How to Grow Fresh Mint in Your Herb Garden

Fresh Mint Plant Potted against a Natural Wood Table
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Mint consists of a very broad family of 3,500 plants, and all of them have square stems and opposite leaves. Aside from that, each type of mint is incredibly different; you may not have known as horehound, lemon balm, basil, bee balm, pennyroyal, lavender, hyssop, oregano, and even catnip are all relatives. Peppermint and spearmint are the most widely grown mint varieties because they are handy for tea and infusion waters, disliked by mosquitos, and very easy to grow. Here, we provide some key mint plant care tips to get the most out of growing this herb.

Botanical name Mentha piperate; Mentha spirata
Common name  Peppermint; spearmint
Plant type  Herbaceous perennial 
Size  12-36 inches
Sun exposure  Partial shade 
Soil type  Sandy loam, well-drained, with organic matter 
Soil pH  6-7.5
Hardiness zones  3-11 
Native area  Mediterranean basin
Toxicity  Toxic to dogs, cats, and horses in large amounts. 

How to Plant Mint

After being planted, mint can spread rapidly via runners. Your options are to choose a location that you'd like to eventually have carpeted with mint, plant in a bottomless container deep in the soil to block lateral growth, or grow mint in a large pot on the patio.

Growing From Seed

Mint is rarely grown from seed, as cuttings tend to provide a more faithful reproduction of the traits we like. A few seed companies carefully isolate their varietals for true breeding. They recommend starting seeds indoors over the winter and transplanting after the last frost.

Growing From a Cutting and Transplanting

Mint spreads fiercely through gardens via its roots or stolons. It is hardy enough to sprout roots from a cutting in a glass of water. Just trim off all but the top few pairs of leaves and wait a week or so. To plant cuttings directly in the soil, you can use a rooting hormone. Again, trim all but the top leaves, then dip the stem in the powder or liquid. Make a hole in the soil with a pencil, insert the stem gently, and close the soil around it.

Treehugger Tip

Honey can be used as a root stimulator. Boil 2 cups of water, then add 1 tablespoon of honey and stir. Let cool completely before using. Do not dispose of commercial rooting products by flushing them down your drain, as they may attract roots to grow into your drains and pipes.

When transplanting young plants to the garden, whether from seeds or cuttings, space the plants roughly 18 inches apart in a shallow furrow about 2.75-4 inches deep and irrigating immediately. The authors say that this planted area can produce for 3-5 years.

Growing Indoors

Mint can be grown indoors, like many other herbs. All you need is a pot with good drainage and room for the roots to spread out, potting soil, and a source of abundant light. Use grow lights or sit your plants in a big sunny window. 

Keep in mind that, in apartments, radiators are often near windows and can dry plants out. Choose which type of mint suits your space best. Peppermints tend to be low-growing or even trailing, while spearmint is more upright and can get leggy.

Mint Plant Care

Mint is a hardy, adaptable herb that is un-fussy and comes back year after year. It’s a great confidence builder for beginning or previously disappointed gardeners.

Light, Soil, and Nutrients

Mint likes plenty of sunlight until the weather gets extremely hot, when it may go dormant. Partial shade extends the growing season in warm locations.

A paper published in Plants recommends that soil be cleared completely of any weeds in preparation for planting. When working on a smaller scale, soil can be thoroughly cleaned and manure can be mixed in with a garden tiller. (Of course, growing mint in containers filled with potting soil eliminates this chore entirely.) The authors of the paper also reported that fertilizing with nitrogen and some sulfur increased the volatile oils in the mint plants.

What Are Volatile Oils?

Volatile oils are the easily evaporated oils in plants that are responsible for flavors and fragrances and are used in cooking, cosmetics, and medicine.

Water, Temperature, and Humidity

Mint plants should be watered several times a week, so the soil is consistently moist. Its roots will grow close to the surface if given frequent water that doesn't travel deep into the soil. When watered properly, roots can reach 2 feet deep, down to where soil holds water more consistently.

When the plants have created a thick canopy, evapotranspiration is somewhat blocked; however, after clipping and thinning plants, more water can evaporate from the soil. Use a moisture meter to adjust watering. Drip or furrow watering is recommended, as water on the leaves damages them and reduces the volatile oils. Mint prefers moderate temperatures as well as a mid-range humidity level.

Common Pests and Diseases

Mints are frequently used as companion plants to discourage other crops’ pests, but they are not immune to everything. Like many plants, they are susceptible to verticillium wilt, a fungal disease that causes leaves to curl. This disease attaches itself distributes on the stem, turns it yellow or reddish, and reduces the mint's volatile oil content.

Mint Plant Varieties

Here are some common and unique mint types you might be interested in growing yourself.

  • Spearmint has larger, more crinkly, bright green leaves and a fresh cool taste that is perfect for mojitos or lime-mint-fused waters.
  • Peppermint has smaller, dark green leaves and a low-to-the-ground growing habit.
  • Chocolate mint features dark leaves with purple stems and tastes like a peppermint chocolate candy; it is very refreshing infused in water and stimulating as a hot tea.
  • Bergamot mint features a citrus scent and flavor, like its namesake. The showy flowers attract butterflies and other pollinators. It likes more shade and moisture than other mints.
  • Pineapple mint has a variegated leaf and a scent like a pineapple, but it is not palatable.
  • Other relatives such as lemon balm require the same steps for planting and care.

How to Harvest, Store, and Preserve Mint

Mint is a wonderful cut-and-come-again plant. Snip just above a node, and the plant will branch out from there. However, for the best oil content, try to harvest when the plant is in full bloom and in the late morning once dew has dried on a sunny day.

Mint can be used fresh or dried. To dry mint, simply tie up a small bundle and hang it upside down in a place with good air circulation and no direct sunlight. Once it's dry, crumble it into a glass jar, removing the thick stems. Use as you would any loose tea or herb. The National Gardening Association recommends cutting 6-inch stems, tying them together and putting the bunch into a paper bag to maintain a nice color, and then hanging the mint in a well-ventilated area.

View Article Sources
  1. Mielke, Judy. Native Plants for Southwestern Landscapes. University of Texas Press, 1997.

  2. Salehi, Bahare, et al. "Plants of Genus Mentha: From Farm to Food Factory." Plants, vol. 7, no. 3, 2018, p. 70, doi:10.3390/plants7030070

  3. "Mint: Plants Care and Collection of Varieties." The National Gardening Association.