Growing Mint: How to Plant, Grow, and Take Care of Mint
Mint juleps on warm Derby Day. Hot tea when you have a miserable cold. Chocolate dessert with a minty surprise inside. Mint can do it all. The easy-to-grow herb is an indispensable plant that can be used for flavoring, as natural health care and as a cool refreshment on a sunny day.
I’m sure you’ve heard that mint is an invasive weed. That’s true, and it’s not. The key is to plant with care so that it stays where you want it and doesn’t go where you don’t. On the plus side, being such a hardy plant means that growing mint doesn’t take much effort.
Mint is an enormous family that includes bee balm, basil, catnip, and oregano. In this guide, we’re going to concentrate on the true mints such as peppermint, spearmint and apple mint. Whether you use it in edible landscaping as a groundcover, or as an addition to your herb garden, there is a range of varieties, colors, and scents to choose from.
- Peppermint (The traditional flavoring mint. This is the most adaptable variety and will grow in sun, shade or a mix of both. Has a strong, rich flavor and is used widely in cooking. Variegated peppermint has cream and white colored splotches on the leaves making it attractive in landscaping or flower beds. The variegated variety is a bit more sun sensitive.
- Spearmint (Spearmint differs from peppermint in a few key ways. The leaves are bright green, and it produces lavender flowers on six-inch stalks. The “spear” actually refers to the pointed, serrated leaves. Morning sun locations are best because this variety is sensitive to too much direct light.
- Apple Mint (Apple mint is my favorite mint. It’s light and refreshing, and I think it makes the perfect iced tea. Sometimes I mix it with lemon balm for flavor. Apple mint is more of a warm weather mint and does best in zone 5 and above. It’s tolerant of sunny locations as long as it’s well watered and has good soil.
- Lavender Mint (Mentha x piperita ‘Lavender’) – This plant has a red stem like the peppermint but has a distinct lavender scent. Perfect for desserts, teas, and potpourris. Hardy in zones 3-9, it gets about 3 feet tall and has lovely lilac flowers in the summer.
- Basil Mint (Mentha x piperita f.citrata ‘Basil’) – As you’d expect, this mint has a slight basil scent to it. Grows well in part shade or full sun. Ideal for pesto or in a melon salad.
- Chocolate Mint (Mentha x piperita ‘Chocolate’) – There’s some debate about whether chocolate mint has any chocolate flavor, or if it is all in your head. What’s undeniable is that the plant has a slightly earthy/chocolate scent when the leaves are bruised. This plant has slightly darker stems than peppermint with dark-green leaves. Grows in zones 5-9. Prefers partial shade.
How to Plant Mint
In the wild, mint grows in cool, moist, semi-shady areas along creeks and in wetlands. Once it finds a place it likes, it tends to latch on and never let go. In the garden, this can be a negative or a positive, so be sure to consider your needs and location before planting.
Soil and Sun Requirements
Growing mint likes well-drained, nutrient-rich, moist soil with a pH between 5.6 and 7.5. That said, mint isn’t picky.
Mints will grow readily in sun, or part shade and some types even survive in shade, though they may become leggy. Plants thrive in zones 3-11 depending on the variety.
Where to Plant Mint
Mint spreads through underground rhizomes or roots. I suggest planting mint in a container so that it doesn’t invade other areas of your garden.
If you want to plant in the ground, you can sink a 10-gallon container into the earth, leaving 2-inches of the container sticking out. I have tried using cement blocks dug down two deep to control mint, and after 2 years it escaped, so you need something that can contain the roots.
Space mint plants 12-24 inches apart in the garden or use a container that is at least 12-inches wide.
Starting Mint From Seeds
You can grow mint from seeds, cuttings or purchased plants. Mint doesn’t grow true-to-type from seed, and seed packets are often labeled common mint. Start mint seeds indoors in pots a few weeks before transplanting.
Germination takes up to 2 weeks at temperatures between 65-75°F. Seeds require light for germination. Sow seeds by gently pressing them into a moistened potting mix.
Transplant into the garden when seedlings are 3-4 inches tall with good leaf growth.
You can also direct-sow seeds in the garden at a depth of a fourth-inch once the danger of frost has passed.
Start From Cuttings
Do your friends have mint plants? Sharing is a great way to have a taste test before planting. Mint is easy to grow through cuttings. Take a 6-inch cutting from a friend’s mint plant. If you can dig down and get some roots, it will make your job easier.
When you get it home, lay the cutting horizontally and lightly cover with soil. Keep the soil moist. You can also root cuttings in water and then plant outdoors when the roots are 3-4 inches long.