Mint species (Mentha spp.) are very hardy perennials that are simple to identify not just because of their fresh and spicy scent but because all members of the mint genus have opposite leaves and square stems. Long stems grow upward, flop over, and roots will form where the stems touch the soil enabling the mint plant to spread quite aggressively. Its small white or purple summer-blooming flowers attract bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. Mint plants grow quickly and should be planted in the spring after the threat of frost has passed. Mint is toxic to animals if it is ingested.
|Botanical Name||Mentha spp.|
|Plant Type||Perennial, herb|
|Size||12–18 in. tall, 18–24 in. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full, partial|
|Soil Type||Loamy, moist, well-drained|
|Soil pH||Acidic, neutral|
|Hardiness Zones||3–11, USA (depends on species)|
|Native Area||North America, Africa, Australia|
|Toxicity||Toxic to animals|
Watch Now: Caring for and Growing Mint Plants
How to Plant Mint
Because mint is an aggressive spreader, keep it separated from your regular garden beds or the plants will consume nutrients and overgrow other plants in the bed. Growing mint in containers is recommended to keep it contained from spreading rampantly to other areas of your garden. If you plant mint in pathway crevices and between rocky places in high traffic areas, the mint will release its aromatic scent whenever the leaves are stepped on and crushed.
When to Plant
Plant mint outdoors in the spring after the threat of frost has passed. Mint will benefit from springtime rainfall.
Selecting a Planting Site
When planting mint in the ground, choose a place where it can spread without causing any problems. Mint fares best in a damp, moist area with well-draining soil, but also in a spot that's in either full sun or part shade. The plant favors fertile soil enriched with compost.
Spacing, Depth, and Support
Plant cuttings or small purchased plants 18 inches to two feet apart outdoors. Two plants should be enough to cover a few feet of ground because it grows aggressively. Mint has a shallow root system so you won't have to dig down too far, just enough to gently lay the plant and spread its roots.
Your primary maintenance task with mint might be to trim back your plant to prevent its runners from spreading to unwanted places. To further discourage spreading, edge the area where you plant mint with edging that is placed 18 to 24 inches deep into the soil or grow it in a container.
Mint Plant Care
Mint plants prefer part shade, though they will grow in full sun if you water them frequently. Still, it's best to protect them from strong afternoon sun. Mint also can survive in fairly shady conditions, though it might be leggy and not produce as many or as flavorful of leaves.
Mint can adapt to most soil types, but it prefers a rich soil with a slightly acidic to neutral pH. Good soil drainage also is essential. Mint plants like water, but waterlogged soil can rot their roots.
Water your mint during dry spells to keep the soil lightly moist. Maintaining lightly moist but not soggy soil is the ideal environment for mint. If the soil feels dry about an inch down, give your plant some water. If you notice the foliage of your mint wilting, that's typically a sign the plant needs more moisture. It's best to water your mint in the morning so it has plenty of moisture during the day as temperatures rise.
Temperature and Humidity
Temperature tolerance depends on the species you are growing, but in general, mint plants are widely adaptable. For example, peppermint (Mentha piperita) is very cold hardy and is able to tolerate the cool temperatures in USDA hardiness zone 3. Spearmint (Mentha spicata) handles the heat well and can grow in USDA hardiness zone 11.
Mint plants might struggle in low humidity. If you are growing your mint indoors, increase humidity by misting the plant between waterings or set the container on a water-filled tray of pebbles. This is especially necessary during the dry winter months.
Feed mint plants during the growing season (spring to fall) if you have nutrient-poor soil. If you already have rich garden soil, you likely won't have to give your mint any supplemental fertilizer. Container-grown plants and plants grown in nutrient-poor soil will benefit from feeding with a balanced, all-purpose fertilizer throughout the growing season, starting in spring when the plants emerge. Follow label instructions.
Types of Mint
There are many types of mint that come in a range of appearances and flavors. They include:
- Mentha x. piperita: Peppermint features a sweet, minty flavor and grows in USDA zones 3 to 11.
- Mentha × piperita f. citrata 'Chocolate': Chocolate mint, a first cousin of peppermint and has leaves with a minty-chocolate flavor and aroma.
- Mentha spicata: Spearmint is excellent for flavoring teas and salads and is one of the better mints to use as a landscape ground cover. It grows in zones 5 to 9.
- Mentha piperita citrata: Orange mint is one of the tangiest of the fruit-flavored mints. It grows in zones 4 to 11.
- Mentha suaveolens: Apple mint combines the flavors of apple and mint. It grows in zones 5 to 11.
- Mentha suaveolens variegata: Pineapple mint is a variegated offshoot of apple mint. It grows in zones 6 to 11.
Mint vs. Lemon Balm
Lemon balm is part of the mint family, but it tastes and smells different than other typical types of mints. However, it looks like an oversized mint plant so it is often mistaken for mint. It has a more lemony scent but with a twist of mint. Lemon balm also has larger leaves and grows taller than mint.
You can start harvesting mint leaves once the plant has multiple stems that are six to eight inches long. This amount of growth should take about two months if you are growing plants from seed or less time if you buy nursery plants. Mature mint can be harvested in summer and fall before the shoots die back. Do not harvest more than a third of a plant at one time because removing more than that amount can weaken the plant.
Snip sprigs and leaves as needed. If you don't harvest your mint regularly, it will benefit from a shearing mid-season. At some point, you will probably notice the stems getting longer and the leaves getting shorter. That is the time to cut the plant back by one-third to one-half. This will encourage it to send out fresh new foliage again with good-size leaves.
How to Grow Mint in Pots
Many gardeners choose to grow mint in containers. An unglazed clay container with ample drainage holes is best because it will allow excess soil moisture to escape through the holes and the container walls. Use a quality potting mix, and make sure to keep the soil moist but not soggy.
Be mindful about where you place the container because long stems touching surrounding soil might take root. Placing the pot on a patio or paved area is ideal. Place a double layer of landscaping cloth inside the pot over the drainage holes to prevent the roots from sneaking out of the container and into the surrounding soil.
Mint prefers to be a ground cover. Pruning back the stems also makes for a bushier and more attractive growth habit. To relieve yourself of major pruning maintenance, grow your mint in a confined location, such as in a pot or between paved areas.
Mint can be propagated by cuttings as a simple, cost-effective way to create new plants. Propagation is best done in the late spring to early summer when the plant is actively growing and before it has bloomed. Here’s how:
- Use sterilized scissors or pruning shears to cut a healthy piece of stem four to six inches long.
- Remove the leaves from the lower half of the stem.
- Place the stem either in a container filled with water or a small pot filled with moistened potting mix. Put the container in an area that receives bright, indirect sunlight.
- When rooting in water, change the water every few days to keep it fresh. Once roots grow to a few inches long, plant the cutting in potting soil.
- When rooting in potting soil, water to keep the soil lightly moist.
The rooting process takes a couple of weeks. You’ll know roots have formed when you can gently tug on the stem and feel resistance. After that, you can transplant the mint into the garden or another container if you wish.
How to Grow Mint From Seed
Sow seeds outdoors in the late spring once there's no danger of frost, or start seeds indoors about eight to ten weeks before your area's last projected frost date. It's important to note that some mint varieties are hybrids and will not grow true to seed.
- Lightly cover the seed with potting soil.
- Keep the soil moist until the seed germinates, which takes about 10 to 15 days.
Plants started from seed should reach harvestable size within two months.
Potting and Repotting Mint
Once your container of mint becomes root-bound and you see roots popping up above the soil, it's often simplest to take a cutting and start a new plant rather than repotting. An older plant won't have the best minty flavor.
It's difficult to kill a mint plant, even in the winter. If you have mint planted outdoors, trim them low to the ground, cover with leaves or mulch (some gardeners use an old sheet), and leave them alone until springtime. Overwinter potted mint indoors before the threat of frost. Put the containers in an area that receives bright light, water consistently (but do not water until soggy), and inspect regularly for pests.
Common Pests and Plant Diseases
Mint plants can sometimes contract rust, which appears as small orange spots on the undersides of leaves. Use a fungicide, and try to allow plants to dry between waterings.
Does mint prefer sun or shade?
Mint grows best in partial shade. It can tolerate morning sun, but strong afternoon sun can wilt the foliage.
Are mint plants easy to care for?
Mint plants require little maintenance to keep them healthy and vigorous.
How fast does mint grow?
Mint grows quickly, reaching a harvestable size from seed in about two months.
“Mint.” ASPCA, https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/toxic-and-non-toxic-plants/mint