By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 29 August 2016)
Mint is easy to grow – in fact, too easy. This aggressive, robust plant can quickly take over a garden, so many gardeners sink a container into the soil to confine the root network within relatively small area. Mint is rarely bothered by pests, and its flowers attract beneficial pollinators to the garden.
There are many different flavours of mint you can grow in addition to the classic spearmint, including peppermint, pineapple, banana, ginger, grapefruit, apple, lemon balm, bergamot, mojito, chocolate, lavender, and basil.
What are the health benefits of mint?
Mint aids digestion and reduces the risk of stomach cramps and other digestive problems. Anecdotal evidence suggests that it may also help to calm anxiety and induce relaxation for some people.
When can I plant mint?
Although you can grow mint from seed, it’s far easier to propagate it by dividing a store-bought plant (mint seeds take 10-16 days to sprout). Also, plants grown from seed don’t always match the parent plant in flavour.
How big do mint plants get, and how far apart should I plant them?
Mint plants will spread out and grow as big as you let them. Around a foot of space is recommended for each plant, though they’ll grow in smaller or larger spaces.
What type of soil does mint need?
Mint grows best in rich, moist soils, but it’s not a fussy plant, and will tolerate nearly any type of soil.
Can I grow mint in a container?
Yes, mint grows well in containers, and many people prefer to grow it this way because it can aggressively take over a garden. Don’t add mint to a container with other plants – it will outcompete everything it comes into contact with, quickly taking over the entire container.
Containers should be at least 6-8 inches deep for best results when growing mint plants.
Can I grow mint in the shade?
Yes, mint can be grown in either full sun or partial shade (3-6 hours of sun per day).
What ongoing care does mint need?
Mint doesn’t require much support. Just water it regularly, as moist soil is required to produce good-quality leaves.
Cut mint back regularly to encourage new growth, maintain a nice compact shape, and prevent it from taking over the garden (you can cut it right to the ground and it will soon come back with fresh new leaves). Most gardeners cut it back after it flowers, or cut the flowers off to encourage the plant to produce more leaves (though the flowers attract beneficial pollinators to the garden, so it’s a good idea to let at least one plant flower).
Divide mint plants into multiple sections each year and transplant the additional sections (or discard them if you don’t need any more plants).
Mints are perennial plants, which means that they revive each spring after appearing to die off in the winter (in climates where winters are very mild, they may not die off at all). However, plants may begin to die off completely in their centers after a couple of years, at which point you should divide the plant, discard the older roots, and grow new plants from the youngest roots (which you’ll find around the edges of the container).
Should I fertilize mint plants?
Mint is such a vigorous plant that it’s harder to restrain its growth than promote it, so it shouldn’t require any feeding. Just add a bit of fresh soil whenever you divide and transplant your mint plants.
When do I harvest mint?
You can snip leaves from mint plants from spring through fall.
Why are there orange, yellow, or black spots on my mint leaves?
Mint rust is a fungus that attacks mint, savory, and marjoram plants. If you see signs of this disease, get rid of infected plants (including their underground roots) immediately.
How do I store mint, and how long will it keep?
You can dry mint by cutting bunches and putting them upside down in paper bags to dry and then storing the dried leaves in airtight jars in a dark place. However, many gardeners recommend not drying mint because it loses most of its flavour. To maintain the flavour and colour of mint, add chopped fresh leaves to water in ice cube trays, freeze, and then remove individual cubes as needed.
How do I cook with mint?
The most popular use for mint is making refreshing mint iced tea, hot fresh mint tea (non-caffeinated), or mint green tea, though mint leaves can also be tossed into salads and used to flavour other dishes.
For more mint recipes, see Saveur’s 17 Sweet and Savory Mint Recipes page and The Guardian’s 18 Recipes for Using Leftover Mint.
Mint plants tend to produce more leaves than you can use in recipes and teas, and the plants need to be trimmed regularly. If you have more mint stalks than you need, you can use them as air fresheners. Just cut the stalks, tie them together, and hang them from the ceiling or on walls, or place them in baskets around the house.
For more gardening articles, see the main Gardening page.
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- Herriot, C. (2010). The Zero-Mile Diet: A year-Round Guide to Growing Organic Food. Madeira Park, BC: Harbour Publishing.
- McGee, R. M. N., & Stuckey, M. (2002). McGee and Stuckey’s the Bountiful Container. New York, NY: Workman Publishing.
- Royal Horticultural Society. (2016). Mint Rust. RHS.org. https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?PID=220
- Tozer, F. (2013). The New Vegetable Growers Handbook. Santa Cruz, CA: Green Man Publishing.