The Purrfect Herb for Cats - How to Grow Catnip

Herb Gardening

Love your cat? Love gardening? Catnip is a match made in heaven! This easy-to-grow herb has been enjoyed by cats for centuries. One whiff of this fragrant herb and your cat will be purring. 

cat eating catnip

How Catnip Affects Cats

If you've ever watched a cat responding to eating catnip, it's no wonder where it got its name. 


When a cat smells or eats catnip, it will roll around, purr, be extra affectionate, or run around and be very excited.  Some cats may respond by being very still or acting like they are sedated. 


The special ingredient that has cats reacting this way is Nepetalactone. It is a natural chemical in the leaves of catnip, and this heady “drug” triggers a euphoric feeling in cats. 


While most cats will respond in some way to catnip, it doesn’t affect all cats in the same way or to the same degree. 


Sensitivity to catnip is determined by genetics and is inherited. Kittens aren’t affected until they are between 3 and 6 months old, so if your cat is still young, you'll have to wait and see if catnip is something they enjoy. 


Once a cat has eaten or smelled catnip, the effect will last about 10 minutes and then wear off gradually. After they've had their euphoria, your cat will need to take a break before the catnip will affect them again. 


It could take at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours before it has worn off enough that they will respond again.


While catnip is not harmful to cats, it does create a behavioral response. And so, the ASPCA includes it on its list of toxic plants for cats.

How to Grow Catnip From Seeds

Growing fresh and pesticide-free catnip is easy to do. Catnip is a perennial that grows well from seed both indoors and out. The most important tip for growing catnip is to cold stratify the seeds before planting. This is the vital step for getting catnip seeds to germinate.

How to cold stratify Catnip seeds

Sprinkle catnip seeds onto a damp paper towel, fold the towel, and place it in a plastic bag. Put the bag in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 weeks. Label the bag with the date you started the cold stratification, so you will know when it is ready.  

Cold stratifying mimics the natural process of winter on the seeds. This breaks their dormancy, and when they warm back up, they will be ready to grow.

Planting Catnip

Once the seeds have gone through their cold storage, they can be planted 1/8” deep. 


Catnip can be planted indoors any time and outside when the soil temperature is 60 - 70 degrees. 


Water by misting at first until the seeds start to sprout. Take care that the seeds don’t dry out too quickly. Seeds need to stay moist but not waterlogged to sprout. 


Once the seedlings are growing, continue to keep the soil moist with less frequent but deeper watering. Don’t let the soil dry out completely between watering.


Healthy catnip plants enjoy a sunny location (just like cats!). Usually, a south or southwest-facing window will provide the 6 to 8 hours of daily sunlight necessary for vigorous growth.


Additional Catnip Growing Tips:

  • Keep the seedlings away from your cat until the plants are big enough to be enjoyed.     
  • Catnip is like other herbs and needs to be pruned to encourage more leaf growth instead of going to seed. But with your cat snacking often on this delicious treat, you may have little to prune.     
  • Like other mint plants, catnip can spread vigorously, so planting in containers is a great way to keep it contained.

Ways to Use Catnip

Picking leaves from a fresh catnip plant is the most effective way for cats to enjoy catnip. The scent is most potent when the leaves are freshly crushed, and your cat will be more affected by it.     


Catnip can also be dried and then crushed to sprinkle on food or put into cat toys.     


Both fresh and dried catnip can be rubbed on toys or scratching posts to increase a cat’s interest. 


You can rub it on their bed or the crate you want them to enter.    


Dried catnip loses its potency over time, so growing a fresh plant will ensure you always have some available for your feline friends. 

Catnip for Dogs

Despite its name, catnip is also okay for dogs. It has a sedative effect on dogs and can be used to calm them when they are anxious in stressful situations.

Catnip vs Cat Grass

Cat grass is a much different treat for your cat. It's a sweet-tasting and healthy grass that doesn’t affect your cat’s behavior. Learn more about how to grow your own cat grass with Sow Right Seeds. 

Grow catnip and make your cat happy!