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Growing Mint - advice on how to grow Mint

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Mint is a herbaceous perennial which dies back in late Autumn but burst back into life in Spring. The vigorous nature of Mint makes it a relatively easy plant to grow. However it is also a very invasive plant that will spread through the plot if left to its own devices.

Mint sends out lateral root runners under the soil that enable it to surface in another part of your plot and at the same time compete with your other plants for water, nutrients and light.

In this article we examine how to grow Mint successfully without letting it dominate your garden.

Preparation

The ability to encroach into the space of other herbs and plants in the garden is normally overcome by either growing Mint in containers or by taking measures to prevent the spread of the roots.

Mint in containers

If you wish to grow your Mint in the soil rather than in a container on the patio / decking then use the following trick for restricting the sprawl of Mint. Use a large plastic plant pot (at least 15 inches deep) with the bottom cut out of it that enables the roots to grow downwards but not sideways.

Dig a hole in the herb garden / soil where you want to locate the Mint and put the container with no bottom into this hole. Leave around an inch of the rim of the container above soil level. The pot will act as a barrier to the lateral spreading of the Mint root runners and so keep the plant in check.

You could also use brick / pot / stones to form mini barrier walls under the soil between the mint and the next herb in your herb garden. However beware that if there are any cracks left in such a wall then the Mint roots will find their way through the cracks!

Sowing

Mint can be grown from seed although growing from seed is not always successful. Because Mint is so easy to propagate from cuttings this is often the chosen
method of obtaining more Mint plants.

If growing from Sow seed thinly in 3 inch pots and cover with a 1/2 cm layer of fine compost. Water the compost and place a clear plastic bag (sandwich bags
are ideal) upside down over the pot to help retain moisture. Secure the plastic bag with an elastic band.

Growing Mint from cuttings

  1. If growing from cuttings it is vital that you inspect the plant you propose to take the cuttings from before you do so. If the plant shows any sign of being affected by pest or disease then do not use that plant to propagate from. The most common Mint disease is the fungal Mint Rust (see below).

  2. Use a sharp knife or sharp scissors to take a cutting just below a leaf node (where leaves are emerging from the stem).

    Mint cutting 1 - taking cutting below leave node
  3. The cutting should be about 8-10cm in length.

    Mint cutting 2 - the initial cutting
  4. Remove any established leaves from the bottom half of the cutting.

    Mint cutting 3 - remove lower leaves
  5. Cut the growing tip off the stem (found at the top of the cutting). Make sure to handle the cutting carefully, not squashing its main stem in any way.

    Mint cutting 4 - remove growing tip
  6. You can now choose to place the cutting into either water or compost.

    Growing in a glass of water can be great fun if your kids are involved as they can see the roots forming in the water). Simply make sure that at least the bottom half of the cuttings are submerged in the water, after about a week you will see roots starting to form. Wait another week or so and then pot the cuttings on into the containers you wish them to grow in. Throughout this period ensure that you keep the water level topped up as required.

    You can alternatively put the cuttings into seed modules, 3 inch pots or directly into 7 inch or 12 inch pots which saves having to transplant again when the cuttings have taken root.

    For seed modules or larger containers simply fill the container with compost, make a hole in the compost the depth of at least half the cutting length. Use a dibber or pencil to do this.

    Mint cutting 5 - make hole with pencil
  7. Put the bottom half of the cutting into the hole. Use the dibber/pencil to firm the compost around the cutting taking care not to crush the stem.

    Mint cutting 6 - firm in with dibber
  8. Mint does not like to dry out so it is essential to keep the compost moist whilst your seedlings are establishing. When your cutting is in pots you can help moisture retention by using an upturned clear plastic bag over the pot as described when planting from seed.

Position

Mint will thrive in a sunny position but will also tolerate some shade.

Growing more than one type of Mint

Although Mint will co-exist with other varieties of Mint it is widely believed that the qualities of the flavour and scent of the plants are reduced when doing so. Therefore if you want to have different varieties in a large container then plant the varieties in small sub containers and place these containers in the larger container.

Soil type

Mint likes a rich, soil that is fairly free draining although it does not like the soil to dry out.

Tending

When growing Mint in containers - cnce the root system has filled the pot or container then the plant can be lifted out of the pot and then divided into 3 or 4 plants and then each plant re-potted in the center of a new pot with additional compost to backfill the container.

Do this in spring and these plants will soon put on vigorous growth in their new container. This will help keep your plant healthy and enable it to expand its root system even though it is in a restricted space.

If you find your Mint plants have put on so much growth that you can't use it all then you can either preserve it (see below) for use over winter or at the very least make sure to keep cutting the growing tips back. This encourages bushy growth rather than having a long straggly plant.

Mint does not like to dry out so make sure to water regularly, especially if in terracotta pots which lose a lot of water through thepot walls. You can line your terracotta pots with old compost bags to help retain moisture.

Harvesting

Before winter you can cut the stems back to a couple of inches above the soil. This will give you a bumper crop of Mint that you can preserve by either:

  • Chopping into pieces small enough to put in ice cubes trays, top up with water and freeze. You can then add the required number of ice cubes to drinks (fantastic with Apple juice) or for adding to Gravies / mint sauce etc.
  • Tying around the bottom of the stems to create bunches of Mint that can be hung in a ventilated dry space to air dry them. See Preserving Herbs for more information.

Varieties

There are many varieties of Mint and each type has it's own strengths.

Spearmint (Menta spicata)

Mint Spearmint close up

Spearmint is a perennial that is hardy and will grow to a height of about 45-50cm. As with other varieties it will spread laterally if not contained.

Moroccan Mint -the Moroccan variety is well known for its use in making great tasting tea.

Pineapple Mint - variegated (white/cream and green leaves)

Diseases

Mint Rust is a fungus that appears as small rust (orange) coloured patches that appear on the underside of the leaves of the plant.

If you have a plant showing signs of Mint Rust then remove it from the garden and destroy it. This is because it can easily spread to other plants and the soil thus affecting plants introduced in the future.

 

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