Nepeta x. faassenii
Hey, get your cats straight! CatMINT is not catNIP.
Unlike its cousin catnip (Nepeta cataria), Fassen’s catmint does not drive felines wild, so you are free to plant it in your garden without fear of your yard turning into a hangout for tipsy tabbys.
All nepetas produce nepetalactone, the kitty intoxicant, but the amount in Fessen’s catmint is considerably less than the amount found in catnip. So you may end up with some super-sensitive kitties in your yard, but not a convention.
Catmint is a loosely mounded herbaceous perennial with attractive gray-green foliage. Once established, it’s heat and drought tolerant, which is why I love it for my Austin garden.
What You’ll Learn
Cultivation and History
The name of the genus for this plant – Nepeta – derives from Nepete, an ancient Etruscan city now known as Nepi in Tuscany, Italy. The plants of this genus are native to southern and eastern Europe, the Middle East, central Asia, and parts of China.
Nepeta is a genus within the mint mint family (Lam) and includes about 250 different species of catmints and catnips.
The N. x. Faassenii cultivar was first cultivated by Faassen Nurseries in Tegelen, Netherlands, as a hybrid of N. racemosa and N. nepetella. You may sometimes see N. x. Faassenii called N. mussinii.
Gardening books will tell you this is a full sun plant, but as we’ve discussed, full sun doesn’t always mean full sun.
In the brutal heat and humidity of Texas, for example, it appreciates some shade. When planted in the shade, the plant will be a bit floppy, and function as a ground cover, which is just what I’m after.
In sun, it’s more upright, growing from 12 to 24 inches tall. A single plant can grow to be 12 to 28 inches wide.
It produces spikes of 1/2-inch, lavender-blue flowers that bloom from late spring into fall. The flowers attract bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.
Like it’s mint cousins, it’s a vigorous spreading herbaceous plant that has a tendency to spread if left unchecked.
N. x. Faassenii is sterile, so while it may produce seeds, they are useless. Glue ‘em to a paper and call it art – that’s all you’ll get out of them.
Divide Fassen’s catmint as you would any perennial. You can get our tips here.
To propagate from cuttings, come springtime, take a sharp knife and cut a 4- or 5-inch piece of stem, just below a leaf. Strip off all but the top 3-4 leaves.
Fill a small pot with a rich potting mix; insert a pencil into the center of the pot to create a hole. Dip the end of the cutting into a rooting hormone and insert into the hole in the potting mix. Water well.
You may also be able to find seedlings in local garden centers and online.
To plant them, just dig a hole about the same size as the container the seedling came in, drop it in, backfill if necessary, and give it a lot of water for the first couple weeks.
How to Grow
As mentioned above, if you live in the South, you’ll likely want to plant Fassen’s catmint in a semi-shady spot. Gardeners from other parts of the country can plant in full sun.
It appreciates well-drained soil, but this doesn’t have to be anything fancy – average, dry to medium is fine.
Water well until established, and then leave it alone. I water mine every couple weeks if we haven’t had any rain.
- Sun or semi-shade
- No fancy soil required
- Water initially
Pruning and Maintenance
To encourage repeat blooming, trim the plants back by about half after the initial flush of flowers fades.
Cultivars to Select
‘Walker’s Low’ is the cultivar of N. x. Faassenii I most often see and hear about, though this moniker is a bit of a misnomer, because it can reach 2 feet tall. It has silver-grey foliage, lavender-blue flowers and spreads 2.5 to 3 feet.
The Perennial Plant Association named ‘Walker’s Low’ its “Perennial of the Year” in 2007. You can find an 18- to 30-month-old plants in 1-gallon containers at Nature Hills Nursery.
A more compact version of ‘Walker’s Low’ is ‘Jr. Walker,’ which can grow to about the same height as ‘Walker’s Low’ without as much spread. Find them at your local plant centers at the beginning of spring.
Other cultivars to look for include:
- ‘Blue Wonder’ — 12-18 inches tall, blue flowers
- ‘Dropmore’ — 10-12 inches tall, blue flowers
- ‘Snowflake’ — 10-12 inches tall, white flowers
- ‘Six Hills Giant’ — 2-3 feet tall, light blue flowers
Managing Pests and Diseases
This plant is really quite trouble-free, but we’ll touch on a few problems you might – might – encounter.
You may see aphids, leafhoppers, slugs, snails, spider mites, or whiteflies.
For aphids, blast them off with a stream of water.
For leafhoppers, if the infestation is bad, you might have to pull up affected plants. If it’s not too bad, use an insecticidal soap such as this one from Garden Safe, available via Amazon.
You can get rid of slugs and snails with a bait such as Sloggo, copper strips, beer traps, or with crushed egg shell. Learn more about defeating slugs and snails.
Spider mites can be treated with neem oil.
If you see whiteflies, consider using pheromone traps.
In hot and humid conditions, gardeners might see the bacterial pathogen Pseudomonas. This can be controlled with a bactericide.
Catmint is often used in rock gardens, or as a border plant. I have some growing in a small area as a ground cover.
Quick Reference Growing Chart
Easy as Pie and Feline-Free
If you’re in need of a heat-loving, drought-tolerant, low-maintenance plant, consider Nepeta x. Faassenii. Plop it in well-drained soil, water it for a couple weeks, and then sit back and enjoy.
Remember that although it’s kin to catnip, it contains far less of the chemical compound that drives cats wild, so you can safely plant Fessen’s catmint without fearing a clowder of cats will descend upon your garden.
Do you have catmint in your garden? Share your tips and tricks in the comments section, below!
Photos by Gretchen Heber © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Product photo via Nature Hills Nursery. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock.
About Gretchen Heber
A former garden editor for a daily newspaper in Austin, Texas, Gretchen Heber goes through entirely too many pruners and garden gloves in a year’s time. She’s never met a succulent she didn’t like and gets really irritated every 3-4 years when Austin actually has a freeze cold enough to kill them. To Gretchen, nothing is more rewarding than a quick dash to the garden to pluck herbs to season the evening meal. And it’s definitely time for a happy dance when she’s able to beat the squirrels to the peaches, figs, or loquats.