How to plant spearmint?

Spearmint Care: Learn How To Grow Spearmint Herbs

Mint is native to the Mediterranean but spread into Britain and eventually to America. The Pilgrims brought mint with them on their first journey overseas. One of the most favored of the mint plants is spearmint (Mentha spicata). This highly aromatic plant is valued for its culinary, medicinal and cosmetic use.

Spearmint resembles peppermint, though spearmint plants have bright green leaves that are pointed, and lavender flower spikes that grow up to 4 inches long. When planted in ideal conditions, spearmint will reach a mature height and width of 12 to 24 inches. Growing spearmint plants in the garden is a rewarding and useful experience.

How to Grow Spearmint

Learning how to grow spearmint isn’t much different than growing other mint plants. Spearmint is a hardy perennial up to USDA plant hardiness Zone 5 that grows best in partial shade with well-draining, rich, moist soil and a pH of 6.5 to 7. Mint is easiest to grow from plants, but you can sow seed once the ground has warmed in the spring. Keep seeds moist until they germinate and thin plants to 1 foot apart.

Spearmint, once planted takes off quickly and can take over quickly as well. Many people question how to plant spearmint due to its invasive nature. Some cautious gardeners grow spearmint in hanging baskets or containers to avoid having to pull out runners constantly.

Another way to plant spearmint if you want it in the garden is to plant it in a 5-gallon pot with the bottom cut out. This will help keep the runners of growing spearmint plants from invading other spots of your garden.

Care of Spearmint

As with most types of mint, the care of spearmint is easy. Mint in the garden should be mulched annually to keep the roots cool and moist. Potted mint does best when fertilized monthly during the growing season with a liquid fertilizer.

Divide plants every two years to keep them healthy. Prune potted plants regularly to keep neat and tidy. If you live in an area with very cold winters, it is best to bring potted spearmint indoors and place in a sunny window.

Knowing how to plant spearmint correctly in the garden will provide you with years of lasting beauty and usefulness.

The first time I came face to face with chocolate mint, I didn’t give in to the barrage of instincts firing through my nervous system: sniff, nibble, muddle it into a mojito.

Impressive self-restraint? Not exactly. I was on vacation, in the middle of a botanical garden, and the mint was in a roped-off section, so anything beyond admiring it from afar was out of the question.

It isn’t often you encounter a funky variety like chocolate mint. Fortunately, everyday spearmint—what we mean when we say “mint”—is easy to come by. Indispensable in a mojito (or a julep or a jazzed-up lemonade), it is also a natural partner for grilled meats and fish, salads, sauces, and desserts.

This bright herb is in abundance now. Here’s what to know when you get your hands on mint, chocolate or otherwise.

It’s Very Hardy

Mint is a perennial that grows with abandon, starting when the soil begins to warm up in late March or April. Find it year-round at the supermarket and at farmer’s markets all summer long.

Two main types

Spearmint and peppermint are the two most common and widely available of the many mint species. Of the two, spearmint is the one almost always sold in grocery stores and markets. So when a recipe calls for mint, it’s generally spearmint, recognizable for its light-green, spear-shaped leaves and that classic sweet mint flavor. Spearmint is also commonly used to make gum and candy.

Peppermint leaves are darker green and smoother than spearmint. The big difference is the presence of menthol, which gives peppermint a much more potent flavor. “It can be like cough syrup when it’s fresh,” says V.J. Billings, owner of California’s Mountain Valley Growers, an organic herb and plant nursery.

Peppermint is typically dried for tea and made into flavoring for candy, toothpaste, and other products. It’s also infused into extracts, which can be used in baked desserts, like this three-ingredient dark chocolate peppermint bark.

Other varieties

Other more exotic varieties that you might come across at the farmer’s market or in your CSA box have names that are evocative of their scent more than their actual flavor.

Chocolate mint is a type of peppermint with a subtle, mint-chocolate aroma—like an Andes Mint, Billings says—and an even more subtle flavor. Apple mint has fuzzy green leaves, pineapple mint leaves are variegated green and white, and both smell faintly of fruit. Lemon mint has smooth leaves and is predictably citrus-scented, as is lemon balm, which is a different plant but still in the mint family. Banana mint, a spearmint hybrid, smells so much like banana, “it’s freaky,” says Billings. But again, its flavor is mild and not that banana-y.

Peas and mint are a perfect pairing.

Photo by Romulo Yanes

Spearmint and peppermint are staples in a foodie gardener’s herb garden and natural medicine cabinet.

Tabouli, tzatziki, kebab (can you tell I like Mediterranean food?), mojitos, peppermint hot chocolate, and other delectable food and drinks rely on mint for their signature taste.

Peppermint tea can soothe a stomach ache like nothing else.

Fortunately, mint is easy to grow indoors, year-round, with proper care.

Take a look at the questions and answers below based on my “Mint 101: Grow Spearmint and Peppermint Indoors” segment on the Home & Family Show on the Hallmark Channel.

Because of limited time, I was not able to answer them all on camera, but I do on my blog!

Mint varieties on display on the Home & Family Show.

1. How many mint plants are there in existence?

There are over 600 plants in Mentha genus but I brought just a few spearmint and peppermint varieties to the show.

Mentha is a genus in the Lamiaceae family, also known as the mint family.

Other herbs in the mint family include basil, lemon balm, catnip and lavender.

2. What’s the difference between spearmint and peppermint?

Most people have “mint confusion” and lump the two together, but there are some marked differences.

Different species: Spearmint is Mentha spicata while peppermint is Mentha piperita.

Both spearmint and peppermint share the same physical hallmarks of the Mentha genus including opposite leaves, a square-shaped stem and a recognizable fragrance.

Essential oils are also extracted from both plants.

Take a close look at your mint plants sometime so that you can recognize common physical features, no matter the variety.

Different flavors: Spearmint’s flavor comes from the chemical ingredient, carvone, that gives it that sweet, familiar flavor.

Think Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum!

Peppermint’s flavor is marked by the ingredient menthol, which is stronger and more pronounced.

Both spearmint and peppermint have menthol in them but peppermint has a much higher menthol content (40% versus .05% in spearmint).

An interesting fact is that menthol imparts a “cool” sensation when we taste it, or a cold feeling on our skin when we rub peppermint-scented oil.

Menthol activates sensory receptors that are interpreted as a cold feeling, although there’s no actual temperature changes in our mouth or skin!

I love these amazing details.

Different uses: Both offer essential oils but peppermint is considered more medicinal because of the menthol content and it is used in muscle rubs, foot powder, toothpaste and other hygiene products.

Spearmint with its fresh, sweet flavor is used fresh in recipes and drinks much more than peppermint.

Some will argue that cooking with fresh peppermint will impart a very strong, acrid menthol flavor to the food.

All I know is that I LOVE Junior Mints and York Peppermint Patties!

How about you?

Peppermint leaves are often dried first and used as a soothing tea and in other recipes.

Be careful with fresh peppermint leaves or peppermint oil; they should not be given to children because of the menthol ingredient that can be dangerous to their immature bodies!

3. WHAT VARIETIES OF MINT DID YOU BRING TODAY?

SPEARMINT PLANTS (Mentha spicata)

  • Spearmint
  • Apple mint
  • Curly mint
  • Cordifolia mint

PEPPERMINT PLANTS (Mentha piperita)

  • Peppermint
  • Orange mint
  • Chocolate mint
  • Pennyroyal

TOXIC MINT: DON’T EAT PENNYROYAL MINT! Pennyroyal mint, or Mentha pulegrium contains a toxic chemical for humans and pets. Do not eat it. Pennyroyal is a nice landscape plant and ground cover but it is not edible! 4. HOW DO YOU GROW MINT PLANTS INDOORS?

  • Select a wide surfaced container such as a window box and fill with well-drained potting soil.
  • Place your mint plant indoors in a bright, sunny room with temperatures over 60 degrees.
  • Keep your mint plant watered and moist.

Mint plants are easy to grow indoors, year-round.

One of the most important details is to select a container with a wide surface, rather than a deep one, to keep the mint roots from encircling themselves and choking a plant.

Mint roots are runners that, if allowed surface space, will set roots and sprout up tall leaf spikes that you can harvest.

I bought white microwave containers with lids at the Dollar store, drilled a drain hole and used the cover as a saucer!

Drain hole in plastic microwave container

Repurposed white microwave bowls make inexpensive and cute planters!

Keep in mind that clay pots are porous and lose moisture easily, so opt for plastic containers, especially if you are one who forgets to water your plants!

Plant one variety of mint per planter as they are very aggressive growers and will end up tangling themselves into the other plant and you’ll have a hard time telling varieties apart!

PROPAGATING MINT FROM CUTTINGS

Create more mint plants from an existing plant using cuttings rooted in water or in soil. It’s easy!

Cut a 3-inch mint stem, remove the lower leaves and place in a glass with water and it will root in 7-10 days.

Make sure you don’t remove ALL the leaves, as you need a few on the top for proper rooting.

When your new plant has roots, plant in soil and follow the instructions above.

If you prefer to root your mint plant in soil:

Cut a 3-inch mint stem, remove the lower leaves, dip the lower tip in rooting hormone and place in moist soil.

Cover the pot with a plastic bag to preserve moisture.

Don’t place your cuttings in direct sunlight. A room with temperatures in the 70s is ideal.

Your new mint plant should have roots in 7-10 days and you can plant in a larger container.

5. HOW DO YOU HARVEST MINT LEAVES?

  • Cut from the stem tips to encourage your mint plant to grow more leaves and become a fuller plant.
  • Remove any flower buds before they open to prolong leaf growth.

Once your mint plant starts to grow flower buds, this is a signal that your plant is near the end of its productive life.

Cut off flower buds from your mint plant for a prolonged period of delicious leaf productivity.

Replace your potted mint plant every three years.

By the third year, most mint plants have outgrown their container space around the root area, compromising the quality of flavor in your leaves.

Since mint is “all about flavor,” treat yourself to a new plant.

Propagate a new mint plant from cuttings and save money!

Do you have any questions about mint for the Foodie Gardener?

Shirley

Learn New Ways of Growing Spearmint

You can grow spearmint well indoors or outdoors. Spearmint needs plenty of space to spread, so choose a wide and shallow container or create a defined space in your garden for the plant. Grow spearmint by planting cuttings in a well-drained, nutrient-rich soil with sun or partial shade.

Keep spearmint plants well-watered at the soil and thin back plants often to encourage new growth and well-established plants. Harvest spearmint when plants are several inches tall, and pull sprigs as needed. Air-dry spearmint leaves and store in an airtight container.

Preparing for Growing Spearmint

You can grow spearmint plants from cuttings from someone you know with established plants, or by purchasing seedlings from a nursery. Once you grow your own established plants, you can be on your way to growing spearmint in your home or garden.

Growing Spearmint Indoors

You can grow spearmint year-round in containers or a window box in your home. Some gardeners choose to do this if they use spearmint frequently and want a continuous supply on hand. It’s also a good way to grow spearmint if your region is prone to extreme weather conditions.

To grow spearmint indoors, you’ll need a container with a wide surface instead of a deep one. A window box works well, since it is wide and shallow. But, a wide and shallow container works well too. The width and shallowness will help the roots spread, rather than entangle themselves in the container.

This video isn’t specifically about growing indoors, but it has some great related tips.

Your containers also need drainage holes, or one larger hole, for water to drain from. Keep your plants in a location of your home that gets plenty of warmth throughout the day, but don’t place them in direct sunlight until they become more established.

In about 3 years, you’ll need to start over with a new spearmint plant. By this time, most spearmint plants outgrow their containers, which hinder their growth and make them lose flavor.

Photo by Michael Herman licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

Growing Spearmint Outdoors

Spearmint grows best in a well-draining soil that remains moist, since they naturally grow near stream beds. The garden area you choose should have plenty of sun, but spearmint plants can tolerate some shade through the day. The Old Farmer’s Almanac suggests growing spearmint near cabbage and tomatoes in your garden, as they thrive off each other.

Nutrient-rich soil is the best for growing spearmint. If needed, add a compost mixture to your soil to provide your plants with adequate nutrition.

You may want to create garden beds for spearmint that have a border and are separate from other plants you don’t want your spearmint to bother. It tends to overtake the area it’s planted in, so this will help keep their roots and plants contained within your specified garden area.

Planting Spearmint

The best time to plant spearmint in your garden is in the spring after the last frost or in the fall before the first frost. If you’re using spearmint cuttings, you can begin to root them in water or soil.

To root in water, remove the lower leaves from 3-inch spearmint cuttings and place in a glass of water for 7-10 days. Or, place the cuttings in soil, moving the soil around the base so the cuttings are sturdy. Keep them in a warm room, but out of direct sun, for 7 to 10 days.

Once you have roots, you can transfer your plants to your garden. Spearmint needs plenty of room to grow and spread, so plant each seedling about 2 feet apart. You should only need one or two plants to be plenty for your family, since they’ll vigorously spread through your garden area.

After you plant spearmint, consider using a mulch to keep the soil at the proper temperature and moist. A mulch layer will also add some protection from harsh weather and keep the plants more contained in your garden.

Growing and Caring for Spearmint

Spearmint doesn’t require much care. If you mulch it properly, the soil should retain adequate moisture from occasional watering. However, if your garden area gets excessive sun, you may want to consider placing a canopy over your spearmint beds during times of extreme sun and heat.

The most important thing to remember when growing spearmint is keeping the plants contained. The best way to do this is to thin spearmint plants regularly. You can prune them easily with shears, take some cuttings to grow spearmint in your home, or give them to a friend. Thinning spearmint will help restrict it from over-populating your garden bed.

Spearmint is susceptible to diseases, like rust, powdery mildew, and leaf spot. Prevent these from harming your spearmint plants by allowing the plants plenty of sun through the day, watering the soil rather than leaves, and ensuring that your plants aren’t over-watered.

Harvesting and Storing Spearmint

Spearmint plants benefit from frequent harvesting. In fact, harvesting them often keeps them thinned out and produces a more established, strong plant and better yield. You can begin harvesting your mint sprigs once you have established plants several inches tall, but before its flower buds begin to appear.

Harvest mint sprigs by gently pulling them from the plant at the stem. Removing sprigs at the stem encourages new growth. As you’re harvesting, check for flower buds, and remove any that you see. This allows your spearmint sprigs to get the water and sun energy needed to thrive, rather than being used up by the flower buds.

Harvest your spearmint as needed. Fortunately, the leaves store well in an airtight container once they’re dried.

You can dry spearmint leaves by loosely bundling several sprigs together with a rubber band or tie them with a string. Make sure there is room for air to circulate between the sprigs, or you’ll risk your spearmint not drying fast enough and wilting instead.

Hang them in a warm location, between 70 and 120 degrees, with plenty of air flow. Keep spearmint leaves drying until the leaves are crisp, but still green. The process usually takes between 2 to 4 weeks.

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