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Fragrant Mint to Grow and Love

by a Friendly Gardener

If you’ve never grown mint, you can’t imagine what you’ve missed out on. Mint is a wonderful leafy green herb that is used in a multitude of culinary dishes for the preparation of fruits, meats, and vegetables as well as desserts and even cocktails. Mint, like basil, is a relatively simple herb to grow. However, it is also quite invasive. It will quickly dominate a home garden, overtaking other plants thanks to its roots known as “runners”.

Mint plants are perennials that are hardy and vigorous with a “ground covering” nature. The branches can grow quite tall vertically, and then they bend over and root into the ground they have rested on. It will keep growing as far as it can reach. When the plant flowers, it produces white and pinkish blooms that are short-lived and very inviting to bees and butterflies.  Mint is easily identifiable thanks to its characteristic aroma. Another characteristic of the “Mentha” genus is the square-shaped stem that helps to recognize it.


How to Plant Mint

Initially, you’ll want to decide if you are going to grow it in a container on a porch or patio or directly in your garden. In either case, you will want to choose a position that affords the plant sun in the morning and partial shade in the afternoon. Should you want mint in your home, there are a few things to remember as to how to plant mint indoors. Make sure to locate the pot in a window that receives morning sun. It should always be kept away from heaters or drying elements.

Mint in a pot next to a window

How to Grow Mint

If you are going to seed your garden, you should sow your mint seeds in the late spring. The area should be weed-free. Press the seeds gently into damp soil. Water your seeds gently so as not to wash them away or allow them to pile up in one spot. Keep the soil moist until you notice germination. Mark this area as mint so you remember where you sowed it. Pay attention to overly hot or windy weather conditions. After all, these seeds are babies and need TLC until they germinate.

Woman looking at mint growing in pots

If you want to grow seedlings indoors before transplanting them into your garden, begin by planting the seed in seed trays or containers approximately eight to ten weeks before the approximate last frost date for your area. You may want to use potting soil or seed-starting soil mix. Loosen the soil and dampen it to wring out sponge wetness.  Fill your trays about two-thirds full. Plant your seed and cover it with a bit of your soil but allow for light to reach to help germination. You may want to cover your seed trays with clear plastic and place them in a warm spot that is not exposed to drafts. As soon as you see a hint of seedling growth, remove the plastic and move your trays into indirect light. Make sure that the soil remains moist until the seeds begin to germinate. This will take anywhere from ten to fifteen days. When your mint develops three or four leaves, it is ready to be transplanted into your garden.

If you have opted to plant your mint directly in your garden, place the plant in a container, pot, or mesh bag and place in it the ground at least five inches deep. The rim of the pot or container should remain above ground in order to help contain the plant’s energetic roots. If the roots can’t be contained, they will overtake your outdoor garden just like the most aggressive of weeds. You can also apply mulch to help contain the spreading. Avoid planting mint without a container unless you plan on literally having a mint garden. Also, beware of planting with cracked or broken containers, because those roots will find their way out.

Mint plants should be located at least fifteen inches apart when planted in a garden bed and they should be thinned regularly. They also should be planted in very moist rich soil. It’s very difficult to kill a mint plant, so this is a terrific herb to begin planting with for would-be gardeners. As previously mentioned, the only real maintenance is watching for overgrowth.


Mint TLC

Mint plants do prefer some shade although it is possible to grow them in direct sunlight if they are watered frequently. They do well in the shade in any case. The ideal soil bed should be rich and have a pH level between 6.5 and 7. If your garden soil is poor, you can top it annually with organic matter as well as apply an organic fertilizer. Mint also requires that its moist soil must have adequate drainage. It should not be wet or soggy. If your soil feels dry, it probably needs water, and you should water in the early morning so that the moisture has sunk in before the afternoon sun beats down.

Among varieties of mint plants, Mentha piperita or peppermint can survive colder temperatures, while Mentha spicata or spearmint weathers heat the best. So, depending on the zone you garden in, you may want to select a variety that is more adapted to your climate. If you are growing mint indoors, you can guarantee good humidity by misting or spraying your plant between the waterings. An all-purpose fertilizer can be given when new growth emerges in the spring and continued every four to six weeks afterward during the growing season.

Hands touching at mint growing in a pot

Harvesting Your Homegrown Mint

Mint plants grown from seeds should be harvest-ready in approximately two months. It may take less time if you have planted nursery plants. How to harvest mint is actually quite simple. Mint leaves and sprigs should be harvested from your plant before it begins to flower. You can begin to harvest your mint when the plants have numerous stems that are six to eight inches long. Do not harvest more than a third of the plant at a time so as not to weaken it. If you wish to try and prolong the harvesting period, you can pinch off any flowering buds as soon as they appear. You will want to harvest and shear your plants to help them remain lush with aromatic leaves.


How to Dry Mint

To dry your own mint, you can either air-dry it by hanging it or you can oven dry it in much less time.

To dry in the oven:

Wash the mint complete with stems in cold water

  • Dry using paper towels or linen
  • Once the mint is dry, remove the leaves gently from the stems
  • Place the leaves in a single layer on a cookie sheet and dry them in the oven at 180° F for approximately two hours checking regularly to avoid burning. If necessary you can continue drying in the oven until the mint is completely dried.


How to Store Mint

Woman storing herbs in containers

Once your mint has dried out completely, it can be stored in an airtight container made of glass, plastic, ceramic, or metal. It should be stored away from both light and heat.


When Mint Falls Ill

Mint has been known to get rust, identifiable by orange spots on leaf undersides. An organic fungicide should do the trick. Mint can also fall prey to aphids, spider mites, and mealybugs. Aphids can be washed off, or you can use insecticidal soap or Neem oil. They can also be destroyed by using a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol and applied to the aphids directly. Insecticidal soap will also treat spider mites.


Other considerations

While mint is an edible herb for human consumption, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals says that oils in mint are toxic to cats, dogs, and horses. If your pet eats a lot, it may cause diarrhea and or vomiting. In extreme cases, the liver may fail. Never apply any type of mint oil to your pet’s fur or skin and contact a veterinarian immediately in case of ingestion.

Outside mint plant

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