All types of mint (including sweet mint, spearmint, peppermint, and chocolate mint) are fast-growing, spreading plants, so you must give them a place to spread without getting in the way, or plant them in a pot. Mint sends out runners that spread above and just below the ground, quickly forming large, lush green patches. In the right place it makes a pretty seasonal ground cover. You can also contain mint in tight places such as between pavers of a walkway where your feet will brush against the leaves to release its fragrance.
Quick Guide to Growing Mint
- Plant mint in spring after the last frost. This fast-growing herb can grow just about anywhere and makes an excellent addition to indoor and outdoor gardens.
- Space mint plants 18 to 24 inches apart. It's best to grow them in pots to keep them from taking over your garden (even if you're planting in the ground).
- Give your garden a great foundation by improving native soil with several inches of aged compost or other rich organic matter. For container growing, consider a premium bagged potting mix.
- Keep soil consistently moist and water when the top inch becomes dry.
- Promote excellent leaf production by regularly feeding with a water-soluble plant food.
- Once plants are established, harvest mint leaves regularly by pinching off the stems.
Soil, Planting, and Care for Growing Mint
First, start off strong by planting young Bonnie Plants® mint plants. After all, you can't go wrong with a company that's been supplying plants to home gardeners for over 100 years! Plant mint in the spring, or in the fall in frost-free climates, setting seedlings 18 to 24 inches apart. Try growing mint in a pot where you can keep it in check and handy near the kitchen for a constant supply of sprigs. To give roots a just-right growing environment, fill the pot with Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics® All Purpose Container Mix, which contains aged compost to improve soil texture and nutrition. To keep mint from taking over space needed by other plants, you may want to plant it solo in a 10″ pot, then plant the pot in a larger container or even in the ground. Give the pot a turn every week or two to keep roots from escaping through the drainage holes.
If you simply must plant mint directly in the ground (if you're using it as a ground cover, for example), select a damp area in your garden or yard in either full sun or part shade. Mint prefers fertile soil with a pH from 6.0 to 7.0. If you don't choose to test your soil, you can simply improve it by adding a few inches of Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics® All Purpose In-Ground Soil, also enriched with aged compost, in with the top layer of existing soil.
Mint is plenty vigorous on its own, but will grow even better when you pair great soil with regular doses of plant food, especially if you harvest a lot. Feed with Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics® Edibles Plant Nutrition (follow label directions), which feeds the soil as well as the plants. Be sure to keep the soil moist via regular watering and add mulch around the plant to help slow the evaporation of all that crucial moisture.
To help keep plants in check, harvest the tips regularly and pull up wayward runners. Mint's small flowers bloom from June to September; trim these before the buds open to keep the plant compact. Although slightly frost tolerant, the top of mint will eventually die back in winter except in zones 8 and south, but the root are quite hardy, surviving into zone 5 (some varieties even into zone 3). Lift and replant your mint every 3 to 4 years to keep your patch's flavor and scent strong.
Troubleshooting when Growing Mint
Although mint is a rugged plant, when it is young it is vulnerable to whiteflies, blackflies, spider mites, snails, and slugs.
How to Harvest Mint
Harvest mint leaves at any size by pinching off stems. For a large harvest, wait until just before the plant blooms, when the flavour is most intense, then cut the whole plant to just above the first or second set of leaves. In the process, you will remove the yellowing lower leaves and promote bushier growth. Three such harvests per season are typical for mint.
How to Use and Store Mint
Fresh mint leaves are a nice complement to lamb, fish, poultry, and vegetables such as peas, new potatoes, and carrots. Mint also blends well with green or fruit salads and beverages such as punch, lemonade, and tea. Two very well-known drinks, mint julep and Cuban mojito, both depend on spearmint for their cool zest. Freeze mint in cubes for iced tea. You can also preserve it in vinegar or dry it for potpourri or sachets.
Can I plant mint in a pot?
Absolutely. Set one plant in a pot that's about 12 to 14 inches in diameter, preferably one that will withstand freezing winter temperatures. Choose a quality potting mix, and consider adding a water-retaining polymer at the rate recommended on the label. Keep the pot watered when the surface is dry, and enjoy cutting your mint. Remember, cutting encourages flavorful new growth. The plant will go dormant in the winter, but it will sprout again in spring. Be sure to place the pot on a paved surface or pedestal so the mint will not escape into your beds through the drainage holes in the pot.
Do I need to fertilize mint? What do I use and how much?
Most people worry about having too much mint, but any herb grown in a pot or that you plant to harvest regularly needs extra nutrition. Use a time-release fertilizer in spring when growth begins; just read the label for the recommended rate. If growth slows in the summer, be sure the soil is moist. You can also top-dress a bed of mint in the spring with compost or composted manure. This will improve the soil, especially is your soil is sandy and quick to dry out.
Can I contain mint with steel edging?
It sounds like a good idea. Remember, when the stems get long in the summer, they can bend over and root on the other side of the edging. If you are worried about mint competing with other plants, especially in well-worked garden soil, plant it in a bed that is contained by concrete. No, don't pour a border, but a narrow strip between your house foundation and a sidewalk or driveway is a good spot. You can also plant it in a place where, if it escapes the edging, it will be in the lawn. When you mow, the aroma will be incredible!
How do I harvest mint for fresh-brewed tea?
Mint tea is easy to make. Cut 3 or 4 stems' worth of mint, 6 to 8 inches long. Rinse off the stems and leaves to remove any dust from outdoors. Put them in a pitcher or teapot and pour boiling water over them. After about 10 minutes, remove the green leaves with a long-handled spoon. Sweeten if desired and drink hot or pour over ice. Refrigerate any that is left and enjoy for the next couple of days. You can also add mint to the pitcher to steep with orange pekoe tea bags. Just remove the mint when you remove the tea bags. Sweeten the tea with honey, lemon, or however you and your family like your tea.