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Mint, it is tasty, it is easy, it is fun to grow. A few years back we lived in a small town that had a family owned nursery. One of their specialties was different types of herbs. They grew them in 4″ pots and sold them for $2 each. So, it was not only fun to experiment, it was also pretty darn inexpensive. I remember one day we were kicking around seeing what was new. The patriarch of the family came over to talk to us. He was saying that it was pretty boring living in a family of botanists. He said the conversation at the dinner table consisted of new varieties and how plant trials were growing etc. It sounded like lovely dinner conversation to me. But, I guess I was born with dirt on my hands.
What is Mint?
Mint is a perennial herb that is very easy to grow. (A perennial is a plant that lives more than 2 years.) In fact if it is not kept in check it may become invasive. It has a square stem with opposite leaves. The roots of mint are shallow and easy to pull out. The plant has runners under the ground. These will come up as new plants.
What types of Mint are Available?
There are quite a few different flavors of mint available. There are pineapple, chocolate, orange, spearmint, peppermint and lemon balm. I have personally owned all of these plants. It is amazing how much they smell like pineapple, chocolate and orange. They are easily identifiable. Just pick a couple of leaves and rub them between your fingers.
How do you plant Mint?
Mint can be started from seed, but it is about a 90 day time from planting to harvest. Plus some of the mint seeds do not have a high germination rate – meaning not all of the seeds you plant will grow. Most people choose not to do this as the plant is so easy to propagate from cuttings. You can take a cutting off your mint plant, take off the leaves towards the bottom, and place it in a glass of water, or dip it in some rooting hormone and then plant it in soil. You can even cut the runners which have a new plant formed and place that in soil to grow.
How do you grow Mint?
Plant your mint in soil that drains well. They should be placed 18 – 24″ apart. It will grow in full sun, or in morning sun with afternoon shade. Some people chose to plant their mint in a pot inside another pot when growing in a container. That keeps the mint from taking over the entire pot. You should keep your plants in control by pulling or cutting any volunteer plants that are not wanted. You can either discard of these, or you can pot them up as new plants. Be careful where you discard your mint, as it may just end up growing there. You can either selectively harvest only taking leaves when wanted, or you can do a full harvest 2 – 3 times a year. I would do a full harvest when I am planning on dehydrating or storing the leaves in any other manner, or using them for jam, etc. The young leaves will have more flavor than the old ones. You should harvest before the plant flowers, although the flowers are usually edible as well. Be sure to keep the tops pinched off for bushier more compact plants.
Mint is also a great plant to grow on a windowsill. It would be an excellent first plant for a child learning gardening. You can start it in a glass of water so you can watch the roots grow. Just think how fun that would be!
Avoid using too much fertilizer as this will cause the plant to flower sooner. You are looking for the leaves with these plants, although the flowers are pretty.
Mint should be planted outside after the last frost of the season. The roots will survive the winter into zone 5 – 8 . The plants should be trimmed and heavily mulched. The tops of the plants may live in zones 8 – 10. They are slightly frost tolerant. Or, if you want to use your mint year round you can just dig some up, plant it in a pot and take it indoors for the winter.
What can you use Mint for?
Mint has a lot of different uses. Of course mint leaves are great in drinks such as ice tea. You can also use spearmint for a mint julep and any of the flavored varieties for a mojito. Some mints have medicinal properties. They can be used as a digestive aid or a breath freshener. You can use mint in pesto, in baking, to make extracts, jams, sauces, in salads, etc.
Benefits of Planting Mint
Mint can attract beneficial insects to your garden such as predatory wasps. These cut down on the caterpillar and grub population, as they feed them to their young. Mint also may repel mice, ants, flies, spiders and deer.
Once you have started your mint plants you will probably never need to buy the same variety again due to the abundance of leaves plus the ease of propagating this plant. So, go out and get a good selection of “flavored” mints and see just how easy they are to grow.