You'll have to forgive the cheesy word play and "dad" jokes - they drive my husband crazy, but I absolutely love them. #sorrynotsorry
But let's focus and talk about mint. This herb has a surprising number of varieties and even more uses. It is one of my favorites and several varieties are growing wild in containers on my balcony (pictures at the end of the post). I occasionally use the young leaves for smoothies, but the original purpose was as a natural bug deterrent around doors.
So what is mint?
Mint is a herb that grows as a perennial in USDA zones 3-8, but can be grown indoors anywhere. When growing outdoors, it is really important to keep it contained - unless you would like to create a minty fresh blanket that covers your yard.
Depending on the variety, mint can take on many different characteristics, but members of this family will feature a square stem, toothed leaves and a fragrant scent when leaves are crushed or rolled between your fingers.
Mint is pretty forgiving, but it will thrive in light soil with good drainage (drainage is key will all plants). And since it's native habitat is stream banks, moist well-drained soils is best. As far as lighting, sun or partial shade is great, but if you opt to get a variegated type, more protection from direct sun is important.
Remember, mint spreads really, really easily. Plant your mint plants or cuttings about 2 feet apart and they will easily close the distance. Once mature, the plants will be 1-2 feet tall. If you are a brave soul who regularly throws caution to the wind, remember just how easily this plant will spread. If aren't looking for a minty-fresh stroll through the yard, it is important to contain the roots. The best way to do this is to place the mint plants in a pot - even if you plan to plant the herb in the ground. Select a 10-inch pot with drainage holes and then sink the pot and plant into the ground or another larger container of soil. Even if you love the idea of a carpet of mint covering your yard, keep in mind that this plant can quickly become invasive and you may have some unhappy neighbors if it creeps into their yards.
Growing your mint
Great news! Mint is a plant that requires minimal attention, but offers so many benefits. If you are planting outdoors, it is a good idea to use a light mulch to help maintain soil moisture. This is especially a great idea if using a raised garden bed, which tend to dry out faster than a traditional garden planted in-ground. If you are planting indoors, you will still need to make sure that the soil is well drained and you water regularly.
Grower beware. Have I mentioned that mint likes to explore the neighborhood? Here's what you need to remember: mint plants spread their wings by sending out horizontal runners and underground rhizomes. Don't let this scare you away. Even though your adorable herb can grow into a 4-foot patch of ground cover in just 1 year, you can maintain its size and shape by frequent pruning and physical barriers. And if the plant does perform a jail break, these plants have shallow roots and can easily be pulled.
There are two options for harvesting.The first is that you wait until right before the plant flowers and cut the stems about 1 inch from ground. This method will allow you to harvest the same plant 2-3 times a season.
The second harvest method is that you harvest as you go, just picking leaves as you need them. This is probably the best option if you are looking to grow your mint indoors.
In terms of storing, while fresh tends to be preferred mint can be frozen or air-dried in bunches for use throughout winter months. If you opt to air-dry, your best option is to harvest right before the plant flowers then stores the dried herb in an airtight container.
You've done it. You have successfully planted and grown mint. You may have even succeed in preserving some mint to use in recipes. Now you want to make sure you have a constant supply of this aromatic herb or you want to share the goodness with someone else. But how do you propagate the plant?
Take a 6-inch cutting of rooted stems from your favorite plant(s). Strip the leaves from the bottom 2-inches of the stem. From here you can either dip the bottom of the stem into growth or rooting hormone and plant directly into potting soil or you can place the stem into a glass of water for a few weeks until the nodes develop into roots and you can transfer to soil. With either option, it is a good idea to keep your plant in a more humid climate and water occasionally for 6-8 weeks.
Another option to propagate mint is to divide the roots. This method requires a few more steps and is best done in the early spring or fall because plant growth tends to be slower and will cause less stress to the plant.
- Dig up the plant and get as much of the root system as you can.
- Gently try to detangle the roots. Then take a clean knife or scissors and divide the plant in half. Make sure that each division has healthy roots at least one green shoot. It is important that your tools are clean so you don't accidentally spread parasites or infections between plants.
- Repot into new pot that gives your new herb baby room (you don't want it to be cramped) and water well. Maintaining consistent moisture is important because it allows your plant to focus on settling in, repairing "wounds" from the division, and start putting out new growth instead of stressing about a lack of water.
It's a good idea to split your established herbs every 2-3 years. It benefits the plants, allows you to increase you yield, or creates a chance to share one of your favorite plants with a friend or family member.
And last, but not least...Types of Mint
Depending on where you look, there are approximately 19 types of mint that you can grow. Some are more common than others.
- Apple Mint aka Wooly Mint aka Pineapple Mint
- Banana Mint
- Chocolate Mint
- Pineapple Mint
- Lavender Mint
- Grapefruit Mint
- Horse Mint
- Corsican Mint
- Licorice Mint
- Basil Mint
- Ginger Mint aka Vietnamese Mint aka Slender Mint aka Scotch Mint
- Egyptian Mint
- Corn (Field) Mint
As with all planting - be sure to do some research. While these mint variations are related, they do have different uses (culinary vs medicinal) and different growing conditions.
Which mints have you heard of? Do you have a favorite?
Here are a few pictures of the plants on my balcony garden.
Spearmint, Vietnamese Mint, Peppermint