Grow Your Own Mint Leaves at Home
Mint is perhaps one of the most well-known of all the herbs to grow at home. We even call the whole Lamiaceae plant family the mint family because, well, everybody loves mint, right?
Mint is so prolific in the garden. In fact, you want to make sure you don't plant mint directly in a raised bed or container with other plants because it can take over within a matter of seasons. That's just how mint rolls- I mean, how mint grows.
For the most part, mint prefers sandy, well-draining soil, consistent but not too much water, and lots of sunshine. Here's how to grow your own organic mint.
Mint vs Peppermint
Mint is actually an umbrella term to cover dozens of herb varieties. Typically, when we're talking about growing mint, we're referring to spearmint, which is also the type you're most likely to find at the grocery store.
Peppermint is a variety of mint that contains menthol (the chemical compound that can make your mouth feel numb). Peppermint is technically a hybrid—a cross between watermint and spearmint. There are even more varieties of peppermint, including chocolate mint and orange mint.
When using these herbs in your kitchen, you'd typically use spearmint for savory dishes and peppermint for sweeter dishes.
Avoid growing different types of mint herbs side by side, as they can lose their distinct aroma and flavor.
Both peppermint and spearmint have long been used for their medicinal properties. In fact, dried mint leaves were discovered in Egyptian pyramids, and the Ancient Romans grew spearmint and peppermint in their garden to use in a variety of treatments.
Mint varieties have many benefits, including the following:
- Mint aids your digestion, calms upset stomachs, and relieves stomach bloating. People have been drinking mint tea for tummy troubles for thousands of years.
- Mint can help with nasal congestion and other cold and flu symptoms. Mint can also alleviate allergy symptoms like sneezing and runny noses.
- If you're worried about your breath, chewing on mint leaves or drinking mint tea is a natural way to fight the bacteria in your mouth causing bad breath.
- Mint can help relieve pain. It's believed mint can ease tension headaches and menstrual cramps.
- Mint boosts your ability to focus and stay alert. The smell of mint stimulates your limbic system, which is central to learning and storing memories.
Basically, reach for some mint sprigs if your head or stomach is hurting, or if you need a natural pick-me-up before a big presentation or test.
When to Grow Mint
Mint is a perennial herb, which means it sprouts and grows throughout the warmest part of the year, turns brown at the end of the season, and dies back when frost or snow comes. Once spring arrives and there's no more threat of frost, mint will pop back up from its roots. If you live in a warmer climate, your mint may continue to grow and produce throughout the year.
Add mint to your garden in the spring and harvest heavily from it once it's producing tons and tons of flavorful leaves in the summer. Consider potting it up and bringing it indoors for the winter in a colder climate to have fresh leaves on hand for longer.
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Where to Grow Mint
Mint will take as much sunlight as you can give it. Your plant will produce more leaves when it receives from four to eight hours of sun per day, but most will continue growing even when your light is on the lower end of that spectrum.
I recommend growing mint away from other plants (meaning not in your raised beds) because it doesn't always play nicely with others. It likes to take up lots of space and will elbow its way past whatever roots are in its way to get that space. If you do want to grow mint with other herbs (and I do, even though I tell you not to!), be ready to act aggressively to stop its spread.
That leaves two places that are ideal for growing mint: in the ground in your native soil or in its own pot or container.
Growing Mint in the Ground
I’ve successfully grown mint in my native soil before. The previous owner of our Chicago-area home planted mint in the backyard, so we had tons of mint plants. Just make sure you're planting mint somewhere you don't mind it spreading. It'll send lateral roots called runners that can can take over a whole bed in a matter of seasons.
If you want to keep mint more contained in a flower bed, keep in a container with drainage holes that you bury in the ground.
Some native soils might have too much clay or just not drain well enough to keep mint happy. This is a Mediterranean herb, after all, and it prefers fairly dry and sandy soil that drains quickly. If mint plants turn black and start rotting from the bottom up, you know you'll need to start over in a container.
Growing Mint in a Pot or Container
While I've grown mint in the ground, I've found more lasting success when growing mint in a container.
Look for a pot or container that's as wide as the plant's foliage and at least 6 inches deep (through having a deeper pot will increase drainage and give the plant more room to find resources when needed). Your container should be made out of a material as close to its natural state as possible. Terra cotta pots, stainless steel tubs, cedar boxes, and natural fiber grow bags are great options.
No matter which material you choose, make sure it has good drainage. Mint plants don't like to have their roots stay wet. If the container you select does not have drainage holes, be sure to add your own with a drill so that your mint roots are never sitting in water.
Fill your pot or container with topsoil mixed with some compost for nutrients and some torpedo sand (not the kind of sand you'd put in a child's sandbox). This sand ensures the soil will drain quickly and prevent roots from sitting in water.
Can Mint Grow Indoors?
Mint can be grown indoors in a sunny spot or under artificial lights. Because mint can tolerate partial sun, you don't even need a south-facing window—north- or east-facing windows will do just fine to give this herb enough direct light in the early morning to produce delicious leaves.
Follow the steps in the article below to set up an indoor herb planter for mint.
How to Source Your Mint Herb
Growing Mint from a Cutting
Mint does very well when grown through propagation, meaning you cut from a mature mint plant and train those cuttings to grow roots and become new plants. I call this "mint magic" because I genuinely believe that propagating plants is one of the most magical things you can do in the garden—and also one of the best ways to turn one plant you love into a hundred more for free!
When I say free, I mean it. You can use cuttings purchased from the store, but you can also get away with not buying anything at all. Just look for a mint plant that's doing well in your area and (with the gardener's permission) take a small cutting of it home with you. Taking cuttings doesn't hurt the plant at all, and you can turn a plant that knows how to do well in your area into more plants. I take cuttings from the yards of friends and neighbors all the time.
There's also the fact that mint prefers to be started this way rather than by seed. It'll produce roots fairly quickly when placed in water or sand.
Follow these simple steps to propagate mint.
Growing Mint from a Transplant
You always have the option of heading to the nursery and purchasing a naturally grown mint plant. While this will cost you a couple bucks, you can also harvest from the plant immediately. If you take good care of it, it'll grow and come back year after year, making it a worthwhile investment.
You'll want to repot your mint herb once you bring it home. Dig a hole twice as wide as the plant and just as deep as the roots before repotting. This extra width in the hole will open air pockets and loosen the soil so the roots can spread out easily. You’ll repot the plant to its neck, meaning just where the root section of the plant meets the main stem and its leaves. You don’t want any leaves or stems under the soil, as this will suffocate the plant, cause mold or mildew, or make it more prone to disease. Remember, plants need to breathe too.
Once you repot your mint herb, add a little water and place it in a spot with indirect or filtered light for the first one to two weeks as the plant adjusts to its new pot. I'm sure you hate moving, so keep in mind that it can be just as challenging for your plants. Watch your re-potted plant in the first few weeks to be sure it’s not struggling for more water or some afternoon shade. After the two-week period has ended, if your herb seems to be adjusted to its new spot, you can slowly reintroduce it to more sunshine, though afternoon shade is still typically appreciated, especially in the summer.
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How to Tend Mint Plants
Mint Plant Care
Mint, like most other herbs, doesn't require a whole lot of tending (actually, the most important tending task you'll do is cutting leaves regularly, also known as harvesting, and we'll get to that in a minute).
If you notice that a mint plant is growing too large for its container, remove the rootball of the plant and use a clean spade or shovel to split it in half. Put one half back in the same container and repot the other half in a new container.
Watering Mint Plants
If your mint plant is outdoors and you’re getting regular rain, you probably don’t need to add too much water. Generally speaking, your mint plant only needs about one inch of water per week. Before you water mint, double check the soil one inch below the surface, and if there’s any moisture remaining in the soil, don’t water just yet. Many people end up overwatering their mint plants.
If the leaves of your mint plant are turning yellow, this is typically a sign that you’ve been watering your herb a little too much. If the leaves are turning brown and crispy or if they're wilting, then you're not watering enough. You want vibrant green leaves that stand tall and hold their structure.
Make sure you’re watering the base of your mint plants, not the leaves. Most herbs don’t like their leaves to be wet, so double check that you’re directing the water to the right spot.
Fertilizing Mint Herbs
With herbs like mint, you can keep your fertilizing system very simple. If nothing else, add fresh compost to the top of the soil every month or two. Compost is an easy and organic way to keep your mint plants healthy and give them the nutrients they need to produce more and more leaves for you.
I like to add earthworm castings to the surface of my herb containers every week or two. Simply sprinkle earthworm castings on the soil surface around your mint plants. Water in well and let the castings do their work.
I rarely amend my herb garden or add new nutrients beyond compost and earthworm castings. I find that mint grows really well when set up correctly with a rich soil that’s full of nutrients from the beginning. If you'd like to add an organic fertilizer, you can add a little more nitrogen at regular intervals by pouring in a little extra nitrogen liquid when watering or spritzing the leaves with this nitrogen mixture.
How to Harvest Mint
If you propagate mint from cuttings, allow four to six weeks before they’re rooted enough to be ready to plant. Then, factor in another four to six weeks before the rooted plant has grown enough to be ready to harvest.
Mint purchased from a local garden center or nursery can be harvested the very day you bring it home (just go easy while it adjusts to its new home).
Once your mint plant has produced five to ten main stems, you can (and should) harvest from it weekly. The more that you cut from herbs like mint, the more they’ll produce.
To harvest mint, bring along a clean pair of scissors or snips. Mint can be harvested similarly to the other herbs in the mint family. You can cut right above a leaf node (where two leaves are directly opposite from each other on a stem) to encourage the plant to branch out more, or you can harvest a stem at the base of the plant. Start from the outside and work your way in, never harvesting more than a third of the plant at once.
How to Dry Mint
I like to enjoy fresh mint in Mediterranean-style dishes like couscous with feta and roasted tomatoes, but it's a real culinary treat when dried.
To dry mint, cut the stems when the plant is dry at the base or just above a leaf node if there’s still time for your plant to keep growing in the current season. Strip the stem of the bottom few leaves and tie a bunch of stems together.
Hang the mint stems upside down in a cool, dry, and somewhat dark place (bright sunlight can bleach the greens and remove some of the strong mint flavor you’re hoping to keep) for two to three weeks. Then, remove dried leaves from their stems and seal them in a jar until you’re ready to use.
Making Mint Tea
I love to dry herbs like lemon balm, peppermint, and spearmint for herbal teas. Here's how to make your own mint tea.
Enjoy Homegrown Mint Leaves Year-Round
By harvesting from mint as often as possible during its active growing season and drying some of your harvests to use over winter, you can grow your own year-round supply of mint at home. I hope you find so much success with mint that you won't have to buy those little plastic containers of mint leaves from the grocery store again!
Thanks for bringing back the kitchen garden with me one herb at a time!