Whether you’re sipping a homemade mint julep on your front porch, making mint ice cream or brewing a fresh, minty tea, growing your own mint plants adds to the satisfaction. However, if you’ve grown your own mint before, you also know its pervasive habit—it spreads!—so growing them in containers can keep you in fresh mint all growing-season long without the risk of having it take over your garden.
Depending on the variety, mint is hardy in zones 3 to 11—it’s one of those almost-everywhere plants. Mulching around it helps keep the soil moist and turns away much of the winter’s chill, but if you live in a cold climate, you’ll want to move your mint indoors if you want it to perform as a perennial.
Mint is also one of those low-maintenance herbs. According to the Colorado State University Extension, diseases seem to be limited to rust and Verticillium wilt, a fungus. Unfortunately, there are no treatments for either, so if you see signs of them, remove and destroy infected plants.
Harvest mint at any point in the growing season, though preferably before flowering. For the most intense flavor, wait until midday, when essential oils are at their highest levels. You can snip leaves or stems. Because mints branch out just below where you cut, you can shape/prune at the same time, encouraging the plant to become lush and dense. To store cut mint, place the stems in water in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Mints are easily rooted by putting stems in water, and these cuttings make great gifts for friends and neighbors. Pair mint with perky flowers in colorful containers for your patio or porch, or grow them in your windowsill. They’ll perfume the air with a hint of freshness and beckon to be used. Here are four tasty varieties to try.
If you dig very deep into its origins, you’ll find that peppermint is linked to Greek mythology. Hades, with typical god drama, turned his affections toward a nymph by the name of Menthe, and consequently, his wife, Persephone, turned her rival into an herb, banished forever to the realm of moisture and shadows. So it is no surprise that peppermint (Mentha piperita) grows best in damp and shade. However, it can handle partial sun as long as it has moderately rich soil and doesn’t get too dry. Watering approximately an inch a week is a good rule of thumb.
Peppermint has a reddish stem and large, dark green leaves with a hint of red, and it can reach up to 2 or 3 feet in height and width, though a container will curtail some of that exuberance. To stretch out your harvest season, keep flowers snipped off and wait to pick leaves until your plant is well established—10-12 inches tall—so it remains strong.
Peppermint is a superstar in the mint world—medicinal uses range from clearing sinuses and calming stomachs to freshening breath and taming hiccups. In addition, peppermint can be used in drinks and foods and to refresh rooms and carpets while repelling fleas and other pests. Plant peppermint near cabbage to discourage the white cabbage butterfly.
Oil content of peppermint will be highest just prior to flowering, and this is the best time to harvest. To dry this herb, pick after the dew has evaporated, so that even in the dead of winter, you can brew up a fragrant cup of tea.
Spearmint (Mentha spicata) rivals peppermint in potency, being stronger and less sweet, if anything. Originating in the Mediterranean, its popularity spread to Britain and was carried to America by the Pilgrims. Bright-green, crinkly leaves on bright-green stems will create a sprightly sight in your containers. Plants usually grow 1 to 2 feet tall, and if allowed to flower, sport a 4-inch-long lavender-tinted blooming spire. Like all mints, spearmint prefers partial sun and rich, moist, well-drained soil. As a container plant, you might want to fertilize once a month and divide the plant every couple of years to prevent overcrowding and promote healthy growth. Spearmint will make a bright spot in a sunny window in cold winter regions.
As both a culinary and medicinal herb, spearmint can be used to treat fevers, chills, stomach upset, cramps, bronchitis and more. Use it as a poultice for bruises, as the essential oil helps ease muscle soreness and arthritic pain. Spearmint has long been used to repel insects, both dried and fresh. Like peppermint, spearmint makes a tasty addition to various culinary creations as well as a soothing yet refreshing tea taken hot or cold. Mint jelly. Mint sauce. Mint Juleps. The possibilities are practically unlimited when it comes to spearmint.
3. Pineapple Mint
Mentha suaveolens is a cultivar of apple mint and is arguably the prettiest mint on the block. With its yellow/cream leaf edges that look like lacy ruffles on the bright-green foliage, it’s gorgeous as a garnish, in potpourri, tea or just gracing your patio container garden. This mint reaches 12 to 18 inches tall and can handle more sun than some varieties once established, though it still likes to keep its roots moist. It will grow more upright if it gets more sun.
Pineapple mint blooms with white or light pink flower spires, though like other mints, you’ll want to harvest them before this stage for optimal potency. That said, bees and butterflies love the flowers; deer dislike its hairy stem and strong odor.
Because it is a cultivar, you may glimpse solid green leaves within the creamy ruffles. This will be the parent plant making itself known. Your best bet is to remove those green sprouts, as most cultivars are not as hardy as their parent plant, and you could find your pretty pineapple mint overrun by green apple mint.
While pineapple mint can hold its own in pretty much any culinary and herbal capacity with other mint varieties, it shines when paired with pineapple fruit or juice in salads, smoothies, ice pops, fruit-infused waters, juleps, mojitos and more. Herbal tea gets a lift from its fruity bouquet, and when added as garnish or ingredient, it has a lemon/pineapple overtone.
4. Chocolate Mint
This variety is gorgeous—deep, almost chocolatey-brown stems and rich bronze-green leaves—with a hint of chocolate smell and flavor interlacing the classic mintiness. It’s brilliant for tea, adding subtlety to mojitos and juleps and pizazz to ice cream recipes and chocolate desserts.
This mint likes cooler temperatures, so site it where it can get morning sun but avoid the more extreme afternoon heat. Keep it moist. It prefers nutrient rich soil but can survive less-than-ideal conditions surprisingly well.