3 Creative Ways to Keep Mint Contained

Love mint but tired of it taking over the garden? Try these practical ways to keep it contained.

by Jessica Walliser
PHOTO: Jessica Walliser

Mint is one of my favorite herbs for both the garden and the kitchen. I use spearmint (Mentha spicata) and apple mint (Mentha suaveolens) to make sun tea, and pineapple mint (Mentha suaveolens ‘Variegata’) often finds its way into my hot herbal tea blends. I also use a lot of Cuban mint (Mentha x villosa) in the summer to make mojitos, a refreshing alcoholic beverage that combines white rum, lime juice, simple syrup and soda water with muddled mint leaves. Finely chopped mint leaves are also amazing when sprinkled over chunks of fresh watermelon.

But as much as I enjoy using mint in the kitchen, I don’t enjoy its rambunctious growth habit in the garden. Plainly stated, mint is a thug. The white fleshy roots allow the plant to spread incredibly quickly, and before you know it, mint has taken over your garden. Because of this, I’m always looking for ways to grow mint while keeping it contained.

To compensate for mint’s aggressiveness, many gardeners plant it in an out-of-the-way spot, where it can grow as far and wide as it wants, without  disturbing other desired plants, but not every gardener has enough space to do this. Here are three creative ways to grow mint while keeping it contained in your garden, each of which allows a hearty harvest of this herb without allowing the plants to gobble up the rest of the garden.

1. Plant Mint in a Strawberry Jar

Strawberry jars are specially designed pots that in addition to a top opening, also have multiple openings or pockets on the sides. Traditionally these containers are used to grow, you guessed it, strawberries, but I find them useful for growing succulents, greens and many different herbs, as long as you’re careful to pay attention to watering needs.

To grow your mint, try to pick a strawberry jar without a drainage hole in the bottom. That way the roots won’t escape out the bottom, but the lower side pockets still allow for ample drainage to keep the soil from staying waterlogged. With a strawberry jar, I can grow more than enough mint right in my garden and still keep it in bounds.

2. Grow a Pot of Mint on a Stone Slab

Growing mint in containers is a great way to stifle its growth habit, but mint roots will eventually escape out the pot’s drainage hole and take root if the pot is placed on top of the soil. One of the easiest ways to grow mint while keeping it contained is to place your pots of mint on stone slabs placed throughout the garden. If the roots begin to grow out of the pot’s drainage hole, you can easily see them and quickly snip them off with a pair of pruners before they take root in the garden bed.

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Some gardeners also grow mint in pots that have no drainage hole at all or even in old coffee cans or other solid containers. For me, this has proved problematic because these pots don’t drain and the soil becomes waterlogged in the winter and spring, causing the roots to rot and die out.

3. Use a Fabric Planter Bag Sunk Into the Soil

Relatively new products, fabric planter bags are made from a geo-textile fabric that’s porous enough to allow the soil to properly drain and for good air exchange in the root zone. Because of this, fabric planter bags do not have drainage holes in them from which mint roots can escape. It’s definitely one of the best ways to grow mint while keeping it contained. The fabric bags also keep plants from becoming “pot bound” and circling around inside the pot. Instead, the root system becomes very fibrous and well-structured. Fabric planter bags are a great option if you want to grow mint in the ground and still keep it contained while still providing the plant with good drainage.

To utilize this method, simply “plant” the fabric planter bag into the ground, leaving the top 3 inches of the bag’s upper rim sticking above the soil’s surface. I you bury it completely, the mint roots will “jump ship” and spread out over the top of the planter bag and into the garden. Fill the bag with a 50/50 combination of potting soil and quality compost, and then plant your mint. You’ll have to check on the plants every few weeks throughout the growing season to make sure the stems aren’t toppling over and taking root in the garden bed, but other than that, you’ll just have to enjoy a hearty mint harvest.

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