Mint leaves

How to Grow Bushy Mint Plants That Don’t Take Over Your Garden

Whether you enjoy its flavour or not, the refreshingly zingy scent released by mint plants as you brush past them in the garden is always a delight. Mint plants are so easy to grow, to the point where many would say that they’re invasive. However, learn how to control their spread and you’ll soon be growing a hardy herb that can be used in everything from food and cocktails to DIY pest repellants and natural home fragrances.

Growing Mint: A Quick Snapshot

When to Sow – Feb-Jun

When to Plant – Mar-Aug

When to Harvest – May-Nov

Average Yield per Plant – 200g/year

Spacing – 20-90cm

Depth – 5mm

How to Grow Mint at Home

Mint close-up

A perennial herb that spreads underground through runners, mint couldn’t be an easier plant to grow. In fact, unless you keep it contained, you’ll likely spend more time trying to stop it from growing quite so much. Restricting those roots is the secret to growing a healthy mint plant that doesn’t take over your garden.

Growing Requirements for Mint

Mint isn’t a fussy plant. It loves full sun, but will also happily grow in the shade, although keeping its roots in the shade and leaves in the sun would be ideal.

It’s adaptable when it comes to soil too, although a rich and fertile soil is its preference. It also thrives in a slightly acidic soil mix.

Where to Grow Mint

In terms of the amount of space you’ll need, mint plants vary in size. Some varieties stand at just a few centimetres tall, making them a great ground cover plant, while others stand at a metre in height, and bush out just as wide. However, even if you pick a variety that’s too large for the space that you have, mint tolerates being heavily cut back, so regular maintenance will keep it in shape.

As mentioned, the issue that many have is controlling the growth of mint plants. One way to stay on top of this is to grow your mint in containers.

While the idea of submerging your containers into the ground to blend the mint in with the rest of your garden might be tempting – don’t. Mint roots will make their way out from even the tiniest of drainage holes, after which they’ll run rampant. Going for a container without any drainage holes would only cause your plants to become waterlogged, which will end up being fatal.

Of course, if you have an unruly section of your garden that isn’t used very often, then plant some mint in the ground and let it run wild. So long as you prevent it from spreading into other parts of your garden, it shouldn’t cause any issues.

How to Grow Mint from Seed

Mint seedling

Mint seeds can be direct sown outside once temperatures warm up in the spring. However, if you’d like to get things going a little sooner, or if you’d prefer to nurture your plants indoors for a while, then start your seeds in trays or pots before planting out the seedlings.

How to Sow Mint Seeds in Trays:

  • Fill small pots with a multi-purpose compost
  • Water the compost well, making sure that the drainage holes at the bottom aren’t blocked
  • Sow your mint seeds onto the surface of the soil
  • Very lightly cover them over with some more compost – they only need to be about 5mm deep
  • Lightly sprinkle more water over the top to settle the seeds in place
  • Place your pots somewhere warm. Temperatures of around 20°C are perfect for germinating mint seeds

It will take about one to two weeks for your mint seeds to germinate. Once they do, move them to somewhere that receives plenty of light, and keep the soil moist.

How to Direct Sow Mint Seeds:

  • Prepare your growing area, ensuring that it’s weed-free
  • Sow your mint seeds over the surface of the soil
  • Gently rake the seeds in
  • Water lightly if your soil was dry

A couple of weeks after your seeds germinate, thin your seedlings out. The amount of space that you’ll need to leave in between each plant will depend on the variety that you’re growing.

How to Grow Mint from Cuttings

Truth be told, even though mint grows easily from seed, most gardeners tend to grow it from cuttings. Why? Because it grows even faster this way!

Simply snip off 8cm from the top growth of a mint plant. Then, remove the leaves from the lower half of the plant. You can either dip that cutting into some rooting hormone and plant it in the soil, or sit it in a jar of water (you’ll need to change the water every day) until it produces roots.

It takes about a week for mint cuttings to root, and it won’t be long after this before they really start to take off.

How to Plant Mint Outside

Gardener planting mint

Once all chances of frost have passed, you can plant your mint outside. Your seedlings will need to be hardened off first, which should take about 7-10 days.

Prepare your growing area and then dig holes that are just slightly larger than the root balls of your seedlings. The amount of space needed between each plant will depend on its variety, so make sure that you look this up before planting.

That said, planting mint too far apart isn’t an issue, as the plants will soon spread to fill any gaps. However, planting them too close together will encourage diseases.

Place your plants into their new homes and cover the roots over with soil. Firm the soil down and water well.

How to Plant Mint in a Greenhouse

With mint being so hardy and adaptable, most gardeners grow it outside. However, others like to take advantage of its gorgeous fragrance, as well as the fact that mint flowers are great for attracting pollinators, so choose to grow it in a greenhouse too.

The extra heat and protection provided by a greenhouse will really push your mint plants on. For this reason, keep your plants in containers, or you’ll be digging those roots up from your greenhouse beds for years to come.

How to Care for Mint

Mint plants in flower

Mint is one of the lowest maintenance plants you could grow. You could simply leave your seedlings to do their own thing after planting and you’ll have yourself some bushy mint plants ready for harvesting in just a few month’s time. Alternatively, if you’d like to maximize your yields, then the following care points are key:

Watering Mint

Mint plants like their soil to be consistently damp, but not overly soggy. This equates to around 2.5-5cm of water a week, including rainfall. The best way to decide whether or not your mint plants need water is to place your finger a few centimetres into the soil. If it’s dry, then water away!

Feeding Mint

Mint will do just fine without a fertiliser. However, if you want to give your plants an extra boost, a general-purpose, slow-release granular fertiliser can be applied in early spring. You can then follow this up with a high-nitrogen fertiliser in late summer, once your plants have finished flowering.

Ideally, use just half the recommended amount of fertiliser each time. Over-fertilising your mint plants will not only encourage the formation of diseases, but it’ll also affect the flavour of the leaves.

Weeding and Mulching Mint

Give your mint plants a bit of time and they’ll soon be towering over the weeds growing around them. There aren’t many weeds that can compete with mint, meaning that your mint plants won’t require much weeding once established.

However, when your plants are still young, try to keep their growing area as weed-free as possible. Mulching your plants can help with this, while also improving soil moisture retention and keeping leaves clean from water splashes.

How to Harvest Mint

Woman cutting mint leaves from plant

Once your mint plants are about 8-10cm in height, you can start to harvest them. If you plan on drying your leaves, then pick them before the plants start to flower. Keep in mind that younger leaves are more flavourful, and the oils within the leaves are at their most fragrant in the mornings.

You can either harvest individual leaves as and when you need them, or snip off entire stems. If you choose the latter, leave about 2.5cm of stem behind in the ground.

Your mint plants will cope with being heavily cropped, but avoid harvesting more than a third of the plant in one go. Big harvests should also be limited to once a month, to allow the plant to recover before the next cutting.

How to Store Mint

Mint tastes best when used fresh. However, if you’ve picked more than you can use, place the excess into a plastic bag in the fridge, but don’t fully seal it – you want to give any moisture somewhere to escape to.

Alternatively, you could also place the stems into a glass of water. Change the water every day and your mint will be good to use for several weeks. New roots will also start appearing on the stems, so you could always re-plant anything that you don’t end up using.

If long-term storage is what you’re after, you have two main options. The first is to freeze the leaves. This can be done in ice cube trays to make the herb easy to use.

Alternatively, you could dry the leaves. Whether you use a dehydrator or you air-dry them, dried mint leaves will keep for a few years.

How to Prepare & Cook Mint

Mint on chopping board

Mint doesn’t need much preparation. Simply give it a rinse, pluck the leaves off the stem, and they’re ready to use.

Many gardeners struggle when it comes to making the most of their mint harvests. Other than being used as a garnish for drinks, or beaten into a zingy mint sauce, mint is very under-utilised. If you want to start getting more creative with mint in the kitchen, try the following dishes:

  • Mint pesto
  • Chocolate-dipped mint leaves
  • Mint tea
  • Watermelon, mint, and basil salad
  • Greek yoghurt with mint and berries

Of course, with mint, it’s not only about food. There are several other ways in which you can use this herb, such as:

  • In DIY skincare face masks
  • In homemade pest repellants
  • As a refreshing room fragrance
  • To treat stomach aches and digestive issues
  • Added to a facial steam to clear blocked sinuses

Common Mint Problems

Mint is a relatively problem-free plant to grow. However, a few issues to keep an eye out for are:

  • Mint rust – this fungal disease is particularly detrimental to spearmint and peppermint. You’ll notice that new shoots look distorted and pale, while the leaves develop rusty orange pustules. Unfortunately, all of the fungicides that are capable of treating this disease aren’t suitable for use on edibles. Instead, you’ll need to remove affected mint plants and protect the rest by keeping them well-watered and well-pruned
  • Mint beetle – these shiny green pests, along with their black larvae, will feed on your mint plants, slowly destroying them. Fortunately, they’re easy to see, so simply pick them off whenever they appear
  • Aphids – this common garden pest sucks the sap from plants, causing the leaves to distort and turn yellow. Small infestations can be manually removed, while larger colonies can often be dislodged with a strong jet of water. There are also several organic aphid remedies out there that can be sprayed onto your plants

Popular Mint Varieties to Grow

Mint on chopping board

There are more than 35,000 varieties of mint out there, so narrowing these down to just a handful isn’t easy. Each variety does also have its own unique growing habits and characteristics, making it worth spending some time exploring all that’s out there. That said, a few good starting points would be:

  • Peppermint – this classic, which has a flavour that will remind you of candy canes, has long and flat smooth leaves and a cooling flavour
  • Spearmint – boasting a milder flavour than most other varieties, spearmint is an attractive plant with its bright and crinkled leaves
  • Apple mint – fuzzy leaves with a deliciously fruity fragrance
  • Grapefruit mint – large leaves with a very citrus-like flavour
  • Pennyroyal – a low-growing mint that works well as a ground cover plant
  • Water mint – grows well in wet and boggy areas, making it perfect for a pond plant

Conclusion

Even if you don’t end up harvesting your mint plants on a regular basis, this is a herb that’s still well worth having in your garden. It has a beautiful fragrance, it’s great for attracting pollinators, and it keeps unwanted pests away, while also looking absolutely stunning when in flower. Even better, it’s so easy to grow – plant it once and, even if you completely neglect it, it will likely return to fill your garden with its refreshing aroma each and every year.

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