How to Grow Mint in your Herb Garden
Instructions for Growing Mint
Gardening Tips for Growing Mint - Mint grows easily and is VERY invasive. If not well contained, it will quickly grow out of control in the garden.
There are hundreds of mint varieties available for the garden, including specialty varieties (chocolate mint, ginger mint, pineapple mint, orange mint, and lemon mint). However, peppermint and spearmint are by far the most popularly grown varieties. (Spearmint has a milder flavor than peppermint.)
Mint has been used for centuries for culinary, medicinal, and aromatic properties. It's used as a garnish for deserts and beverages, as a flavoring, as a popular "tummy-soother," and for a calming and refreshing scent (try using the dried mint leaves in your sachets, or even in your bath water!).
Peppermint is actually a hybrid cross between spearmint and water mint. This makes it difficult to grow reliably from seed. If you have a friend with a mint patch who's flavor you like, your best bet is to have them divide the plants for you (in the fall or spring). Then use those starts to begin growing your mint patch.
For companion gardening, it is recommended that you grow mint near roses, to help keep aphids away. (See: companion planting).
Also, rodents don't care for mint. So, if you're having a rodent problem with some of your plants, try growing a border of mint nearby.
Mint is a source of dietary fiber, protein, vitamin C, A, B6, Thiamin, Niacin, Zinc, Riboflavin, Folate, Iron, Potassium, Calcium, Copper and Manganese.
Peppermint is highly regarded as a carminative. It helps relax intestinal muscles, relieves flatulence, stimulates digestive juices, and soothes nausea. Peppermint tea is also sometimes taken to relieve menstrual cramps, and to relieve stress-headaches. Externally, (because of a high menthol content) it can be used to relieve itching and inflammations, to relax tense muscles, and help clear nasal congestion.
Spearmint has the same properties as peppermint, but is milder in effect.
Mint will grow nearly anywhere. You will have the most success if you grow mint in semi-fertile soil, in a partially shaded garden location.
Because it is so invasive, we strongly recommend container gardening when growing mint. It's far easier to control in containers. (For more information: container gardening.) Mix a little sand in with a good food-friendly potting soil (be sure to read the fine print on the bag of potting soil before you purchase. Many commercial products are specifically not to be used for growing consumable foods.)
After your plants are established, consider mulching to help keep the roots cool, and the soil moist. Some, for those same reasons, will plant the entire pot or container in the ground. If you do this, you will want to leave a couple of inches of the pot sticking out of the ground. Also, keep a careful eye on the mint, and keep its stems trimmed well. When the stems reach the ground outside the container, they tend to root and spread.
As with most container grown plants, keep an eye on the soil so that it doesn't dry out. Nor do you want it soggy, as that invites fungus diseases and a host of other problems. Plan to fertilize once a month with a liquid fertilizer.
If you live in a gardening zone with relatively mild winters, you should be able to mulch your pot and place it in a sheltered location, and have it come back again in the spring.
Or, you can take the plant indoors to a sunny windowsill for a winter's supply of mint. It may die back a little at first, but it should come back shortly.
Mint will grow best and healthiest in moderately rich, well-drained soil with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0. (Information on testing the soil's acidity and how to change your garden soil pH level.) However, it will grow in nearly any garden soil.
Gardening Tips for Growing Mint - Too much organic matter in your soil can cause rust (plant fungus).
You can propagate mint by: growing it from seed, growing new plants from cuttings, or dividing mature plants into new plants.
Note: Mint spreads very easily and quickly, so take this into consideration when picking your mint patch's location. It is strongly recommended that you plant it in a contained area. Any straggling stems that grow beyond the border of the contained area should be immediately trimmed or removed. (Once the stems reach the ground outside the border, they root and spread.)
Growing mint from seed: Plant your seeds when the ground has warmed. Sow the seeds by scattering them in your planting area, and lightly covering (1/4") with soil or seed starter. Spray (mist) to moisten the soil without washing away the seeds. Keep the soil moist until the seeds germinate. Once the seedlings appear, thin the plants to 1 foot appart.
Growing mint from cuttings: Take cuttings that are at least 6" long, in the summer. Place in a growing medium (light gardening soil) and keep moist. When the roots are well established, you can transplant to their final destination.
Growing mint by division: Keep your mint patch healthy and revived by dividing the plants every 2 or 3 years. Lift the clumps gently from the soil, with roots intact. Divide each plant into pieces, each with a portion of roots attached to the "new" plant. Remove or cut out any older "woody" sections (the flavor quality isn't as strong for these older sections). Replant the rest (and give away the extras!).
Keep your mint patch well pruned, as it encourages new leaves to grow and a bushier plant (rather than a long straggly one).
In the fall: cut the plants to about 1" from the ground. If you're in a growing climate where the ground freezes in the winter, apply a thick layer of mulch to your mint patch (remove some of it again in the spring).
To enjoy fresh mint growing throughout the winter, lift a few plants from your patch in the fall. Place them in a planter (as described above for container gardening). Keep the soil lightly moist (but not soggy). The plant will likely die back a little after you take it indoors, but it should soon revive itself. Keep it in a sunny spot in your home. In the spring, the plant should be discarded. Save the pot or container to use again next fall.
Try not to let the soil dry out when growing mint. However, don't overwater, as soggy soil leads to plant disease problems. Try applying a layer of mulch to established mint plants, to keep the roots cool and to help the soil retain moisture.
How to Grow Mint - Fertilizing
For new mint garden beds, where you applied a dose of well-rotted organic matter or compost when preparing the bed, no additional fertilizer is needed for the growing season.
For established mint beds, apply a light top dressing of well-rotted organic matter or compost gently mixed into the top soil in the fall, as you're preparing the bed for winter. Or, apply a monthly dose of liquid fertilizer during the growing season.
When growing mint following these directions, you should have very little trouble. Too much compost, overwatering, or not having well-drained soil can cause plant diseases such as rust (fungus).
You can start harvesting mint as soon as it starts to grow in the spring. The new, tender leaves and stems have the best flavor. Pinch stem ends off from the new stem branches. This keeps the plants compact and bushy. Be sure to leave 1/3 of the plant still intact to grow back.
When growing mint, you may find that the oils are strongest if harvested in the morning (after the dew has evaporated).
photo courtesy of the Hajiceks, MO
Note: the advice and information contained herein is based upon our experience and study. As with any advice, please apply at your own discretion.