By Kathy Bond-Borie, Guest Columnist
The mint family offers a mouthwatering array, including pineapple mint, chocolate mint, apple mint, orange mint, spearmint and peppermint. These refreshing scents and flavors will enhance cooked meals, beverages and potpourris.
Mint can also be an indispensable plant. Bumblebees and other pollinators are attracted to the delicate flowers that appear in mid- to late summer. Some varieties even sport variegated foliage for added interest in the herb garden.
Mint’s only downside is its ability to take over your garden if it gets half a chance. But you can contain its exuberance and keep it close at hand by growing it in pots—and I do mean “pots,” plural.
You can also confine mint to a garden bed with an edging of metal or plastic. Bury the edging to a depth of 14 inches around the perimeter of the mint patch.
A Sampling of Mints
Spearmint (Mentha spicata), with its slightly sweet flavor, makes a refreshing tea, and it can be used to highlight flavors in a fruit salad. You can also add it to new potatoes or grain pilaf.
Spearmint is the mint in mint jelly and a key ingredient in mint juleps. Plants grow 2 to 3 feet tall, with pale pink or white blooms appearing in mid- to late summer.
Peppermint(Mentha x piperita) is more pungent than spearmint, growing to 3 feet tall, with pinkish lavender flowers. It’s a common ingredient in teas, especially those that soothe the stomach.
Corsican mint (Mentha requienii) hugs the ground and prefers shade. It drapes over a container or weaves itself between stepping stones or stone walls.
Growing and Harvesting Mint
Most mints can be started from seed, with the exception of peppermint, which is propagated by cuttings.
Choose a sunny location (except for Corsican mint) with moderately fertile, humusy soil. Use a light mulch to retain moisture and keep leaves clean. Most mints are hardy to zones 3 or 4; Corsican mint is hardy to zone 6, so treat it as an annual in colder regions.
Once plants are growing vigorously, you can harvest young or mature leaves. Don’t be afraid to cut back the plants frequently to promote fresh growth. Use fresh leaves in cooking, or dry mint leaves on trays or by hanging bunched branches upside down in a warm, dark, well-ventilated area.
A former floral designer and interior plantscaper, Kathy Bond-Borie has spent 20 years as a garden writer/editor, including her current role as horticultural editor for the National Gardening Association. She loves designing with plants and spends more time playing in the garden—planting and trying new combinations—than sitting and appreciating it.
Photo courtesy of the National Gardening Association/Fotolia