Growing Mint

Plant mint in a corner of a garden and keep it trimmed back so it doesn’t take over.

This mint plant is happy tucked into a corner of a vegetable and herb garden, where it is kept in check by regular replanting of the areas all around it.

In the Garden

Contain mint by planting it in a pot within a pot.

Because mint tends to take over, many gardeners plant mint in a small pot and then plant that pot in the ground or inside a larger container.

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.

Soil, Planting, and Care

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. Add water-retaining polymer to the potting soil to be sure that it stays moist.

Mint is frost tolerant. It usually dies back in the winter but comes back in spring.

Mint tolerates light frost, but the top will eventually die back in winter in all but the mild coastal climates. Roots are hardy in zones 5 though 11.

In the ground, select a damp area in your garden in either full sun or part shade. Mint prefers fertile soil with a pH from 6.0 to 7.0. Mint is plenty vigorous on its own, but will appreciate a little fertilizer every few weeks, especially if you harvest a lot. Use Bonnie Herb, Vegetable & Flower Plant Food, which is low in salts and won’t cause leaf tips to brown. Keep the soil moist and mulch around the plant to keep its roots moist.

Keep plants in check by harvesting the tips regularly and pulling 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

Although mint is a rugged plant, when it is young it is vulnerable to whiteflies, blackflies, spider mites, snails, and slugs.

Harvest and Storage

Pick mint leaves from the plant when you need them.

Mint is easy to harvest. Just pinch off the leaves anytime you need them.

Harvest mint leaves at any size by pinching off stems. For a large harvest, wait until just before the plant blooms, when the flavor 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.

Uses

Use mint leaves to add flavor to many beverages.

Mint flavors drinks from mojito to iced tea. Orange mint leaves and slices of oranges add fresh flavor to this pitcher of water.

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.

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FAQs

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.