How to Grow Mint and Keep It from Taking Over

Plant mint and you'll always enjoy its scent and flavor, but here's what you need to know to keep it contained.

Mint has so many 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, you'll have a constant supply of this tasty, versatile perennial herb. It's tough and easy to grow, but the downside of its hardiness is that, if you're not careful, it can spread aggressively and become a weedy problem. Here's how to grow mint and avoid having it crowd out other plants.

mint mentha spicata
Scott Little

Growing Mint 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 your mint free of weeds. Otherwise, it looks untidy, and the weeds may reduce yields and affect flavor. Divide your mint every few years.

Frequent cutting keeps mints looking attractive. As with basil and other flowering herbs grown for their leaves, remove the flowers as they appear, and pinch back the stems to encourage shorter, bushier growth. In fall, after a hard frost has withered their stems, cut the plants to the ground.

mint plant growing in container
Bryan E. McCay

How to Grow Mint in a Pot

Because it spreads by underground runners, mint can quickly start invading the neighboring areas. But it's an herb that grows well in containers, so you can keep it under control 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 keep the herb under control.

You also can plant mint in a 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 freeze-thaw cycles as temperatures fluctuate over the colder months.

Growing Mint in Pots Indoors

Mint can be grown indoors in a pot. Plant it 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. But keep your plant away from any elements that might dry it out, such as a heater or a radiator.

Common Mint Pests and Diseases

Mint can suffer from several plant diseases, such as verticillium wilt, mint rust, and anthracnose. If these strike, the best thing to do is get rid of the plants and plant new, healthy ones. Just don't place them in the same spot or the same potting soil, because that increases the chances that the disease will spread again to the replacement plants.

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 the leaves, where pests like to hide.

How to Harvest Mint

Break off sprigs or pull off leaves from your mint plant any time you need some for a recipe (the flavor is best before the 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.

Purple Faassen's Catmint
Marty Baldwin

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 as ornamentals 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 and find your favorites.

Apple mint (Mentha suaveolens) adds a fresh, fruity flavor, 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

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