by National Gardening Association Editors
The mint family offers a tremendous diversity of refreshing scents and flavors for cooking, beverages, and potpourris. Bumblebees and other pollinators are attracted to the delicate flowers that appear in mid- to late summer. Some varieties sport variegated foliage for added interest in the herb garden.
Mints for Your Garden
Spearmint (Mentha spicata) makes a soothing tea, and is a key ingredient in mint juleps. Its also the mint of mint jelly, and can be use to highlight flavors in a fruit salad or grain pilaf. Plants grow 2 to 3 feet tail and blossom in pale violet mid- to late summer. Peppermint (Mentha x piperita) is more pungent than spearmint, which tends to the sweet side. Peppermint grows to 3 feet tall, bearing smooth leaves 1 to 3 inches long. But the bouquet is bigger than these two familiar flavors. In catalogs and garden centers, you can find apple mint, chocolate mint, orange mint, and many others.
Growing and Harvesting Mints
Mint can be terribly invasive, particularly in rich, moist soil. To keep it from overtaking your yard, confine it to a bed with edging of metal or plastic. Bury edging to a depth of 14 inches around the perimeter of the mint patch, or simply grow the plants it in pots.
A single plant is plenty for a small garden, as it will quickly spread to fill its allotted space. Choose a sunny location with moderately fertile, humusy soil. Use a light mulch to retain moisture and keep leaves clean.
Once plants are growing vigorously, you can harvest young or mature leaves. Dont be afraid to cut the plants back frequently to promote fresh growth. Rusty spots on leaves indicate a fungal infection; pick and destroy blemished leaves and propagate new plants from uninfected cuttings to cultivate in a new location.
You can dry mint leaves on trays or by hanging bunched branches upside down in a warm, dark, well-ventilated area, such as an airy attic or outbuilding. Fresh leaves are easy to freeze too.