How to Care for Mint Plants
With dozens of available cultivars and a growth pattern that borders on invasive, it's no wonder why mint has quickly gained popularity as the perfect ground cover herb. Planted directly into the garden landscape, mint promptly establishes itself and spreads indefinitely to provide the gardener with plenty of culinary-grade leaves and garden weed suppression like no other!
No in-ground garden? No problem. It doesn't take a full garden to grow mint, as the vast majority of varieties are well suited and easily adapted for growing in containers. Whether you're planting this unique herb in the comforts of your raised garden bed or in the shallows of a potting container, don't you think it's about time to discover how to care for mint plants?
What Are the Basics of Proper Mint Plant Care?
Even in the most adverse conditions, mint somehow finds a way to survive. Although it can grow in poor conditions, it's not really beneficial for the gardener to plant the herb in these fashions. For large, healthy, and productive mint plants, the following two factors should be at the forefront of your mind:
Make sure the soil is fertile and drains well.
Providing mint plants with proper soil will ensure lush growth year after year. When planting mint, drainage is your biggest concern. Mint plants love moisture, but if soil drainage is not adequate, the roots will suffocate and the plants will brown and die. Amending slow-draining garden soils with perlite or sand can increase aeration and keep mint roots from becoming waterlogged.
Besides proper soil drainage, your mint plants will also benefit from soil that has been mixed with aged compost. While the plants are generally not considered heavy feeders, the addition of compost will boost nutrition levels and allow mint to feed for many seasons. Composted organic matter also increases water retention for those moisture-loving mint roots! Just be careful not to add too much organic matter, or you could risk mint rust.
Provide a good mix of direct sunlight and partial shade.
Almost every nook and cranny in the landscape can serve as an ample shelter to plant mint. For best growth, locate an area in the garden—or the patio for container gardeners—that receives at least a couple hours of full sunlight daily. Granted that the mint plants are allowed access to strong indirect sunlight the rest of the day, they'll continue to grow strong and healthy.
In cooler climates, more direct full sun may be offered, while hotter climates should be prepared to provide mint plants with cooler and shadier garden options.
What to Look for When Obtaining Mint Plants
Growing mint from seed can be quite the test for beginner gardeners. Due to mint's slow germination period and even slower initial growth, mint seeds must be started indoors months ahead of the last frost date. It's for this very reason that the majority of gardeners obtain mint through nurseries that offer ready-to-go transplants. These rooted mint cuttings are much easier to maintain and will normally produce more foliage than a mint started from seed in the first year.
When picking out mint transplants for your garden, here's a checklist to keep handy:
- Variety: Are the plants labeled? There's many types of mint available to the home gardener, so make sure you know the variety you have!
- Health: Visually inspect the plants for any signs of stress or disease. If the mint plant in question is showing any orange-brown speckles on the lower foliage, the plant should be avoided. Such speckles are the signs of mint rust, a disease in which the plants need to be destroyed or burned.
- Pests: Check for any chewed portions or discoloration on the leaves. Large holes in foliage often indicates loopers, while tiny discolorations could be signs of aphids, spider mites, or flea beetles. With the proper care, all of these mint pests can be controlled, but it's much smarter to just go ahead and avoid any pests at this stage!
How to Care for Mint Plants
Choosing the variety of mint you wish to grow will likely be the hardest part of the process, because caring for mint plants is a breeze! Here's what you need to keep in mind:
- If the mint plants were purchased from an indoor greenhouse, you'll need to harden off the plants before permanently planting outdoors.
- Plant in ground or in a large container (two gallons or bigger) after threats of frost have passed.
- Water mint plants as needed throughout the season. Mint plants enjoy soil that is thoroughly moist. So depending on your climate and the plants' location, watering may need to be conducted daily.
- Harvesting of the mint leaves can and should be done often during the season. Harvesting equally serves as pruning and will promote lush and dense growth. To harvest mint, use your fingers to pinch off new growth from the tops of the plants. Pinch growth above the node that is about 1/3 of the way down on the mint branch.
- At the end of the season, mint plants in the ground can be mulched for overwintering. Mint grown in containers will need to be dug up and the roots divided. If the roots are not dug up and separated each year, mint will eventually become so root bound that it will choke itself out.