Growing Mint as a Well-Behaved Garden Plant

growing mint
growing mint

Ever considered growing mint?

Think about it. Without mint, what would a mojito be? Or a parsley-and-bulgur tabbouleh? Or a Grasshopper pie, Christmas candy cane, or countless brands of toothpaste and antacids?

How about boring?

Thanks to their energizing aroma and refreshing flavor, Mint (Mentha) family plants have become herb-garden staples and culinary or medicinal necessities.

In other words, they’re worth a “mint” to home and commercial growers alike!

Besides flavor and aroma, what does fresh mint bring to our food and drink? According to other USDA’s National Nutrient Database, it’s a good source of:

  • niacin
  • thiamine
  • phosphorus
  • protein
  • thiamin

    Peppermint is rich in menthol, known to relieve the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
  • Vitamin B6

and zinc, and an excellent source of:

  • Vitamins A and C
  • calcium
  • copper
  • fiber
  • folate
  • iron
  • magnesium
  • manganese
  • potassium

and riboflavin.

Although most produce departments carry packaged mint leaves over a long growing season, investing in a started plant and the pot and soil to grow it is a much cheaper (and fresher!) option.

However, growing mint can be a challenge for the first-time gardener because…

Growing Mint Plants Have No Respect for Boundaries

Unless controlled, mint’s naturally aggressive growth habit can crowd out all other plants.

Over the course of a growing season, an unrestrained mint plant can encroach on an entire garden bed. Perennial peppermint, which survives down to minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit, may return each year and eventually claim an entire yard.

Spearmint (aka sweet mint) spreads more quickly than peppermint, but both plants claim territory by sending out above-and below-ground runners (stolons). Without intervention, they eventually form large colonies.

That’s why, for growing mint that stays where it belongs, a container sunk into the ground is the best way to go.

8  Steps to Growing Mint in a Container

Even a first-time gardener can grow well-behaved mint with these easy steps.

  1. Give the plant a good drink right before placing it in its new pot.
  2. Fill the new container within 1 inch of its rim with a mixture of 2 parts organic potting mix and 1 part vegan compost.
  3. Remove enough of the mixture to create a hole large enough for the mint plant’s root ball.
  4. Slide the mint plant from its original pot and gently untangle the root ball. Trim all broken or damaged roots.
  5. Center the rootball in the new pot and replace the removed mixture. Pack it firmly around the roots to remove air pockets.
  6. Water the transplant until water runs from the pot’s drainage hole.
  7. Dig a hole in the garden bed deep enough to hold the pot with its top 2 inches staying above the soil line.
  8. Ease the pot into its hole, and you’re done.

To discourage roots that poke through the drainage holes from spreading,  give the pot a 360-degree turn every two to three weeks. That’s all there is to it!

Caring for Growing Mint Plants

There’s a simple trick to growing mint plants with dense, bushy branches instead of sparse, lanky ones. As soon a stem has three to four sets of leaves, pinch its top two to four leaves (not sets!) between your thumb and forefinger.

When its top 1 inch of soil feels dry to the touch, give your mint a good, slow soaking.  Be sure to water beneath the leaves. Otherwise, you’ll invite leaf diseases such as rust fungus.

Brown-spotted leaves are a sign of rust infection. Pinch them off plants with only a few, but it’s best to discard the entire plant if the problem is severe.

The great thing about growing mint is that the more leaves you harvest, the healthier your plants will be. So if you need a lot, don’t hesitate to cut entire stems back to their lowest set of leaves.

In a surprisingly short time, they’ll respond with vigorous new replacements!

Getting Mint Plants through the Winter

Although mint plants are perennial, they die back in winter where temperatures fall below 32F. Unless you cut them back to the soil before then, their stems may rot or get woody.

You should also cover the pots with a 3-to 4-inch layer of veganic mulch or lift them and store them in a garage or other covered enclosure until spring.

Expect mint to outgrow its pot after about three or four years. When you notice that the center of a plant isn’t sending out new growth, it’s ready to be divided.

Just pull it from the container and cut the root ball into three roughly equal sections. Make sure each one gets some of the “live” outside roots.

Then replant each section in its own pot of fresh soil and compost, and start deciding what you can do with three times more mint leaves than you harvested before!

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