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For cat owners, it’s no secret: Catnip, also known as Nepeta cataria, is the gourmet spice in the lives of our fluffy companions. But what exactly does this herb do to cats, which varieties are especially popular, and how can you grow catnip in your own garden or on your balcony? Let’s dive into the world of this fascinating herb. 

The Magical Attraction of Catnip 

Catnip contains a compound called nepetalactone that can induce a euphoric reaction in many cats. This reaction can range from exuberant rolling, jumping, and purring to completely relaxed dozing off. The effect is usually short-lived, lasting about 10 to 15 minutes, after which cats are often immune to the effects for a period of time—usually a few hours. Catnip is safe for cats and has no long-term effects on their behavior. It is not addictive and can be a useful tool for play and training. Nevertheless, you shouldn’t offer catnip to your furry friend every day to prevent overstimulation. Interestingly, not every cat responds to catnip—the sensitivity to it is genetically determined, and approximately 50 to 70 percent of cats are attracted to the herb. 

What Varieties of Catnip Are There? 

The perennial herbs are known for their appealing flower colors, which typically appear in various shades of blue to violet. Some species and varieties can also have flowers in pink or white. The leaves of catnip are mostly green, with some having a gray-green or silvery hue, giving the plant an overall attractive appearance. The aromatic foliage is appealing to both humans and cats. 

Although classic catnip is the most well-known, there are other plant species that have similar effects. For example: 

Nepeta faassenii: This variety is often popular as a garden plant and also attracts cats. 

nepeta faassenii
image: Sonja-Kalee – pixabay.com

Valeriana officinalis (Valerian): Valerian can also induce a similar effect in cats. 

Valeriana officinalis
image: wikimediaImages – pixabay.com

Lemongrass: Some cats also react to the aroma of lemongrass, although it is not as potent as catnip. 

Lemongrass
image: Rebeck96 – pixabay

Growing Your Own Catnip: A Guide 

Growing catnip is a simple and rewarding task for any cat lover. Here are some tips to make getting started easier: 

Choosing a Location 

Catnip plant with violet petals
image: _Alicja_ – pixabay.com

Catnip prefers a sunny to partially shaded spot with well-draining soil. Depending on the variety, growing conditions, and care, it can reach heights ranging from 30 cm to 1 meter. Most species average about 60 to 90 cm in height. In terms of width, a mature catnip plant can also reach up to 60 cm, which should be considered when planting in the garden or in pots. Regular pruning can help control the size and encourages bushier growth. 

Sowing 

You can grow catnip from seeds by either sowing them directly into the garden bed or starting them in seedling pots. Alternatively, you can buy pre-grown plants. 

1Direct Sowing Outdoors: Sow the seeds in the spring, once the danger of frost has passed, or in autumn. Lightly cover the seeds with soil, as they are light germinators. Keep the soil moist until germination occurs, which can take about 7 to 10 days. 

Sowing in Seedling Pots: Start about 4-6 weeks before the last frost. Sow the seeds in seedling soil and cover them lightly. Place the pots in a warm location and keep the soil moist. 

Care  

Woman watering a flower bed with a metal watering can
image: David ballew – unsplash.com

Catnip is relatively low-maintenance. Keep the soil moist, but avoid waterlogging at all costs. Pruning after the first bloom can lead to a second flowering period and keeps the plant compact. 

Harvest 

The leaves can be harvested at any time. For the most intense effect, it’s best to harvest just before or during the blooming period when the concentration of nepetalactone is highest. 

Protection 

Since catnip is so attractive, it’s possible that the plants might be knocked over or laid flat by your cat. Protect the plants with a small fence or grid if necessary. 

Conclusion 

Catnip is more than just a cat toy. It’s a plant that can enhance the well-being and joy of your cat. Growing catnip is also a fun activity that can strengthen your bond with your pet and give your garden or balcony a fragrant, flowering extra. Give it a try and watch how your furry friend reacts to this natural feline elixir. 

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