction

Nepeta is among the best bee friendly plants. If I want to see which pollinators are currently present in the surroundings, I go straight to our nepeta plants. I am sure to find there all the pollinator species currently present in our garden.

Nepeta “Six Hills Giant”

Design with Nepeta

You can do so much with nepeta in your garden, or just a balcony. The most important thing to remember is that you will get the best results if you plant multiple nepeta plants. Here is a list of my favourite ways of using nepeta:

1. Plant nepeta together with blue salvia and alchemilla, along a path or fence. Alternate them: one clump of nepeta, one of salvia and one of alchemilla, then again nepeta, salvia, alchemilla and so on.

Blue Salvia nemorosa, yellow Alchemilla mollis and the lavender Nepeta racemosa (out of bloom)

2. Nepeta is one of the best companion plants for roses. It looks great with shrub roses as well as ground covering and climbing roses. For the latter, I would recommend using a large plant as Nepeta Six Hills Giant.

3. Nepeta looks great planted next to most perennials. Try blue nepeta together with white spring anemones, or purple tall alliums, or any yellow flowering plant, if you like some contrast.

Allium hollandicum “Purple Sensation”, Anemone sylvestris and Nepeta “Six Hills Giant”, 23.06.15

4. If you have a large balcony or veranda, try growing nepeta in pots. We like placing 5-10 nepeta pots of different heights on our veranda. Once the catmint starts flowering, you get an island of flowers floating on top of your pavement. Very beautiful! If you choose this option, remember to buy large pots, as nepeta does not like small containers. I would recommend fertilising the pots every month. Unfortunately, I did not take a picture of our nepeta flowering in pots. Luckily, Alexandra from the Middlesized Garden allowed me to use her picture to show the beautiful nepeta in containers!

Nepeta Six Hills Giant in pots from the Middlesized Garden

5. Nepeta Six Hills Giant looks great next to ponds. Its voluminous spikes reflect beautifully in the water and add height to the pond.

6. Nepeta Six Hills Giant looks great if it is not surrounded by other plants. The best spot for this catmint is planted in an area covered with pavement or stones. It is a great focus point: the massive clump of the silvery leaves of nepeta, the beautiful lavender blue flowers, and a cold pavement colour. No green, no warm colours, it looks very stylish. This composition will be decorative in late spring and late summer-autumn, meaning before and after the usual holiday season.

Conclusion

Nepeta is definitely my favourite perennial. I love that it is so easy to grow and versatile in the design. All the nepeta plants, but especially Nepeta Six Hills Giant deserve the Amberway Approval.

Plant Details:

Flowering time: Late Spring, Summer, Autumn

Spreading: Medium-High

Flower yield: High

Sun exposure: ½ to whole day sun

Scent: Flowers not, leaves yes.

Pollinator attraction: High

Lowest temperature survived: -20°C

Nepeta x. faassenii

Hey, get your cats straight! CatMINT is not catNIP.

Unlike its cousin catnip (Nepeta cataria), Faassen’s catmint does not drive felines wild, so you are free to plant it in your garden without fear of your yard turning into a hangout for tipsy tabbys.

All nepetas produce nepetalactone, the kitty intoxicant, but the amount in Faassen’s catmint is considerably less than the amount found in catnip. So you may end up with some super-sensitive kitties in your yard, but not a convention.

Catmint is a loosely mounded herbaceous perennial with attractive gray-green foliage. Once established, it’s heat and drought tolerant, which is why I love it for my Austin garden.

Cultivation and History

The name of the genus for this plant – Nepeta – derives from Nepete, an ancient Etruscan city now known as Nepi in Tuscany, Italy. The plants of this genus are native to southern and eastern Europe, the Middle East, central Asia, and parts of China.

Nepeta is a genus within the mint mint family (Lam) and includes about 250 different species of catmints and catnips.

The N. x. Faassenii cultivar was first cultivated by Faassen Nurseries in Tegelen, Netherlands, as a hybrid of N. racemosa and N. nepetella. You may sometimes see N. x. Faassenii called N. mussinii.

Gardening books will tell you this is a full sun plant, but as we’ve discussed, full sun doesn’t always mean full sun.

In the brutal heat and humidity of Texas, for example, it appreciates some shade. When planted in the shade, the plant will be a bit floppy, and function as a ground cover, which is just what I’m after.

Nepeta x. faassenii is a great ground cover solution for both shady and sunny areas. And it can tolerate nearly any soil condition and ph levels. Photo by Gretchen Heber.

In sun, it’s more upright, growing from 12 to 24 inches tall. A single plant can grow to be 12 to 28 inches wide.

It produces spikes of 1/2-inch, lavender-blue flowers that bloom from late spring into fall. The flowers attract bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.

Nepeta x. faassenii is a great choice for attracting bees, butterflies, and other pollinators.

Like it’s mint cousins, it’s a vigorous spreading herbaceous plant that has a tendency to spread if left unchecked.

Propagation

N. x. Faassenii is sterile, so while it may produce seeds, they are useless. Glue ‘em to a paper and call it art – that’s all you’ll get out of them.

Division

Divide Faassen’s catmint as you would any perennial. You can get our tips here.

From Cuttings

To propagate from cuttings, come springtime, take a sharp knife and cut a 4- or 5-inch piece of stem, just below a leaf. Strip off all but the top 3-4 leaves.

Fill a small pot with a rich potting mix; insert a pencil into the center of the pot to create a hole. Dip the end of the cutting into a rooting hormone and insert into the hole in the potting mix. Water well.

From Seedlings/Transplanting

You may also be able to find seedlings in local garden centers and online.

To plant them, just dig a hole about the same size as the container the seedling came in, drop it in, backfill if necessary, and give it a lot of water for the first couple weeks.

How to Grow

As mentioned above, if you live in the South, you’ll likely want to plant Faassen’s catmint in a semi-shady spot. Gardeners from other parts of the country can plant in full sun.

If you’re in a hot climate like that of Texas, a partial shady location might be best. Photo by Gretchen Heber.

It appreciates well-drained soil, but this doesn’t have to be anything fancy – average, dry to medium is fine.

Water well until established, and then leave it alone. I water mine every couple weeks if we haven’t had any rain.

Growing Tips

  • Sun or semi-shade
  • No fancy soil required
  • Water initially

Pruning and Maintenance

To encourage repeat blooming, trim the plants back by about half after the initial flush of flowers fades.

Cultivars to Select

‘Walker’s Low’ is the cultivar of N. x. Faassenii I most often see and hear about, though this moniker is a bit of a misnomer, because it can reach 2 feet tall. It has silver-grey foliage, lavender-blue flowers and spreads 2.5 to 3 feet.

‘Walker’s Low’ via Nature Hills Nursery

The Perennial Plant Association named ‘Walker’s Low’ its “Perennial of the Year” in 2007. You can find an 18- to 30-month-old plants in 1-gallon containers at Nature Hills Nursery.

A more compact version of ‘Walker’s Low’ is ‘Jr. Walker,’ which can grow to about the same height as ‘Walker’s Low’ without as much spread. Find them at your local plant centers at the beginning of spring.

Other cultivars to look for include:

  • ‘Blue Wonder’ — 12-18 inches tall, blue flowers
  • ‘Dropmore’ — 10-12 inches tall, blue flowers
  • ‘Snowflake’ — 10-12 inches tall, white flowers
  • ‘Six Hills Giant’ — 2-3 feet tall, light blue flowers

Managing Pests and Diseases

This plant is really quite trouble-free, but we’ll touch on a few problems you might – might – encounter.

Insects

You may see aphids, leafhoppers, slugs, snails, spider mites, or whiteflies.

For aphids, blast them off with a stream of water.

For leafhoppers, if the infestation is bad, you might have to pull up affected plants. If it’s not too bad, use an insecticidal soap such as this one from Garden Safe, available via Amazon.

You can get rid of slugs and snails with a bait such as Sloggo, copper strips, beer traps, or with crushed egg shell. Learn more about defeating slugs and snails.

Spider mites can be treated with neem oil.

If you see whiteflies, consider using pheromone traps.

Disease

In hot and humid conditions, gardeners might see the bacterial pathogen Pseudomonas. This can be controlled with a bactericide.

Best Uses

Catmint is often used in rock gardens, or as a border plant. I have some growing in a small area as a ground cover.

Quick Reference Growing Chart

Plant Type: Herbaceous perennial Flower Color: Lavender
Native To: Southern/eastern Europe, Middle East, central Asia, parts of China Maintenance: Low
Hardiness (USDA Zone): 3-8 Soil Type: Average, not fussy
Bloom Time: Late spring to fall Soil pH: Acid to alkaline, 5.0-8.0
Exposure: Full sun to part shade Soil Drainage: Well-draining, dry to medium moisture
Time to Maturity: 2-3 months Companion Planting: Salvia
Spacing: 18 inches Uses: Ground cover, rock gardens, borders
Planting Depth: As deep as the container it came in Family: Lamiaceae
Height: 12-24 inches Subfamily: Nepetoideae
Spread: 12-28 inches Genus: Nepeta
Water Needs: Low once established Species: N. x faassenii
Growth Rate: Fast
Tolerance: Deer and most other herbivores
Attracts: Bees, butterflies, hummingbirds
Pests & Diseases: Aphids, leafhoppers, slugs, snails, spider mites, whiteflies, pseudomonas bacterial infection

Easy as Pie and Feline-Free

If you’re in need of a heat-loving, drought-tolerant, low-maintenance plant, consider Nepeta x. Faassenii. Plop it in well-drained soil, water it for a couple weeks, and then sit back and enjoy.

Remember that although it’s kin to catnip, it contains far less of the chemical compound that drives cats wild, so you can safely plant Faassen’s catmint without fearing a clowder of cats will descend upon your garden.

Do you have catmint in your garden? Share your tips and tricks in the comments section, below!

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Photos by Gretchen Heber © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Product photo via Nature Hills Nursery. Uncredited photos: .

About Gretchen Heber

A former garden editor for a daily newspaper in Austin, Texas, Gretchen Heber goes through entirely too many pruners and garden gloves in a year’s time. She’s never met a succulent she didn’t like and gets really irritated every 3-4 years when Austin actually has a freeze cold enough to kill them. To Gretchen, nothing is more rewarding than a quick dash to the garden to pluck herbs to season the evening meal. And it’s definitely time for a happy dance when she’s able to beat the squirrels to the peaches, figs, or loquats.

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