Mint is remarkably easy to grow under most conditions. It thrives in moist, well-drained soil, in sun or partial shade. The drier the soil, the more shade it prefers. Mint is incredibly vigorous and drought resistant. It can die back after blooming in the hot dry summer and reappear lush and thriving in the fall.
The problem gardeners usually have with mint is “too much of a good thing.” Gardeners with regularly irrigated lawns or consistently moist soil should not grow mint directly in the ground. Mint will take advantage of those growing conditions, invade the lawn and overpower nearby plants, if not your neighbor’s yard. Gardeners with manicured plots of land or close neighbors should take steps to isolate their mint.
Spearmint and peppermint are the most popular mints (Mentha spp.).
The mint plant (Mentha) has no way to expel wastes, so it stores unneeded minerals in its tissues. The delicious aroma of mint comes from those compounds in the leaves. Mint must renew itself by producing fresh tissue and seeking new spaces to grow. It develops runners, or vigorous underground stems, to clone itself where it roots. Runners quickly tunnel through the soil and cover surprising distances. Needless to say, that can be very frustrating for gardeners who want to grow a little mint for tea, jellies and other culinary purposes.
Gardeners are often advised to grow mint in a generously sized container. Many people sink the container into the ground thinking the pot will restrict the mint’s ability to wander. This temporary solution only works until the runners escape through a drainage hole, which they inevitably will.
One way to outsmart mint runners is to force them to become visible before they have the opportunity to root. Growing mint in a large container accomplishes this and allows the plant enough room to provide a plentiful harvest.
Blooms Slow Leaf Development
Mint is a flowering plant and will produce blooms in midsummer. The flowers are pink, lavender or white, depending on the variety. The flowers are very attractive to pollinators, including bees, tiny wasps and butterflies. The flowers, however, tend to signal a pause in new leaf growth. Although mint does not need to rely on seeds for propagation (the runners are much more efficient), many varieties do produce seeds. Trim off the blooms to reduce or eliminate self-sowing.
Snip off the flowers of mint before they set seed to keep the herb from self-sowing throughout the garden.
Aboveground stems of mint are capable of growing new roots and plants wherever a node comes in contact with either water or soil. Trim off trailing stems before they reach the ground or they will root in place.
Keep live mint out of the compost heap. Mint is very resilient. It can sprout just about anywhere, even from stems or runners that have already suffered from drought. Pulling it up and drying out it is not going to ensure that it doesn’t travel from the compost pile to another location. Mint should be “toasted” in a black plastic bag in hot sun for a week or two to be sure it’s really dead.
A Pinch a Week
Harvest mint a little bit every week to keep the plant tidy.
Harvest your mint frequently throughout the season. This encourages the plant to spend most of its energy in leaf growth, making it branch and grow bushy and attractive. Harvesting a little bit of mint each week will keep you aware of any developing problems or potential runaways.
Mints produce best when they are relatively young. The original plant of container-grown mint will need to be replaced every so often. This task should be undertaken during cool weather in the spring or fall. Use cuttings, underground stems or buy a new plant to replace old mints.
Mint is grown for beauty, fragrance and, of course, kitchen use. Choose a place free from pesticides and where nearby plants are either edible or harmless. Suggested companions for mint include edible flowers such as violets, pansies, calendulas, nasturtiums and marigolds. After harvesting, be sure to inspect your mint for foreign (non-mint) plant parts and rinse in cold water before using.
From State-by-State Gardening. Illustration by Trish Joseph and photos courtesy of Morguefile.com.