How to grow catnip in pots

A step-by-step guide: How to grow catnip in a pot on your patio or deck (from seed!)

 I currently have a 4-month-old kitten, and he is CRAZY. He was a sweet fuzzy furball for the first 3 months, and then his savage side came out.

Cosmo (aka Cosmo Kramer, aka Kitter Catter) loves to race around the house attacking everything in sight. Sometimes he lurks around corners, stalking us or a toy. His favorite is a catnip-filled fish big enough for him to pounce on, wrestle and ferociously attack.

Until recently, I didn’t even think about growing our own catnip. But you totally can! Catnip is easy to grow in pots and containers and makes a great addition to your patio garden.

In fact, catnip is an invasive perennial and will quickly take over an in-ground garden. So containers are a pretty ideal way to grow your own.

But before we get to growing it … What does catnip do to cats?

how to grow catnip in a pot - on your deck or patio

The Humane Society explains that catnip (nepetalactone) is a member of the mint family that has an essential oil that triggers a happy receptor in up to 80 percent of cats. The reaction usually starts between 3 and 6 months old (I can vouch for this!) and tends to fade with older cats.

In general, catnip is a stimulant for cats when sniffed, but it has a calming effect when eaten.

What is catnip used for?

Catnip isn’t just a fun high for your cat. It actually has some practical uses as well. You can use it to:

  • Encourage your cat to use a scratching post, cat bed, or toy, rather than tearing up furniture or curtains.
  • Introduce cats who are new to each other.
  • Introduce a cat to a new environment.
  • Reduce anxiety and resistance when using a carrier.

So … can humans eat catnip? Yes we can! Dried catnip leaves and flowers can be brewed as a tea, which has calming effects similar to chamomile. Traditionally it’s been used for medicinal purposes, such as treating headaches and easing anxiety.

For more fun facts about catnip, check out the FAQ at the bottom of the article!

How to plant catnip in a pot from seeds

how to grow catnip in pots - patio garden life

Start catnip from seed or cuttings

Either method works well. If you’re already starting other seeds for your spring deck or patio garden, why not try a few catnip seeds too? That said, if you’re pressed for time or start later in the season, cuttings or seedlings work fine too.

To start with seeds:

  • You can buy catnip seeds from seed companies, nurseries or garden stores, or harvest them from dried catnip flower buds.
  • Plant seeds indoors a month or two before the last expected frost in your area (here’s a handy frost date calculator!).
  • First, choose a seed starting kit or fill small containers with seed starting material. Or good potting soil is fine.
  • Next, and this is important, do this simple and helpful step: Before you plant the seeds, you need to rough them up a bit to loosen the seed coat and help them germinate. This is called stratifying the seeds:
    • Set seeds in a freezer bag and tuck in the freezer overnight.
    • The next day, soak them in a bowl of warm to hot water.
    • Leave them to soak for 12-24 hours.
  • Sow in your seed-starting containers and cover with a thin ¼ inch layer of soil. 

Park them in a sunny window and keep lightly moist but never soggy.

  • Your catnip seeds should sprout in 2-3 weeks. Continue lightly watering.

Finally, when they reach 4-5 inches and you’re past the last frost, transfer to pots or other containers.

TIP: Catnip starts to emit its intoxicating scent when just a few inches tall, so keep your cats away from the seedlings until the plants are established and sturdy … or you won’t have any for your container garden!

Cat with catnip in a pot on the deck

Or you can buy seedlings from a local farmers’ market, nursery or garden store.

This is faster and easier than starting from seed, of course, but catnip seedlings aren’t always as widely available as some of the common culinary herbs like basil and oregano. Try asking local nurseries about availability or other recommended sources.

Another option is to start catnip plants from cuttings. If you already have plants or know someone who does, this works and it’s free.

How to start catnip plants from cuttings

  • First, cut off a 6-inch stem from a healthy plant.
  • Remove the leaves from the bottom 2-3 inches.
  • Next, dip the tip of the stem in rooting hormone, if possible. 
  • Set in potting soil and continue to lightly water until you move it to its long-term spot on your patio or deck.

Choose a container and a sunny or mostly sunny spot

Very much unlike actual cats, catnip is not particular about most of its growing conditions. That’s what makes it so easy to grow in pots and containers.

Catnip likes: full sun to partial shade (especially in hot climates), consistent watering, room to grow

Catnip doesn’t like: full shade, soggy soil, crowded spaces

Catnip isn’t picky, but keep these preferences in mind for best results.

  • Choose a sunny spot with some elbow room. Catnip can grow 2 feet wide and 3 feet tall, which means you’ll need a large container and some extra space around it.
  • Fill a 10-12” deep pot or container with good quality potting soil for each plant. The wider the opening of the pot, the better! This will give the catnip room to spread and your cat room to lounge …

TIP: Go with a wide-mouth container if you’re good with your cat (and potentially the neighbor’s cat) physically climbing into the catnip and rolling around. If not, I would still use a wide container but add bamboo stakes or a cage to protect the plant from kitty assault.

  • If you haven’t already hardened off the catnip seedling, do so before setting out in full sun. 

How to take care of a potted catnip plant

  • Watering instructions

Remember, catnip likes steady but light water — no soggy roots. Make sure the container has good drainage, and let the soil nearly dry out in between waterings.

  • Fertilizer instructions

Catnip generally doesn’t need fertilizer. It’s actually pretty happy in sub-par soil, as long as it has sun and some water. But if you want to give it an extra boost, add a little water-soluble fertilizer every month or two during the growing season.

  • How to prune catnip 

Regular pruning helps ensure a full, productive, bushy plant. Pinch off stems regularly from the top, just above a set of leaves. When flowers start to bloom, snip or pinch them off if you want the plant to continue to grow abundant leaves.

How to prune catnip:

Will growing catnip attract cats?

Um, yes.

At least the ones who love catnip, and that’s 50 percent of them, so expect your neighbor’s cats might not-so-casually drop by your deck for a sniff or rub.

How much catnip should I grow?

As I said earlier, catnip spreads quickly. When planted in the ground, it’s considered invasive because it can self-seed from the dried flower buds and spread far and wide.

catnip growing in containers - purple flowers

It also needs a decent amount of space to grow — it probably won’t do as well in small 8 inch pots crammed together on the deck.

And catnip is potent! You don’t need a lot to keep your cat happy on fresh catnip all summer and dried catnip leaves and flower buds through the winter.

With all of that in mind, I recommend sticking with one catnip plant. If you decide you want more mid-season, you can always start another plant from a cutting of the original.

How and when should I harvest catnip?

Harvesting catnip is easy, a little at a time or all at once when you’re done with the plant. You can start to pick leaves when the plant is about 6” tall. Use the leaves and stems collected during regular pruning for fresh use or for drying. 

When the flower buds appear and small purple flowers emerge, the essential oil cats love will be at its peak — so that’s a good time to grab some sharp scissors and snip stems and flower buds.

At the end of the growing season, you can harvest the whole plant by cutting it down at the base. Then, hang the whole thing upside down or tie branches into bunches for drying in a dry, protected place like a garage or shed.

As I’ve said — and as your cat can attest — catnip is easy to grow and well worth the minimal effort required. It does very well in containers and serves as a unique, pet-honoring addition to your patio garden.

More ideas about herbs to grow in containers: 

As you can see from the simple steps above, it’s not hard to grow catnip in a pot or container.

Follow the steps and treat your cat to some homegrown catnip this season! Read on for a few fun facts about catnip and its uses.

Catnip fun facts:

What does catnip do to cats?

Smelling or sniffing it can trigger excitement and euphoria, sometimes even aggression. Eating it has the opposite effect and tends to calm them down.

What is catnip used for?

Catnip can be used in toys, beds, scratching posts, and other items of interest to your cat. It can also be used to ease them into stressful situations or introduce cats who are new to each other.

How much catnip should I give my cat?

A tablespoon of dried catnip rubbed on a scratching post or stuffed in a toy is usually enough to elicit a reaction. The effect often wears off after 5-10 minutes, after which your cat might be less sensitive to catnip for 30 minutes or more.

What part of catnip do you use with cats?

You can use any part of the plant with your cat. With a fresh plant, they might sniff, lick, chew on, or rub against the leaves. The flower buds have the highest concentration of the essential oil they’re attracted to, so 

Can cats overdose on catnip?

Catnip is nontoxic, but excessive use can sometimes cause agitation and aggression or even digestive upset. If you notice any of those reactions, remove the catnip toy or object for awhile.

Can I give my cat catnip every day?

Yes, it’s safe to give your cat every day.

How long does catnip last?

The catnip “high” usually lasts for 5-10 minutes.

Can humans eat catnip?

Yes, catnip is sometimes used to make a calming tea. People describe the flavor as somewhere between grassy, woodsy and skunky, so it’s best mixed with lemon and/or other herbs in tea.

How do you dry catnip for tea?

Most herbs can be dried by tying in a bundle and hanging upside down in a dry, dark spot like a garage. Or you can spread out some leaves and flower buds on a baking sheet and dry in an oven, on the lowest heat setting, for 2-4 hours.

Is catnip good for sleep?

For humans, catnip has a gentle calming effect like chamomile and has traditionally been used to help ease anxiety and sleep problems. Catnip and valerian root are a common combination for sleepy-time tea, as this writer happily discovered.

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