By Kerry Anderlik, People for
the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)
I love to garden, and my kitties love to party, so growing catnip is a natural fit! I haven't been successful growing catnip indoors in pots because my cats can't keep their paws off it. As soon as the first plant emerges, they dump the pots over and start rolling around in the dirt. We are all much happier now that I grow it outdoors to dry and save for our designated cat-party times.
Catnip is a perennial (and it also self-seeds), so you only have to plant it from seed once, and it keeps spreading and coming back year after year. I live in Eastern Washington, where it can get down to -20ºF in December and January, and I have had the same patch for seven years. My cats are still crazy for it, and my small patch produces enough for me to share. I love to hear the stories of how friends' and coworkers' cats react to my catnip.
Here's what you have to do to grow your own catnip:
Order catnip seeds from any seed company. Plant the seed in early summer, per the seed packet's instructions. It takes a while to germinate, so keep it well watered. After the plant gets big and leafy, you can either harvest the largest leaves or cut off the top half of the plant, strip off the leaves, and put them in a big paper grocery bag in the shade to dry (don't close the top). Be sure to put the bag somewhere that kitties can't get to. It usually takes about a week to dry. I shake the bag a couple times while its drying to help air it out. Then I store it in a plastic bag (for up to two years) in a place where kitties cannot get to it. When it's cat-party time, I just crush a handful of leaves in each cat's bed, sit back, and let the games begin.
I harvest about four times during the summer season to keep it growing, and I try to harvest before the flowers come out and it goes to seed. I tried drying the stems along with the leaves, but my cats didn't respond quite as well, so now I put the stems back in the compost and only dry the leaves and flowers.
Catnip doesn't need full sun and tolerates poor soil as long as it gets plenty of water. It's a good idea to plant your catnip as close to your house as possible. My cats are indoor cats, but one or two of them are pretty good at escaping. With my catnip patch just outside the door, they don't go far. I can usually find my escape artists rolling around in the catnip patch or sprawled out with a catnip buzz on one of the deck chairs, and it's no problem getting them back indoors where they belong.
You can also buy catnip plants at nurseries, but seed is much cheaper if you want a big crop. Someday, I plan to make catnip toys for all the animal shelter kitties. If the toys were really cute and simple to make, we might also be able to make a bunch to sell as a fundraiser for our spay-and-neuter fund.