Photo by Jessica Walliser
Unlike true mints, mountain mints are will not overtake your garden, and about 20 mountain-mint varieties are native to North America.
It’s been a long winter, and I, for one, am ready for spring. While the ground here is covered in a thin layer of snow, the tulips and daffodils have already begun to push their way up out of the soil. It doesn’t make me worry, though, because I know that Mother Nature will take care of them, and in just a few short weeks, I’ll be enjoying their sunny blossoms. My bulbs nearly always sprout a few weeks in advance of spring’s arrival, and unless the actually flower stem breaks out of the soil surface, it never seems to affect their flowering. I look forward to seeing all the tulips, crocus, and daffodils I worked hard to plant over the past few years.
Another plant that I’m waiting on with great anticipation is my mountain mint. It is a beautiful native plant that I have wanted to grow for many, many years, and after seeing it at Jennings Prairie, I finally added a small clump of it late last season. I’ve gone outside every few weeks throughout the winter to ensure that the plant has not heaved up out of the soil, and it looks good so far.
There are about 20 different species of mountain mint (Pycnanthemum sp.) native to North America; the one I’m growing is big leaf mountain mint (P. muticum). It grows 2 feet tall, has 1-inch-wide leaves, and boasts showy, silvery bracts around each cluster of pinkish-white flowers. I’m also quite fond of Virginia mountain mint (P. virginianum), with its slender, awl-shaped leaves and clusters of white flowers. I plan to plant one of these as well as soon as the weather breaks.
Nearly all mountain mints are hardy perennials in USDA zones 3 to 9 and bloom in summer. They are tough, pest-resistant plants, serving as an excellent nectar source for bees and beneficial insects. They thrive in full sun and are drought-tolerant. And don’t be freaked out by the word “mint” in their common name—unlike members of the Mentha genus (the true mints), they’re not aggressive growers intent on gobbling up your garden.