How to Grow Mint Without It Taking Over Your Whole Garden
Plant this herb and you'll always have its bright, refreshing scent and flavor around to enjoy. But it also has a tendency to quickly spread, so here's what you need to know to keep this vigorous plant contained.
Mint has tons of different uses: Its fresh green leaves add a tangy punch to fruit salads, ice cream, sherbet, and brewed tea. It's a flavorful addition to a simple glass of still or sparkling water. And whoever heard of a mint julep without the mint? When you grow your own mint in your garden, you'll have a constant supply of this tasty, versatile herb. This perennial is tough and easy to grow, but the downside of its hardiness is that it can spread aggressively and become a weedy problem if you're not careful. Here's how to grow mint without letting it take over your entire garden and crowd your other plants
How to Grow Mint Plants Outdoors
Plant mint in full sun or part shade. It can adapt to just about any type of soil but develops the best foliage in moist, well-drained soil that has been enriched with compost. Keep the area around mint free of weeds. Otherwise, it looks untidy, and the weeds may reduce yields and affect flavor. Divide mint every few years.
Frequent cutting keeps mint looking attractive. As with basil and other flowering herbs grown for their leaves, remove flowers as they appear, and pinch back the stems to encourage shorter, bushier growth. In fall, cut the plants to the ground after a hard frost has withered their stems.
How to Grow Mint in a Pot
Because it spreads by underground runners, mint can quickly start invading areas where you don't want it. This herb grows well in containers, so you can keep it from rambling through your landscape by putting it in at least a 12- to 16-inch-wide pot. If you still want to add the plant to a garden bed, first sink a plain, lightweight plastic container into the soil so the rim is just above ground level. That way, the pot won't show but it will still keep the herb in it under control.
You also can plant mint in a large half-barrel or other large pot and leave it outdoors year-round. However, don't keep ceramic pots outdoors during winter; they often crack during the freeze-thaw cycles as temperatures fluctuate over the colder months.
Mint can be grown indoors in a pot, too. Place the herb in a container with drainage holes and set it where it can get a generous amount of light, either natural or from a grow light. Just be sure to keep your plant away from elements that would dry it out, such as a heater or radiator.
Common Mint Pests and Diseases
Mint can suffer from several plant diseases such as verticillium wilt, mint rust, mint anthracnose. If these strike, the best thing to do is get rid of your mint plants and get new, healthy ones. Just don't place them in the same spot or potting soil because that increases the chances that the disease will spread to the replacement plants as well.
Pests such as spider mites, flea beetles, aphids, and cutworms also can be a problem. If you intend to eat your mint, it's best to avoid any pesticides, even natural ones. Instead, knock off insects using a strong jet of water from a garden hose, being sure to spray the undersides of leaves where pests like to hide.
How to Harvest Mint
Break off sprigs or pull off leaves from your plant any time you need some mint for a recipe (the flavor is best before blooms appear). Use fresh leaves immediately, or freeze them to retain their bright color.
To air-dry mint, hang the stems upside down in small bundles or spread them loosely in a small tray. When the stems and leaves are brittle, remove the leaves and flowers and store them in airtight containers.
What About Catmint?
Catmint (Nepeta) is a very different plant, though related. It grows in a similar way to herbal mint varieties, but its flavor is much more attractive to your cat than it will be for you. Catmint can be dried or used fresh. Many types of catmint species are grown in the garden for their attractive blue-purple, white, or pink flowers.
Favorite Mint Varieties
Not all mints taste the same. Try growing several different varieties at once so you can easily compare their flavors to find your favorites.
Apple mint (Mentha suaveolens) combines a fresh fruity flavor with mint, as you would expect from its name. Zones 5-10
Chocolate mint (Mentha x piperita 'Chocolate') has a subtle chocolaty taste and scent. Zones 5-9
Lemon mint (Mentha x piperita f. citrata) offers citrusy undertones. Zones 5-9
Peppermint (Mentha x piperita) has a zingy flavor and comes in several cultivars, such as variegated. Zones 3-8
Spearmint (Mentha spicata) also comes in several cultivars, including 'Kentucky Colonel', which has large, flavorful leaves. Zones 5-10