Mint - Growing and Using the Fragrant Herb Mint

Pots of Mint
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Overview and Description:

Mints (Mentha) are some of the easiest and most popular herbs to grow. Plants in the mint family are very hardy perennials with vigorous growth habits. Mint, left to its own devices, will spread quickly and become a nuisance. However, it is very useful as a flavorful culinary herb and the plants can certainly be grown without much care. Just try to chose a spot where you won’t mind the rampant growth or grow it in a confined space, like a container or between paved areas..

Mint really wants to be a ground cover. The long branches grow upward and then flop over and root, spreading the plant wherever it can reach. The spikes of white or pinkish flowers are attractive, but brief. However, they do attract bees, butterflies and even birds. Most mint plants are hybrids and will not grow true from seed.

Mints are easy to identify and not just because of their spicy scent. All members of the mint family have square stems.

Botanical Name:

Mentha - Peppermints (Mentha × piperita), Spearmints (Mentha spicata).

Mature Size:

Of course, mature size depends on the type of mint you are growing an how often you are snipping stems, but in general expect your mint plants to reach:

  • Height - 12 to 18 inches (30 - 45cm).
  • Width: 18 to 24 inches (45 - 60cm). However plants will spread much further.

Days to Harvest:

You can start harvesting leaves once the plants have multiple stems that are about 6 - 8 inches long.

THis should take about 2 months from seed, less time if you are buying plants. Don't harvest more than 1/3 the plant at any time.

How to Harvest Mint:

Snip sprigs and leaves as needed.

If you don’t harvest your mint regularly, it will benefit greatly from a shearing mid-season. At some point, you will probably notice the stems getting longer and the leaves getting shorter.

That’s the time to cut the plants back by 1/3 to 1/2. This will encourage them to send out fresh new foliage again, with good sized leaves. You can do small patches at a time, if you have a lot of mint, and prolong the harvest season. Remember, all cuttings can be used, dried or frozen for later use.

Exposure:

Mint plants prefer moist, partial shade. You can grow it in full sun if you water it frequently.

USDA Hardiness Zones:

Hardiness will depends on the variety you are growing, but mints are widely adaptable. Peppermint is very cold hardy, down to USDA Hardiness Zone 3. Spearmint handles the heat best, up to Zone 11.

Design Suggestions:

Many mints work well in herbal lawns. They will need to be kept mowed, if you plan on walking on them. But this will help control their spread and the scent will make the work more pleasant. Otherwise I highly recommend planting mint in pots and keeping them on patios or paved areas. There will be more than enough to harvest and you won’t have the high maintenance of keeping the plants in check.

Suggested Varieties:

  • Mentha piperita , Peppermint - The best for mint flavoring. (USDA Zones 5 - 11)

     

  • Mentha piperita citrata cv., Orange Mint - One of the tangiest of the fruit flavored mints. (USDA Zones 4 - 11)

     

  • Mentha suaveoloens , Apple Mint - Apple. Mint. What’s not to like? (USDA Zones 5 - 11)

     

  • Mentha suaveolens variegata, Pineapple Mint - Variegated offshoot of apple mint. (USDA Zones 6 - 11)

Mint Growing Tips:

Mint is one of the few culinary herbs that grows well in shady areas, although it can handle full sun if kept watered.

Cuttings of mint will root easily in soil or water and mature plants can be divided and transplanted. However you can start new plants from seed. Sow outdoors in late spring or start seed indoors about 8-10 weeks before the last frost. Keep soil moist until seed germinates.Seed germinates in 10 - 15 days. Seed grown plants should reach harvestable size within 2 months. 

Mint prefers a rich, moist soil with a slightly acidic pH between 6.5 and 7.0. If the soil is somewhat lean, top dress yearly with organic matter and apply an organic fertilizer mid-season, after shearing.

To contain the roots and limit spreading, you can grow mint in containers, above or sunk into the ground. Be careful to keep container mints from flopping over and touching the ground. Stems will root quickly, if given the chance.

Maintanence:

There's not really much mint needs, besides moisture and a rich soil. To be honest, it's pretty hard to kill a mint plant. The only maintenance required will be:

  • Keeping your mint in check, so it doesn't take over
  • Providing a moist soil
  • Harvesting or shearing the plants to keep them lush with leaves

Pests & Problems:

Mint can sometimes get rust, which appears as small orange spots on the undersides of leaves. Use an organic fungicide and try to allow plants to dry between waterings.

Stressed plants may also be bothered by whitefly, spider mites, aphids, mealybugs.

Recipe Suggestions for Enjoying Your Fresh Mint