Dressings, marinades, desserts, adult libations; mint is a beloved herb that can be used in a variety of ways. It offers a delightfully soothing fragrance and flavor and it complements a variety of veggies, fruits, meats, and even desserts (mint ice cream, anyone?) very well.
If love mint and you’d like to grow your own, you’re in luck! It’s an incredibly easy herb to grow and it doesn’t have a lot of strict requirements; however, there is one downside: the roots. Mint’s herbs, which are referred to as “runners”, are highly invasive. They grow rather quickly and shoot off new growth while they spread.
If you have a lot of space and you’re dedicating a garden bed solely to mint, then the fast-spreading nature of the herb might not be a problem; however, if you intend on planting it alongside other plants, mint’s invasiveness could be problematic, as the herb will take over a garden in in the blink of an eye if you don’t stay on top of it.
With that said, if you’d like to grow your own mint plants, keep on reading. In this guide, we share helpful tips that you can use to successfully plant and care for mint (including tips to control its invasiveness.)
History of Mint
Before we dive in and share planting and growing tips, we’d like to offer some background about mint. We firmly believe that knowing about the history of a plant helps gardeners gain a deeper appreciation for it.
Mint (mentha) is a genus of flora from the mint family (family Lamiaceae). It’s estimated that there are 24 different species of mint, and all are considered a perennial herb. It’s believed that mint originated in the Mediterranean region, and some varieties of the herb, such as spearmint (Menta spicata), originated in the Holy Land and Egypt and was likely more widely introduced throughout Europe by the Crusaders.
The herb has a storied history. In the Bible, it is said that mint was so valuable that it was used by the Pharisees as tithes. According to Greek Mythology, Proserpine, the wife of the Greek god Pluto, turned Mentha, a nymph whom Pluto loved, into mint.
In ancient Athens, mint was largely used for its aromatic qualities and was applied to the body; particularly the arms. The Romans, too, bathed themselves in the scent of mint. The herb was also used by both the Greeks and Romans to flavor food and wine. Historians believe that mint was introduced to Britain by the Romans.
Mint is as healthy as it is flavorful and aromatic, and it has been used medicinally for centuries. Its natural cooling, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial qualities provide a number of medical benefits.
Throughout history, the plant has been used for a variety of ailments, including chest pain, indigestion, skin irritations, and minor burns. It is also used to open blocked breathing passages and to relieve headaches. Of course, mint is also one of the most common treatments for bad breath (it’s one of the most popular mouthwash, toothpaste, and chewing gum flavors).
Planting and Caring for Mint
Now that you know a little bit about this history of the mint plant, let’s take a look at some handy planting and care tips for this popular herb.
Mint plants are hardy perennials that are known for their highly active growth habits. In fact, it’s so enthusiastic that if it isn’t properly tended to, instead of being beneficial, mint can quickly become a nuisance plant.
Because of its rampant growth, this plant can be considered a ground cover, so if you are planting it in your garden, choose a spot where it can spread out without interfering with other plants.
Alternatively, you can grow it in a container kept in an elevated spot or on a paved area where the plant can’t reach the ground, otherwise it will spread; yes, even when it is in a pot.
While mint can adapt to all types of soil, the herb thrives when it’s planted in nutrient-rich, well-drained, slightly acidic soil; a pH of 6.5 to 7.0 is ideal.
If you are planting it in lean soil, apply organic material to the top layer annually and feed it with an organic fertilizer at the mid-point of the growing season.
Mint prefers partial shade; however, it can successfully grow in full sun if it receives adequate water.
In the early spring, feed container-grown mint should be fed with an all-purpose liquid fertilizer, when new growth begins to appear. For both container and garden plantings, feed every four to six weeks throughout the growing season.
The hardiness of mint varies from species to species. For example, spearmint tolerates heat well and does best when grown in USDA hardiness zone 11, while peppermint is cold hardy and does best when planted in USDA zone 3.
If you are growing an indoor mint plant, be sure that there is humidity in the environment. You can spritz it with water between watering the soil.
All varieties of mint plants need moist soil in order to thrive; however, the soil should be well draining. While the plant loves water, it cannot tolerate soaked soil and wet feet, the roots will rot and the plant will drown. Keep tabs on the soil. When it feels dry, the plant needs to be watered. It’s best to water mint in the morning to ensure the plant has a supply of water throughout the day.
Mint can be easily propagated from cuttings. Cuttings from mature plants can root in both water and soil. If you choose to propagate in water, wait until the cuttings develop roots and then transplant them into a container. Sow your propagated mint outdoors in the late spring, when the risk of frost has subsided.
You can also propagate mint from seed. Start the seeds indoors around eight weeks before the last average frost date in your area. Make sure to use nutrient-rich, well-draining soil, and keep the soil moist until the seeds begin to germinate; about 10 to 15 days after planting.
Mint plants can be affected by pests and diseases. Rust can be problematic for this plant. It develops in small orange spots underneath the leaves. To avoid rust, allow the plants to dry full between watering and avoid getting the leaves wet. You can also use an organic fungicide to keep rust at bay.
Pests that prey on mint include root weevils, cutworms, root borers, flea beetles, and spider mites. Aphids can also become a challenge. To avoid losing your mint plants to pests, be sure to keep an eye on them; if you notice any insects, use a garden hose to spray them off, making sure to spray the underside of the leaves, where insects usually hide.
If you intend on using mint to add flavor to your food or drink, or you want to use the plant for its medicinal properties, you can begin to harvest the leaves of the plants have several steams that are about 6 to 8 inches in length.
When harvesting, be sure to avoid clipping more than 1/3 of the plant at any one time. Harvesting anything more than that can weaken the plants, which can ultimately kill them.
You can snip leaves and sprigs of mint plant as needed. Harvesting helps to prevent the plant will help to prevent it from becoming intrusive.
If you do not harvest the plants on a regular basis, be sure to shear them mid-season. Once the stems of the plant are longer and the leaves are shorter, cut the plant back to about 1/3 or ½ its size. Cutting the plant back will help to promote new growth.
In addition to the planting and growing information provided above, here’s a look at some additional tips that you can use to have the most success with your mint plants.
- Harvest your mint sprigs before the plant begins to flower
- Pinch off flowering buds when they begin to appear in order to extend the harvest season
- Applying mulch to mint in a garden bed will help to keep the plant moist and will also prevent it from spreading
- When planting in the ground, be sure to space them about 15 inches apart
- When growing indoors, place the plant in an area where it will receive adequate sunlight in the morning, but where it will not be dried out by heating elements
- Mint works well as a ground cover. If you intend on using it in this way and you intend on walking on it, make sure to keep it mowed. Mowing will help to prevent the spread of the plant and will draw out its scent
Summing It Up
Mint is a wonderful perennial herb that can be used in a multitude of ways. If you are planning on planting it indoors or out, you can have great success with this plant if you follow the tips and advice provided above.