The Cat's Meow of Catmints

By Susan Littlefield

Catmints are longtime perennial favorites in the flower garden. Members of the genus Nepeta, they are dependable, long-blooming, and trouble-free, come in a range of sizes and colors, have attractive foliage, and mix well with a wide assortment of garden neighbors from peonies to roses, bee balm to phlox.

A cousin of the less refined looking catnip, catmint also contains the same essential oil that causes cats to go wild, but at lower levels that make it less of a lure to felines. Its flowers will, however, be a magnet for bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.

To help you choose the best species and cultivars for your garden, the Chicago Botanic Garden recently completed a comprehensive evaluation of thirty different catmints. Over a minimum of four years, five of each kind of catmint were grown in full sun in a Zone 5b garden with well-drained clay-loam soil. All were given minimal maintenance in order to duplicate average home garden conditions. Plants were evaluated for their ornamental traits, disease and pest resistance, cultural adaptability, and winter hardiness.

Four of the catmints tested received a top rating of five stars. These included the widely available Nepeta 'Six Hills Giant' and N. racemosa 'Walker's Low', both of which have lavender-blue flowers and reach about 30 inches tall. The other top selections were N. 'Joanna Reed,' about 24 inches tall, and Nepeta x faassenii 'Select Blue' at 14 inches tall.

Some of the many that received a four-star "good" rating include the long blooming N. sibirica 'Souvenir d'Andre Chaudron,' pink flowered N. subsessilis 'Sweet Dreams' and the lower growing N. racemosa 'Blue Wonder' that reaches about 18 inches tall.

For more information about catmint cultivation, including the ratings of all the catmints evaluated, go to Chicago Botanic Garden.

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