Protecting Nepetas From Cats

Nepetas or catmints (Nepeta spp.) are catching on as perennials and with their long flowering period, attractive coloration and dense growth, they’re bound to please. There’s just one problem: cats!

Nepetas (here, Nepeta ‘Cat’s Pajamas’) can be highly ornamental … if they aren’t torn apart by cats from the start! Photo:

They don’t call this plant catmint for nothing: cats love it! That old feline favorite, catnip, is a nepeta (Nepeta cataria) and can draw cats from afar. They rub against it, scratch it and roll around on it. They’re attracted to the nepetalactone given off by bruised leaves and stems. And about two thirds of house cats are sensitive to nepetalactone.

Catnip (Nepeta cataria), seen here, is grown specifically for cats. Other nepetas are ornamental plants and you won’t want cats to destroy them. Photo:

Now, catnip (N. cataria) isn’t terribly ornamental and is usually grown for the pleasure of cats anyway, so that’s not usually a problem. But the other nepetas are ornamental plants. You don’t want cats scratching them to death or digging them up. True enough, they give off much less nepetalactone than catnip, but cats certainly can make a mess of them. 

Try the following to ward cats off. 


You only need a temporary cat barrier, like those above, while nepetas settle in and stop giving off their cat-enticing aroma. Photo:

The problem is not with well-established plants, but freshly planted ones.

During planting, some roots are inevitably broken or leaves are damaged, leading to the emission of nepetalactone and the resulting cat attraction. So, cover freshly planted nepetas with some sort of barrier (a cut-off gallon milk jug, for example) to keep the cats away. After 4 or 5 days, the aroma accidentally released during planting will have disappeared and cats will no longer be a bother. 

Your nepeta will then go on to live a beautiful, cat-free existence … unless you accidentally wound it or crush it, so keep your cat barrier handy!

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

4 comments on “Protecting Nepetas From Cats

  1. I think I would prefer to grow something else rather than put plastic milk jugs out in the garden, even if only temporarily. Fortunately, the bobcats do not bother the catmint. The catnip that I used to grow for tea is grown in a hanging pot on the porch.

  2. Kathy Jentz

    Thanks for the tip! I shared it on my Cats in Gardens blog –

  3. Pingback: Why Do Cats Go Nuts Over Weigelas? – Laidback Gardener

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