Catmint, or Nepeta faassenii, is a tough plant that is easy to grow in many Southwest gardens. A member of the mint family, the plant spreads easily, so it makes an excellent groundcover. Each individual plant grows to about 18 inches wide and its purple flower spikes rise nearly the same height. This fun plant attracts bees, butterflies and cats, of course; they are attracted to its aroma.
Nepeta can survive some heat and drought, but blooms more when summer rains begin. With a little shearing back, you can have catmint blooms in late spring, early summer or midsummer, depending on your region and that year’s weather. Don’t be alarmed if your catmint slows down when temperatures reach 90 degrees; it will perk up again as the summer cools and bloom until hard frost.
Because Nepeta is a mint, it can become invasive. Shearing off blooms just as they begin to fade will help prevent re-seeding and might produce another wave of blooms. Give it a deeper cut near the ground in fall or early spring to rejuvenate the plant.
I enjoy the scent of catmint, and sometimes cats can crush the plants by rolling around in them. We had another visitor to our catmint this year – a cottontail rabbit who dug through and under the plants for a nest. I’m guessing she was smart enough to figure out the scent would throw off nosy dogs or other potential predators to protect her babies.
Catmint is a forgiving plant; it will recover from the rabbit nest and doesn’t react badly to overpruning. Not pruning at all could lead to leggy plants or more new plants than you wanted in your garden. Otherwise, this is one of the easiest plants to grow in moderate climates of the Southwest.
Although the names are used interchangeably, catnip and catmint are different Nepeta varieties. Look for Nepeta x faassenii for ornamental value. Most varieties of Nepeta survive in zones 4 through 8, and some survive zone 3 chill and zone 9 heat. But give the plant afternoon shade in those warmer regions for best health and blooming, or plant it in a container.