One of the biggest drawbacks to mint is not getting it to grow, but keeping it under control. But it’s worth the effort. Mint is a flavorful herb that comes in many flavors, such as spearmint, orange, melon, apple, and chocolate peppermint. Not only is it a great addition to drinks, teas and cooking, the plant is an attractive ground cover as well with colorful pastel, blue or pink, colored flowers.
This 1 to 2 foot tall growing perennial is hardy in USDA zones 3 to 10, but some selections are only hardy to zone 5. Plant mint where it can travel freely. It can be grown under the canopy of open trees, as a ground cover in a perennial flower border and in areas where it will meet its match with other aggressive creepers such as ajuga. Mint grows well in large containers and is a good plant to let run on a bank.
Spearmint (Mentha spicata) is a great variety for hot and cold drinks, especially mojitos. Peppermint (M. piperita) is one of the hardiest varieties and is great for cooking. One variation, chocolate peppermint, has a fragrance just like chocolate. Orange mint, pineapple mint, and apple mint all have flavors of their namesakes. Corsican mint (M. requienii) is a creeping variety with gray green leaves. It can withstand some foot traffic and often is grown between stepping-stones in a walkway.
Mint makes an excellent companion with many plants, as long as they are equally as tough. The best place to grow mint is under trees and large shrubs where there’s enough sun for them to flourish. They can be grown in the front of flower borders or in herb gardens, but it would be best to grow mint in a bottomless container sunk into the ground. That way it will be easier to control its rampant growth.
It’s easiest and more reliable to start your own mint plants from cuttings of a friend or neighbor’s plants than to grow mint from seed. You can also purchase plants at your local garden center. Plant mint in part to full sun, on moist, well-drained soils.
Mint spreads by stolons on the ground surface. Some varieties are more aggressive than others, so don’t let one mint bully overrun another. In spring cut back your spreading mint if you are trying to keep it in bounds. Periodically prune it back during the summer as well for harvesting and shaping. Divide plants anytime in spring or summer to make more mints to share. Protect tender mints in cold climates with a layer of bark mulch spread over the plants in late fall.
Harvest mint as soon as the plant is established and has large enough leaves to eat. Remove stems and strip the fresh leaves for drinks, cooking or drying. It’s hard to overharvest mint once the plant is established, but the more stems you harvest the fewer flowers you’ll get in summer.
Excerpted from the book, Foodscaping (CSP, 2015)