Know Before You Grow: Mint
Perfect for beginning gardeners, mint is the easiest of all herbs to grow, a perennial hardy in zones 4-9. In addition to flavoring food and drinks, it serves as a natural pest deterrent in the vegetable, herb, or flower garden, and chewing the leaves not only freshens the breath but is said to calm an upset stomach.
Choosing a Variety
Native to the Mediterranean, the genus Mentha has parented more than 3,500 varieties. By far the most commonly grown in this country are Spearmint (M. spicata) and Peppermint (M. x piperita). Both are super easy to grow, taking off like crazy to perfume home or garden all season!
When to Start
For spring planting, mint seeds can be started indoors in late winter or direct-sown in the warm spring soil. But as a hardy perennial, they can be started anytime until about 2 months before the first frost of fall, or year-round for indoor use.
How to Start
To sow the seeds indoors, place them on top of the Bio Sponge in your Bio Dome, or on top of the medium in your seed flat. Do not cover the seeds; they need light to germinate. They should sprout within 10 to 15 days at room temperature or slightly warmer (68 to 75°F). Transplant into the garden or container when they have at least 2 sets of true leaves.
To sow the seeds outdoors, place them on top of well-worked soil, then sprinkle a fine layer of vermiculite on top of them. If you are sowing directly into the garden, consider placing a
- Harvest sprigs from the plant as you need them all season long.
- Try to pick mint in the morning, when the flavorful oils are strongest.
- Plant your mint where passersby will brush the foliage, which releases its heady aroma.
- For new plants from your old ones, root a stem cutting in a glass of water, or divide the entire plant into sections and replant each division.
- Mint thrives best in partial shade and rich, moist soil. However, it is famously unfussy, so chances are it will not only survive but flourish in any light from full sun to deep shade, and any quality of soil provided the drainage is decent. Many gardeners deliberately plant it in less favorable conditions to slow down its spread!
- Space plants 12 to 18 inches apart in the garden.
- Throughout the growth months, pinch off the tips of the stems. This makes your plant bushier and less leggy.
- Avoid using fertilizer on mint.
Pests and Problems to Watch For
Mint's greatest advantage -- its utter ease of growth -- is also one of its biggest problems. Do not plant it in an area where other plants must compete for space. If you want it in the garden but without the rapid spread, set it into a container instead, and use a saucer at the base to prevent the roots from growing into the soil below.