Garden Variety: Add mint to your garden this year
Mint is a longtime garden favorite in the Midwest that is chosen for its culinary value and hardiness. Although common, this perennial herb deserves attention and a place in every garden. If you already grow mint, consider adding a new flavor this year. If mint is new to you, try a few different varieties to add color, texture and scents to your plant array.
Mint leaves are used fresh or dried to season many types of foods. They also add flavor to tea, water and cocktails. The plants are heat tolerant, require little supplemental irrigation, lack serious pest problems and are winter hardy in Kansas. They grow well in containers or in the ground in a contained space.
Common varieties of mint are apple, chocolate, ginger, mojito, orange, peppermint, pineapple and spearmint. Each variety has a different flavor profile. The appearance of the leaves and stems is also different and adds visual interest to the garden. Some are also attractive to butterflies and other pollinators.
To get started growing mint, purchase transplants or get a few stems from a friend. Although mint can be grown from seed, transplants provide a harvestable crop more quickly. Spring is the best time for planting, but mint plants can be transplanted any time of year. If purchasing greenhouse-grown transplants in spring, plant after the last frost to avoid cold-temperature injury to the plants.
All varieties of mint grow best when planted in well-drained soil and placed in a site with at least six to eight hours of sun per day.
Mint should be grown in a container; in a planting bed surrounded by edging, rock, etc.; or in an area where it can spread like a groundcover. Although the plants are not overly aggressive, they produce spreading underground roots that will fill an area over time if allowed to do so. If you want to plant in the ground for aesthetic purposes but don’t want spreading, the easy solution is to keep the plant in a large pot and set the pot into the ground. Keeping roots contained in this manner will also limit top growth.
For container-grown mint plants, choose containers that are 12 inches in diameter or more and use one plant per container. Although plants look small in large containers when first planted, this practice gives them space to grow. They will quickly fill this size of container. In larger containers, mint can be mixed with other plants if desired.
For in-ground mint plants, set them 12 to 18 inches apart at planting.
Water after transplanting as needed to help the plant establish in its new site. After that, water only when plants need it. The frequency of watering through the season depends on whether the plants are growing in containers or in the ground, the soil type and the amount of rainfall. In general, container plants dry out more quickly than in-ground plants and may need to be watered every few days in the heat of the summer. Plants growing in the ground are unlikely to need supplemental irrigation after they establish.
Apply mulch around recent transplants to reduce soil temperature and moisture fluctuations. Mulch also helps inhibit weed growth. Use compost, prairie hay, straw, wood chips or other plant-based materials.
If plants seem spindly after planting, pinch them. Pinching means to remove the tip or growing point of a stem. It encourages plants to send out lateral shoots instead of growing tall and unbranched. Plants can be pinched again later in the season to encourage further branching.
Wait until plants establish and start to put on growth before beginning harvest. After that, harvest leaves or portions of the plant periodically through the summer as desired. Only take as much as is needed, leaving the rest of the plant for continued growth.
Harvest by pinching or clipping stems or by simply plucking leaves from the plant.
— Jennifer Smith works in regulatory horticulture and has worked as a horticulturist for various government entities. She has experience in landscape design and maintenance and as an educator.