Skip to Content

Catmint vs Russian Sage: 7 Key Differences

Perennials can sometimes vie for space in your garden. Today, we’re looking at two specific plants. I’ll give you all the info you need to decide which one’s the best fit for your garden.

Catmint plants are about half the size of Russian sage and begin to flower sooner. Russian sage blooms in purple or blue, whereas catmint displays blue, white, or pink flowers.

catmint vs russian sage

Catmint and Russian sage

Catmint Russian sage
Name Nepeta mussinii Salvia yangii (Perovskia atriplicifolia)
Hardiness zone 4-8 5-9
Mature height 1-3′ (0.3-0.9m) 3-5′ (0.9-1.5m)
Mature width 1-2′ (0.3-0.6 m) 2-4′ (0.6-1.2m)
Growth rate fast fast
Light exposure full sun, part shade full sun
Soil well-drained well-drained
Soil pH 5.0-8.0 7.0-8.0
Watering One time per ten days in a drought One time per ten days in a drought
Diseases fungus fungus
Pests insects insects

Size and shape

Catmint is more compact, with a rounded shape, and typically grows no taller than three feet, possibly shorter in colder climates. It spreads about two feet wide with densely packed leaves.

Russian sage, on the other hand, is larger, often exceeding four feet in height and sometimes reaching up to five feet. Its width ranges from three to four feet. Its branches tend to grow more upright than those of Catmint, giving it a more elongated shape.

The tall inflorescences of Russian sage, with long leaf petioles, make the plant appear taller and fuller than Catmint, but it’s generally less dense.

Inflorescences

Russian sage’s blooms are more expansive. Its large stems, emerging directly from the ground, have leaves growing on the lower part. At the top, these stems branch out, with flowers developing on these branches.

The spacing between its flowers is relatively wide, creating a large panicle that resembles the inflorescence of Hydrangea paniculata. These panicles can reach up to 10 inches in height.

In contrast, Catmint’s inflorescences are quite distinct. They grow on flower stems with minimal foliage, and are about half the height of Russian sage’s. These stems don’t branch, and the flowers attach directly to them on short petioles, resulting in a lengthy but slender inflorescence with densely packed flowers.

Flowers

Both plants have similarly sized flowers, small and up to about 1 inch.

Russian sage features purple or blue flowers, with some varieties offering different shades of these colors. That’s pretty much the extent of its color range.

Catmint typically has blue or bluish-purple flowers. However, ‘Catmint’ often refers not just to Nepeta mussinii but to the entire Nepeta genus. Considering this, you get a broader color palette including white, pink, and even yellow. In terms of color variety, Catmint has a clear advantage.

Both plants have a pleasant aroma, with Russian sage’s scent being slightly more intense than that of Catmint.

Catmint starts blooming in late spring or early summer and continues until early fall. Russian sage, on the other hand, begins flowering around mid-summer and lasts until mid-autumn.

Foliage

Russian sage’s leaves are sharper and more finely divided. Each leaf is about 2 inches long and 1 inch wide. They have minimal leaf petioles and sit close to the stem, featuring elongated and very sharp tips.

The leaves are typically green, though sometimes they have a greenish-gray hue. They’re quite thick and release a fragrance when crushed.

Catmint’s leaves are much smaller, not exceeding 1 inch across. They’re rounded, lacking sharp tips, and usually gray in color, which can shift to green in lower light conditions. Like Russian sage, Catmint’s foliage is also fragrant when rubbed.

A notable distinction is Catmint’s fuzzy leaf surface, contrasting with the almost smooth surface of Russian sage leaves.

Visually, the Catmint bush appears more appealing with its rounded, compact foliage. Russian sage, in comparison, has a more sprawling and less dense appearance.

Hardiness

Catmint is more cold-tolerant compared to Russian sage. It can thrive in USDA hardiness zones as low as zone 4, making it a suitable choice for most northern states.

Russian sage, however, is less cold-hardy and is not recommended for areas north of zone 5. This limitation means it’s not as accessible for gardeners in the far north.

In warmer climates, Russian sage gains an edge as it can withstand the heat of zone 9. On the other hand, Catmint’s growth is limited to regions no further south than zone 8.

Sun

Catmint is versatile, tolerating both full and partial sun. However, to really flourish, it needs a minimum of 6 hours of direct sunlight.

Russian sage, meanwhile, demands more sunlight. In southern areas, it does well with about 8 hours of direct sun, but in zone 5, it needs at least 10 hours. Insufficient light can lead to poor blooming or no flowers at all, and the bush might grow sparsely.

Finding a spot in the garden with ample sunlight can be challenging, making Catmint a more suitable choice for smaller gardens with many plants.

Soil

Catmint is partial to moderately rich soils like loam and is quite tolerant of wet conditions, making root rot less of a concern than with other plants. While it doesn’t demand perfect drainage, it won’t thrive in swampy areas; slightly moist soil is ideal.

Conversely, Russian sage cannot endure heavy soils. It requires light, well-drained soil, free from waterlogging.

Regarding soil nutrition, Russian sage does well in poor, sandy, or stony soils, while Catmint prefers more fertile ground for optimal growth.

Soil pH is another crucial factor. Russian sage thrives in alkaline soil with a pH above 7, though it can also manage in neutral or slightly acidic conditions.

Catmint, on the other hand, favors acidic soils, with an ideal pH range of 5.5 to 5.8. While it can grow in alkaline soils, its performance is better in acidic environments.