In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
April, 2010
Regional Report

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If there's even slight soil moisture, as shown on the left, mint spreads aggressively by underground runners.

Mint Flavors

Mint is a useful culinary herb that grows in a range of conditions. In the low desert, mints thrive in full sun with afternoon shade. I've also grown mint in a northern exposure that's shady most of the year. It doesn't look lush, often dying back in winter but returning as temperatures warm.

Mints can be nipped by frost, so if you live at higher elevations or in a cold microclimate, grow mint in a container that can be moved indoors or to a protected locale if frost is predicted.

Actually, growing mints in a container is a good idea wherever you garden. Mints spread by sending out "runners" from the parent plant, growing far beyond where originally intended. They like moist soil (mine never spread into areas that aren't watered), so if you live near riparian habitat, don't put mint in the ground.

Another option to corral its spread in the herb garden is to use a bottomless container. Cut the bottom off a 10-gallon plastic nursery pot. Sink the pot into the ground and fill it with potting soil. Transplant a 4-inch mint, or a bit of a runner growth with roots, into the soil. The open bottom promotes good drainage, which mints (like most herbs) insist upon, while the sidewalls of the container limit its unruly spread.

Mint Varieties
I describe a few options from my viewpoint, but because sensory reception varies, gently rub or crush a leaf to release its essence before buying. There's no point taking home a plant that doesn't suit your nose or taste buds!

Chocolate Mint (Mentha x piperita). This is a favorite with adults and kids, offering lots of chocolate aroma and flavor. It's small dark green leaves and russet-colored stems create an attractive color contrast.

Spearmint (Mentha spicata). Spearmint is an intensely flavored and aromatic mint and is the best for recipes that need strong mint flavors, such as Thai cooking and mojitos.

Apple Mint (Mentha suaveolens). I don't smell or taste what I consider "appleness" with this mint, although it has a light fruity essence that blends with cakes and other baked goods.

Peppermint (Mentha x piperita). Another mint with strong flavor. Crush leaves to add zip to a cold glass of lemonade or iced tea.

Pineapple Mint (Mentha suaveolens 'Variegata'). Variegated foliage has creamy markings and a light pineapple scent that varies considerably from plant to plant, according to my nose. Grow this one for its attractive foliage that makes an unusual garnish on a dessert plate or fruit salad.


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