Few plants reward the lazy gardener more enthusiastically than the plants of the mint family. Spearmint, peppermint, apple mint, pineapple mint, chocolate mint and pennyroyal and are just some of the hundreds of varieties of Mentha. All of them thrive under adverse conditions and benign neglect. In fact, mint can sometimes present homeowners with far too much of a good thing! Finding ways to keep these fragrant, delicious herbs from choking out their neighbors usually plagues gardeners much more than caring for the mint plants themselves.
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Establishing a Mint Patch
Respect the expansive nature of the mint plants. If possible, set aside a wide swath of garden for the plants to storm. A damp bank on which nothing else seems to grow might prove a hospitable host, as would the dappled shade of a deciduous tree.
Alternatively, keep your mints corralled in their own containers. Mints love a nice big pot, provided they don't share space with other herbs. If you like the look of a traditional herb garden, you could always cut out the bottom of a plastic pot, dig a hole and position the mints in their bottomless container. This will contain the runners, at least for a few years.
Caring for Mint
Mulch your mint patch, if desired. Mentha grows too vigorously for weeds to bother it much, but if your garden space lacks adequate water or dappled shade, mulch helps keep the herbs cool and moist.
Don't worry about fertilizing your mints. The herbs adapt just fine to almost any kind of soil, so save your compost and fish emulsion for pickier plants.
Unless your mints live in containers or grow in the Dust Bowl, watering is not a concern. Mints can take care of themselves! But do check the soil of your potted-up herbs, including mints, as container soil dries out much more quickly than garden soil.
Keep pruning, or pinching back, the tips of the plants to encourage healthier, bushy growth and plenty of leaves. The plants, especially peppermint, quickly get a leggy, scraggly look when left unpruned. If possible, however, let some of the plants flower. The purple blossoms look lovely in any garden, and make a unique addition to salads, herbal vinegars, jellies and jams.
Even if you do nothing, the plants will simply die back in the cold months and emerge hale and hearty the following spring. For neatness' sake, though, you may want to trim the plants close to ground level in the autumn.
For the colder months, consider potting up a bit of mint for an indoor container. Keep the mint watered but not overly moist, and place it where it will receive some shade. As you might have guessed, however, indoor mint plants are not much fussier than their outdoor cousins.
Tips & Warnings
If you're growing a number of different types of mints, prune them before they flower. Once they reach the blossom stage, the plants could interbreed and lose some of their unique properties.
Consider reviving the old-fashioned tradition of the herbal lawn or herbal bench by using mint plants. Mints, thymes and chamomile are among the herbs once prized for fragrant walkways and even soil-filled stone benches in which low-growing herbs were planted. For a mint lawn or bench, choose small-leaved, lower-height mint varieties, such as Corsican or pennyroyal.