Fresh 'Mojito' mint ready to be harvested. ©Kelly Orzel
When I first began my foray into growing and selling herbs, I painstakingly planned what and how I would grow. Using all the knowledge I had up until that point and exacting standards—that was how I planned to set my plants apart at market—I sowed, took cutting and grew all my favorite herbs and varieties! Flats of French thyme, basil (oh-so-many-basils), 'Greek' oregano, 'Hidcote' lavender, cilantro and 'Gigante d’Italia' Parsley just to name a few. But the one thing I did not grow was mint.
You see, she’s a promiscuous little thing! More times than not when I worked at the local nursery I was teaching people how to corral and eradicate this escape artist. I could never have imagined that mint would be a sought-after herb at the farmer’s market.
I keep our mint contained in 6" tall raised beds. ©Kelly Orzel
Since mint roots so incredibly easily, I took a few cuttings and potted them up. Within a couple weeks I had pots ready to go … and they flew off the table! I’ve come so far in my mint appreciation since those early growing days, but I now I do so with caution.
I can’t sell a single plant without giving it's new owner a disclaimer about how invasive mint can be. “Plant it in a 2-3 gallon nursery pot," "sink the plastic pot 90% into the ground” and “harvest regularly!” New gardeners often nod reassuringly at me, all the while thinking they won’t have a problem with mint running a-muck in their beds, while the more well-seasoned gardener purchases it with a specific purpose and we discuss various containment strategies before they go home to introduce their new baby to the garden.
'Apple' & 'Pineapple' mints mixing with some pumpkin vines! ©Kelly Orzel
This post is certainly not designed to scare you off growing mint, but it is so incredibly important to know why and how you’re growing it, so not to create a meddlesome pest that you have to spend hours each season hacking out of your vegetable beds.
Some of my favorite mint flavors for the kitchen. ©Kelly Orzel
Now let’s talk about all the delicious mints I love! The all-purpose 'Spearmint’ can be used in drinks, salads, on the grill and tastes good in most dishes that call for mint. ‘Peppermint’ is coveted for teas and is often distilled into oil. The signature flavors of ‘Mojito’ (for the obvious mojito cocktail) and ‘Kentucky Colonel’, favored in mint juleps popular around Kentucky Derby time, add pizazz to any last-minute summer get-togethers. I not only sell ‘Apple’, ‘Chocolate’ and ‘Orange’ mints to local markets, but also florists—who use them as fragrant filler for bouquets and arrangements. Variegated ‘Pineapple’ makes a statement as either a drink garnish or in floral design. And that’s not even considering all the other novelty flavors that I’m growing-just because I HAD to. Things like ‘Banana’, ‘Grapefruit’ and ‘Strawberry.’ Absolutely delish in their own right. And don’t let me forget to mention ‘Basil’ Mint … oh-my-gosh! I can’t even talk about that amazingness without salivating.
A pound of mint ensures Mojitos for everyone at the picnic! ©Kelly Orzel
As a perennial, this herb comes back year after year and aside from regularly harvesting, it doesn’t require much TLC from you. Plant in full sun, and start harvesting on the south-side of the bed. Every 1-2 weeks there will be enough regrowth for a second harvest. I'm a bit ruthless on the farm when it comes to cutting back, I go straight to ground level once a season to revitalize the bed to keep it productive.
So if you’re not a fan of mowing, go ahead and let mint do its thing, let it roam free...however, if you're not a fan of chaos and living on the edge, grow it in a pot!
Kelly Orzel is a Master Gardener, horticulturist and girl-farmer who owns and operates Bowery Beach Farm in Maine. She holds a MS in Horticulture and is a garden speaker, freelance writer and photographer. Her first book, The Backyard Gardener: Simple, Easy and Beautiful Gardening with Vegetables, Herbs and Flowers, on organic kitchen gardening is available in her webshop and on Amazon!