Mint

genus Mentha

I’ve been eating and growing mint in one form or another for almost my whole life. There’s always going to be at least one mint cutting, whole plant, or over-large bag of the dried herb somewhere nearby. Visually, mint doesn’t always seem the same from one species to another. Apple Mint is rounded, thick-stemmed, and overall hairy. Spearmint is sharper-leaved, not hairy, and has a thinner stem. Sometimes, the only way to make sure which kind of mint is to take a sniff.

If you find some mint that you like, getting a cutting going (and growing) is so straightforward that it’s been known to happen by accident. Seeds are a little hit-or-miss on germination, but sticking a cutting in a cup of water will generally work out. Seriously – you could stick a piece of mint stem in a cup of water and be on your way to growing mint in a few weeks.

I think your best bet is to try growing a whole bunch of mint in a whole bunch of ways. Some will work out, and then you’ll have mint forever.


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Characteristics

Mint is a perennial herb. That means it lasts years (unless the ground gets so terribly cold that it’s turned into an annual), and shouldn’t get woody. Actually, this strange herb sometimes grows centrally out of the ground, and sometimes sends up individual stalks from the root zone – where it really grows from. The portions of the plant that sit above ground could be cut back or die from frost, and the root zone will keep on putting out more mint.

Due to pruning and eating, the actual form the mint will take could vary quite widely. Leaves will typically appear in opposite pairs, with short or non-existent petioles. Leaves are deeply veined and textured. Beyond that, there’s many species with their own characteristics. Apple Mint is hairier than Spearmint and has a more subtle flavor, but it can put out larger leaves and has a deeper-spreading root.

Origin

Eurasia, North America, southern Africa, Australia

Care

Water

Water when the top inch of soil is dry. Mint is somewhat tolerant of drought once it’s established, but not for long periods. During summer, you may have to water smaller pots quite frequently. Try to keep the soil consistently moist if you can – but remember, mint is a weed.

I feel for when the pot is a little light. This usually means the soil has dried out enough (at least enough for me to notice the difference in weight). At that point, water it until the drainage holes are dripping water – and then water a little bit more, just to make sure it’s soaked.

Light

Enjoys full sunlight, at least 6 hours a day. Mint can survive a bit of shade, but doesn’t much like it.

If the mint gets too little light (as may happen when growing it indoors), the plant will become leggy and start reaching for the sun.

Temperature

The above-ground portion of the plant is not frost hardy – it can potentially die back in hardiness zone 8. However, the roots are frost-hardy to zone 5 (or even 3, for some species).

Fertilizer

Put a little slow-release fertilizer into the soil when transplanting new plants. Add a little bit more in the spring. Not too much, as too many nutrients can reduce the flavor. If you plan on harvesting regularly, the mint will need a bit more food. Switch to a liquid fertilizer and add a dash every few weeks instead.


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The Dirt

Soil

Mint likes regular potting soil. It’ll push through just about anything once it gets established. If you can, add an inch or two of aged compost to the planting spot (or pot). Prefers pH of 6-7.

You can mulch around the mint to help retain moisture. It likely won’t curtail your mint’s growth, however.

Root & Pot

Mint grows easily in containers – and is sometimes the preferred choice, as the plant can crowd out other plants if it gets established. Use pots about 12 inches across. You could even put mint in a pot, then stick that pot in the soil to keep the mint contained. Rotate the grounded mint pot every week or so, or else the roots will grow out of the drainage hole and spread the mint outside the pot.

Plant mint in the Spring, or in the fall if your area is frost free (mint is year-round in Los Angeles).

If possible, lift or replant your mint every few years to reinvigorate the plant and its flavor. It will constantly be trying to grow stems and leaves, so you can move your plant indoors in winter if you want to have mint out of season. It may even flower indoors if it gets enough light.

Harvest mint by pinching off stems. You can pluck leaves directly, but this will cause the plant to grow oddly and look misshapen. To get the fullest harvests, cut off the stems to just above the second set of leaves, right before the plant flowers. This will leave flavors at their most intense, and promote bushier growth. You can usually do this a few times per season – mint will grow back, even if you don’t want it to.

Later Life

Propagation

Mint can be propagated in just about every want a plant can – division, cutting, seed. Cuttings are my favorite. It’s as easy as snipping a few pieces of about 3″ in length. Remove the bottom-most leaves and put the stem ends in a cup of water. Wait a few weeks, and you should have some roots! Transplant to dirt when you feel appropriate, or continue growing hydroponically. (As an experiment, I tried water propagating a meagre 1″ piece of mint stem – it grew leaves underwater right alongside new roots. It now lives in a pot on my windowsill).

Mint regrows from the root zone. Sometimes you’ll prune and prune it, intending to grow a different species of mint. It’ll keep popping up for six months, even after you feel the last stalk is cut every time. If mint gets out of hand, you’ll have to start pulling roots – which you could replant elsewhere. This also means that, to get a new plant going, you just need to cut a piece of mint that has some stem and some roots. If there’s roots attached to a stem, the division will likely be viable. If there aren’t roots on the stem, stick it in water until there are.

Flower & Fruit

Will flower if conditions are right. Flowering reduces the flavor of the plant. To keep the flavor, pinch off flowers as soon as they start appearing. They’ll typically appear in summer.

Edibility

Mint is incredibly edible. Incredible, actually! (to make a bad plant pun)

I can guarantee there are mint flavors out there that you haven’t had. Some of the more specialized ones – Apple mint, Chocolate mint – have a somewhat subtler taste that doesn’t always come out in tea. Typically, they’ll base the name off the scent. On the other hand, classics such as Spearmint or Peppermint taste as good as they smell.

You can eat leaves raw. You can dry them for a sprinkled seasoning (especially on lamb) or for use in tea. You can even freeze them in ice cubes, or blend them into a sort of minty sauce. Go wild.

Problems

Pests & Diseases

Whiteflies, blackflies, spider mites, snails, and slugs – thought typically only when the mint is young. Apple Mint is especially prone to spider mites, which can hide in the hair under leaves.

Trouble Signs

It’ll cause trouble for other plants!

Other Notes

The plant releases its scent when touched. My usual favorite method is to rub the underside of the leaf, then smell it. You could even line a walkway with mint, that was scents are released as you walk along and brush by it.


Thanks for stopping by! I hope you had a pleasant time checking out the plants. If you’re in the mood for more nature, please stay in touch!

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A mint stalk ready to be pruned

3 thoughts on “Mint

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