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Nepeta X faassenii
Nepeta X faassenii

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Zone
Zones 1-24, 26, 28-43
Full SunPartial Sun
Full, Partial
Regular Water
Moderate

Nepeta

Lamiaceae (Labiatae)
Deciduous, Perennials

Vigorous, spreading members of the mint family with aromatic foliage. With the exception of catnip (Nepeta cataria), these plants are valuable for their spikes of two-lipped blue or blue-violet (or sometimes pink, white, or yellow) flowers. As soon as blossoms fade, shear plants back by half or cut faded flower stems to the ground to encourage rebloom. (Most species seed freely and can become invasive if spent flowers are not removed.)

Plants make attractive, informal low hedges or edgings. In winter or early spring, cut out last year’s growth to make way for new stems. At that time, you can also divide clumps for increase, though it’s easy to start new plants from cuttings (take them before flower buds form). When buying named varieties, be sure to obtain cutting-grown plants; seedlings vary in flower color and habit. In cold-winter climates, nepetas are occasionally used as a substitute for lavender (Lavandula) in borders and edgings. Most species resent heat combined with high humidity. In desert Zones 12 and 13, most are best treated as winter annuals. They tolerate regular moisture if soil is well drained.

Nepeta cataria
Nepeta cataria

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Nepeta cataria

From the Mediterranean and western Asia. To 2–3 ft. high and wide, with downy, heart-shaped, tooth-edged, gray-green leaves. Spikes of small (1/4–1/2-in.) whitish or pinkish flowers in late spring, early summer. Not very ornamental but worthy of a place in the herb garden. Grows easily in light soil and selfsows readily.

Common name refers to stimulant effect on cats, but their susceptibility to the herb varies: some felines fall into a rapturous frenzy, rolling wildly on the plant, but others ignore it. If necessary, protect crown of plant with an inverted wire basket; stems will grow through. The same tactic also helps preserve potted plants grown outdoors and brought indoors occasionally for cats to enjoy. You can also sprinkle dried leaves over your cat’s food or use them to stuff cloth toys. Some people use catnip to flavor tea.

Nepeta reichenbachiana, photo courtesy of San Marcos Growers
Nepeta reichenbachiana, photo courtesy of San Marcos Growers

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Nepeta reichenbachiana

Native to Armenia and theCaucasus. May be a form ofN. racemosa. Makes a thick, low mound to 1 ft. high, 2–4 ft. wide. Woolly, heart-shaped, deeply veined leaves have pointed tips and scalloped edges; they are pale green above, gray or white beneath, 3/4–1 1/4 in. long. Blooms from late spring through fall, producing 6–8-in.-high spikes of deep blue flowers with just a hint of violet. Good groundcover; spaceplants 3 ft. apart.

Nepeta sibirica

Native to Siberia. Sturdy, upright habitto 2–3 ft. high, 1 1/2–2 ft. wide.Dark green, oblong to lance-shaped leaves are softly hairybeneath. Spikes of large (1 1/2 in.) violet-blue blossoms appear for about a month, beginning in early summer. ‘Six Hills Giant’ is possibly a hybrid of N. × faassenii—but grows taller (reaches2 1/2–3 ft. high and as wide), has greener foliage, and bearsdeeper blue flowers. More tolerant of damp climates than other nepetas. ‘Souvenir d’André Chaudron’ (‘Blue Beauty’) is similar but grows only 1 1/2 ft. high and blooms for a longer period, with season extending into late summer.

Nepeta X faassenii
Nepeta X faassenii

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Nepeta x faassenii

Sterile hybrid of Nepeta racemosa and a European species; often sold as Nepeta mussinii. Soft, silvery gray-green, spreading mound grows to 1 ft. high, 1 1/2–2 ft. wide. Scallop-edged, heart-shaped gray-green leaves to 1 in. long. Attractive to some cats, who enjoy nibbling on and rolling in plantings; insert short sticks in the ground among the foliage to discourage cats and prevent destruction. Loose, lax spikes of 1/2-in., lavender-blue flowers in late spring, early summer.

Set plants 1–1 1/2 ft. apart for ground cover.

‘Select Blue’ has darker flowers than the species; ‘Snowflake’ has pure white blooms. ‘Dropmore’ grows to 1 1/2 ft. high and 3 ft. wide; it may be a hybrid involving another species.

‘Walker’s Low'

Native to the Caucasus, Turkey, Iran. Sprawling plant grows from 6 in. to 1 ft. tall and about 2 ft. or more wide. Roundish, scallop-edged, 1/2–1 1/4-in.-long leaves can range in shades from medium green to gray green; they are covered with fine hairs. This variety produces 1/3-in.-long violet-blue flowers from spring through fall. Reseeds prodigiously. 

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