Mint is one of the easiest herbs to grow since it is fast-growing and requires little aftercare. In fact, mint is so fast-growing that one plant is probably enough for a family’s needs. The downside of the fast growth is that it needs to be controlled or it will invade other plants and impede their development. Nevertheless, if you’re new to growing vegetables and herbs, growing mint might be a good place to start.
Mint has a range of uses that include health, culinery and beauty. It has a lovely fragrance and the leaves give a unique freshness to many dishes and beverages. It is used quite extensively in Middle Eastern cuisines, and it is often paired with lamb and added to candies (sweets) in the UK and the USA.
While it’s delicious tossed in fruit salads or added to marinades, mint is also often seen peeking over the glass of a cocktail. Not surprisingly, there’s a famous alcoholic beverage named after the herb: mint julep. And, crème de menthe is a mint flavored liquor used in drinks such as grasshopper.
Mint also offers many health benefits: it aids digestion, helps with stomach upsets, soothes headaches and freshens the breath. We’re all familiar with mint in body products such as such as shampoos, body lotions and, of course, it’s a staple in toothpastes.
Mint is a hardy perennial that can grow in both cool and warm climates and the good news is that it retains its potency over the years.
You can grow mint from seed, but it’s not advisable since the seeds may be sterile or grow into a variety other than what you expect due to cross pollination. For that reason, you’ll have a better, more dependable result if you get a cutting or two from a friend (more about cuttings later) or buy a small mint plant from a nursery.
Growing Mint in Containers
Mint will happily grow in the ground – too happily unfortunately. So, to prevent it from taking over your garden, growing mint in containers is the preferred way to go.
Plant your cuttings in a container that’s at least 10” in diameter in the spring or early summer with a good quality, preferably organic potting mix. The soil should have a pH between 6.0 and 7.0. Make sure the container has plenty of drainage holes.
Because mint is ideal for containers, it also makes it suitable for growing indoors. As with any indoor plant, you can grow your mint on a window ledge (sunny if possible), but if that’s not possible, a grow light will do the trick.
In nature, mint thrives near water such as stream banks, lakes and rivers. Not surprisingly then, mint likes a moist, well-drained soil. Water frequently to keep the soil moist, but not soggy. Covering the soil with some mulch will help it to stay moist. This is especially important in hot weather when soil in a container can dry out very quickly.
Mint can tolerate a wide range of conditions, from partial shade to full sun, and it thrives better the more sun it receives. However, it’s best to keep it out of the afternoon sun in very hot climates.
Plants in containers that need frequent watering tend to leach out nutrients more quickly than other plants. For that reason, your mint plant will need a regular all-purpose fertilizer every month or so during the growing season.
Harvesting mint leaves benefits you and the plant, keeping it in check and encouraging it to produce more. You can start harvesting once the plant reaches around 3” to 4” in height, either by plucking off individual leaves or by pruning the stems with shears close to the soil. You can harvest throughout the growing season.
The best time of year to harvest is just before flowering, when the plant is at its peak and when the flavor and aroma of the leaves are most pungent. The best time of day to harvest is in the morning when the mint’s essential oils are at their most intense.
Once harvested, to keep them fresh, place the mint sprigs in a glass of water or in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Dried mint keeps its flavor well. To dry, tie the mint sprigs into a bunch and hang in a warm spot for a week or two until the leaves are totally dry. Then store in a tight glass container, preferably in a cool dark place, with your other herbs.
Another favorite method of storing fresh herbs is to chop them finely (some people add a little oil) and freeze in ice cube trays. Once frozen, the cubes can be transferred into a plastic freezer bag for longer storage.
Propagating mint is easy. If you have a healthy rooted mint plant that you like, cut off a 6” stem, remove the bottom leaves and place in a small glass of water. Change the water every few days and after a couple of weeks the cutting will have long thin roots ready to be planted.
As a companion plant, mint repels whitefly, aphids, cabbage moths, fleas, mosquitoes, ants and even mice. Plant it around your home to keep the mice away. To deter insects, plant alongside vegetables such as tomatoes broccoli, cabbages, kale, radishes, peppers, onions and carrots.
An additional plus, mint also attracts beneficial insects to the garden such as bees, wasps, hoverflies and butterflies.
There are over 600 mint varieties with leaf colors ranging from dark green to purple, blue, and even pale yellow. The flowers can vary from white to pink to purple.
When buying a specific mint variety, make sure you check the latin name of the plant first to ensure you’re buying the correct one.
Here are a few of the more popular mint varieties:
- Peppermint (mentha piperita): stronger than spearmint. Used in chocolates and candies.
- Spearmint (mentha spicata): sweeter and more commonly used in recipes than peppermint.
- Apple mint (mentha suaveolens): has a milder sweeter flavor, reminiscent of apples.
- Chocolate mint (mentha x piperita f. citrata): smells like chocolate but tastes more like orange citrus. Has lovely dark colored leaves.
- Ginger mint (mentha x gracilis): mint flavor with a gingery taste and a hint of spice.
- Banana mint (mentha arvensis): aroma of banana, used mainly in desserts.
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Growing mint is so easy, and with so many varieties available why not try a few different ones. Plant in each one in a separate container and group them together for a lovely garden display.