How to Plant, Grow, and Care for Mint in Your Garden

Have you considered growing mint in your garden, but really aren't sure where to start? Mint can be an excellent addition to any garden if you can handle the fact that it likes to take over certain areas very quickly. In this article, gardening expert and farm owner Taylor Sievers walks through each step of how to successfully plant, grow, and care for mint in your garden.

Mint Growing in Garden

The perennial herbs we know as “mint” are members of the family known as Lamiaceae. You’ll find many aromatic herbs within this family, and they all have a few things in common. The two main characteristics of Lamiaceae are that the stems are square or 4-sided, their flowers are two-lipped, open-mouthed, and tubular, and the leaves are arranged opposite of each other on the stem. Catnip, bee balm, lemon balm, hyssop, salvia, and thyme are just a few of the species that belong in the mint family.

Mint species are all located within the genus Mentha. This genus contains 42 species, 15 hybrids, and hundreds of varieties and cultivars. The most famous mint species you’re likely acquainted with are spearmint (Mentha spicata) and peppermint (Mentha x piperita). Peppermint is a hybrid cross between spearmint and watermint (Mentha aquatica). Because the mints easily cross with each other, sometimes you’ll see mint plants sold in plant nurseries just listed as “common mint”.  

So, how do we grow these delightful herbs in our own gardens? And what are some ways we can enjoy mint in our drinks and dishes? Read on to learn more about types of mint and how to grow them in your garden

Mint Plant Overview

Close Up of Mentha Growing in a Garden
Plant Type Herbaceous Perennial
Native Area Mediterranean, Asia, Africa
Hardiness Zone USDA 3-9
Season Spring to Fall
Exposure Full Sun to Partial Shade
Growth Rate Fast
Maturity Rate 70-90 Days
Plant Spacing 18-24 inches
Planting Depth Surface to 1/4 inch
Plant Height 1-2 feet
Watering Requirements Prefers High Moisture and Humidity
Pests and Diseases Thrips, Aphids, Rusts, Anthracnose
Tolerance Cool to Warm Climates
Maintenance Low, Aggressive Spreader
Family Lamiaceae
Genus Mentha
Species Mentha picata, piperita, aquatica, etc.
Soil Type Rich, Loamy Soil
Attracts Predatory Wasps, Hoverflies
Plant With Carrots, Tomatoes, Cabbage, Peas
Don’t Plant With Plants That Compete For Nutrients

Plant History 

Close Up of Mentha Leaves
Mint has been around for thousands of years and has been used medicinally as well as in the kitchen.

It appears that members of the Mentha genus have been thought to originate in different places. Most sources point to the Mediterranean, Africa, and Asia. Mints have been known to man for a long time and used for various reasons both for culinary and medicinal purposes.

Nevertheless, it wasn’t until 1696 that one of the mint species, namely peppermint (Mentha x piperita) was fully described by English botanist John Ray, who lived from 1627 to 1705. 

The uses of mint, however, have been documented for many thousands of years. One of the first documents mentioning mint was an ancient Egyptian document known as the Ebers Papyrus dating to around 1550 B.C. (though the date has been disputed). This document described how mint was used to aid digestion, freshen breath, stop vomiting, and treat flatulence.

Another source that’s even older than the Ebers Papyrus, dated around 1880 B.C., was attributed to King Hammurabi of Babylon who described that mint should be used for the treatment of gastrointestinal issues. 

Named by the Greeks

Low Growing Plant Growing in a Garden
Mint is said to have been named by the Greeks after Pluto’s girlfriend, Minthe.

The name given to the mint genus (Mentha) was thought to have been coined by the Greek philosopher Theophrastus as an allusion to a figure named Minthe. According to Greek mythology, Minthe (or Menthe) was Pluto’s girlfriend.

Pluto’s wife, Persephone, overcome by jealousy. She was said to have changed Minthe into a plain, low-growing plant that was easy for people to step on. Legend said that Pluto was unable to turn Minthe back into a nymph. So instead, he gave her a powerful scent when her leaves and stems were crushed so that she could “sweeten the air.”  

Herbal Oil From Mint Plant
By the 1800s, mint was widely grown in the United States.

In the 1700s, mint oil advertisements began to heavily surface in America. This suggested that large quantities of mint were being imported from Britain at that time. Eventually, American farmers from New Jersey and New York began their own production of peppermint and spearmint. This led to an established market for mint in the United States by the 1800s. Due to heavy disease issues, mint oil production in the U.S. shifted from the Midwest to the Pacific Northwest in the 1920s.  

During the American Civil War in the mid-nineteenth century, medical and pharmacy textbooks referenced mint preparations. These preparations included oils, tinctures, spirits, water, and lozenges with some form of peppermint or spearmint being utilized.  


Mentha Plant Growing in Soil
Spearmint and peppermint are the most widely grown types of mint in the world.

Today, there are two types of mint that are produced commercially on a large scale throughout the world—spearmint and peppermint. The United States, India, and China are the world’s largest producers of mint, with the U.S. leading in peppermint oil production. U.S. peppermint production is concentrated mostly in the states of Idaho, Washington, and Oregon, with 84% of the country’s total mint production coming from these states.   

Mint Propagation 

To grow mint, you can propagate it by seed, cuttings, or division. Be aware that mint is an aggressive spreader, so it is important to keep mint contained if you do not want it to take over an area.  

Starting From Seed 

Gardener Propagating Mentha Using Seeds in Starter Tray
The best and most efficient way to propagate mint is by seed, started indoors in starter trays.

Mint seed is recommended to be started indoors. You can start mint indoors 6 to 8 weeks before your expected last frost in the spring. Sow the seeds on the surface or, at the most, at ¼” depth for optimal germination. Mint seeds need light to germinate. Make sure your soil or seed-starting mix is moist. 

Note that if you are wanting to grow peppermint (Mentha x piperita), this species is actually a sterile hybrid between spearmint (Mentha spicata) and watermint (Mentha aquatica), and therefore it will need to be vegetatively propagated by either cuttings, division, or layering. 

All other species of mint readily cross-pollinate if planted near each other, so saving your own seed may be problematic if you’re trying to maintain one species. 

Propagating by Cuttings 

Stem of Aromatic Herb Propagated From Cutting Being Planted in Soil
Propagation by cuttings is the most common method used to grow mint.

Mint can also be propagated by cuttings, and this is probably the most popular for the home gardener. If you’d like to try to grow from a cutting, snip the plant just above a leaf node (where the leaves attach), then pull off the lower leaves of your cutting, placing the stem in moist soilless media (seed-starting mix, perlite, vermiculite, or potting mix).  

Cover the plant with clear Saran wrap or something similar (try cutting off the top of a water bottle!) to keep in humidity and then place the plant in a shaded, warm location until roots start to form on your cutting.  

Cuttings in Water
Aromatic Herb Propagating in Water
You can also root the cuttings in a jar of fresh water, then plant it in soil.

Mint cuttings will also root in a jar of water. Pull off the lower leaves of your cutting and make sure that at least one or two nodes are below the water surface. Again, nodes are where the leaves attach to the stem. This is where the roots will start to grow from, which is why it is important that these nodes are submerged.  

Wait a few weeks, changing the water every few days to keep it fresh, and you’ll eventually see roots starting to form! After the roots have developed, then you can plant your cutting in a pot or outdoors, making sure that you water it regularly until it establishes in its new location.  


Aromatic Herb Propagating by Division
Diving up the roots of the plant is another method used to propagate mint.

You can also propagate mint by division. Simply dig up a section of the roots, split the plant down through the roots, and transplant your mint to a pot or a new location. In fact, dividing your mint plants after 3 to 4 years may actually help your mint planting maintain health and vigor for subsequent harvests.  

If you are hoping to increase your mint stock even more, you can cut the rhizomes (underground stems that look like thick roots) into 6-inch increments, making sure that each increment has at least one to two leaves or green growth per rhizome cutting. Make sure when transplanting your new division that the green growth is above the soil. Water well until the plant is established. 


Aromatic Herb Propagating by Layering
Mint can also be propagated through a process called layering.

Some mint species can be propagated by layering, which is when you bend the stem of the plant down to the soil and bury part of the stem. Remove any leaves that are on the portion of the stem you will be burying. Leave at least 6 to 12 inches of the top part of the plant exposed.

The buried stem will begin to produce new growth from the old leaf nodes below the soil. Once new growth has emerged, you can then divide the plant and move your new plantlets to their new locations.  

Recommended plant spacing in the garden for mint is 18 inches to 2 feet apart, as these plants will quickly colonize the area where they are planted.  

When to Plant Mint 

Young Child Planting Herb in Spring
Springtime, after the last frost, is the best time to plant mint.

Plant mint into the garden after your last expected frost. Mint can tolerate some frost, however. Division of existing plants should take place in either the fall or spring before lots of new growth appears.  

How to Grow Mint 

Mints are herbaceous perennials in the Lamiaceae (mint) family. Most mints are hardy down to -20 degrees F. ‘Perennial’ means the plant will live beyond one year. Sometimes the top growth of a perennial will die back after frost, but the roots will remain alive. Mint leaves are deciduous, meaning they will drop in the fall (unlike evergreen perennials). ‘Herbaceous’ implies that the stems are not woody.

It’s worth noting that mint also does well as a companion plant, provided the other plants aren’t competing for similar nutrients. Some of the most popular mint companions are beets, eggplant, lettuce, cabbage, kale, and cauliflower.


Herbal Plant Growing in Partial Shade
Full sun or partial shade are good light conditions for growing mint.

Mint prefers full sun (at least 6 hours of direct sunlight) or partial shade (2 to 6 hours of direct sunlight per day) to grow well. Once established, mint will outcompete most weeds and plants around it.  


Herbal Plant Growing in Rich Loamy Soil
Rich, loamy soil that is well-draining makes for ideal growth for mint.

Mint prefers moist, rich, well-draining soils. This means that the soil should be evenly moist most of the time, but not soggy. Well-draining soils are typically light soils with high amounts of sand or silt. Heavier soils (or soils with large amounts of clay) can be remediated by additions of organic matter (i.e. compost or well-rotted manure) to improve drainage qualities. Growing mint in a pot will also help promote drainage. Overall, most mint species prefer a loamy soil. 


Gardener Watering Herbs With Faucet
Consistently moist soil is necessary for optimal mint growth.

Mint loves moisture. A steady supply of water (1 to 2 inches per week) throughout the growing season is important but watch for signs of disease. Water the soil beneath the plant leaves rather than over the top of the leaves to reduce the prevalence of fungal diseases.  

Climate and Temperature 

Herb Seedling Growing in Small Pot
These hardy plants can grow in just about any climate and temperature.

Mints are particularly hardy to cold temperatures, so they can be grown almost anywhere. They will tolerate Winter temperatures down to -20 degrees F. However, it would be wise to research which species of mint you want to grow before determining whether it will survive in your garden over the winter or not. Of the most popular mint species, peppermint is hardy down to USDA Zone 3 and spearmint is hardy down to USDA Zone 4 to 5. 


Aromatic Herb Growing in Garden With Straw Mulch
Using an organic mulch can help retain moisture, control weeds from popping up, and keep the plant warm.

Mulching can help reduce water stress, as it reduces water evaporation from the soil surface. As long as the plants receive ample moisture, mulching may not be necessary. Another benefit to mulching, however, is that it can help suppress weed growth, and it may be necessary if you live in an area with exceptionally cold winter temperatures.  

Pinching or Pruning 

Shears About to Harvest Herbs From Garden
In order to keep mint from becoming invasive, you will have to regularly prune it.

Mints are vigorous growers. It is important to clip back your mint periodically during the growing season to induce branching and growth of leaves from your mint plants, especially because you’ll likely want to harvest leaves rather than flowers.  

In fact, your mints will grow best if they are cut back once or twice a season at least. If you allow your mint plant to flower, the oil content in the leaves can be severely diminished, though some sources claim that just as the plant is about to flower is when the leaves are at their highest oil content.  

If you do not want your mint plants to flower and set seed, then you should keep them clipped back or harvested regularly.  


Gardener Applying Fertilized Soil to Herb Garden
Mixing organic matter into the soil when planting will greatly benefit your mint.

One application of a well-balanced, slow-release fertilizer at the beginning of the growing season may be all you need for your mint plant. Another alternative is to mix compost into the soil when planting your mint, but overall fertility is not much of an issue for Mentha species. In fact, overapplication of fertilizer and overwatering can lead to the disease of rust or to reduced mint oil production.  

Popular Species and Varieties of Mint 

As mentioned before, Mentha species can easily hybridize, but here’s a list of some of the most common mints you can find at your local garden center. 

Peppermint, Mentha x piperita

Peppermint Close Up
This type of mint is one of the most commonly grown in the US.

Peppermint is a cross between watermint (M. aquatica) and spearmint (M. spicata). As the name suggests, the oils from this plant are used to flavor a variety of candies and products that we undoubtedly use every day. The leaves are dark green with serrated margins and the flowers are often pink or lavender.  

Spearmint, Mentha spicata

Spearmint Close Up
Spearmint is another widely-grown and flavorful mint.

Another popular species of mint, spearmint has deep green leaves that have a wrinkled appearance due to the deeply cut veins. The flowers are typically white or pink.  

Pineapple Mint, Mentha suaveolens ‘Variegata’

Pineapple Mint
Pineapple mint is mostly grown ornamentally instead of for its flavorful leaves.

The species M. suaveolens is commonly known as “apple” or “woolly” mint. However, the variety ‘Variegata’ is very different from its relatives and therefore called “Pineapple Mint.” The leaves are variegated (basically green with creamy white splashes around the leaf margins). This variety is edible but is mostly grown as an ornamental for its light, fruity scent. 

Apple Mint, Mentha suaveolens

Apple Mint
This type of mint also has a woolly texture to it but is grown for its flavor and oil.

Apple mint leaves are light green with a wooly appearance, with the stems reaching up to 2 feet tall. The leaves have a fruity fragrance and taste. The flowers can be in any shade from pink to white. 

Chocolate Mint, Mentha x piperita f. citrataChocolate

Chocolate Mint
Chocolate mint is highly coveted by chefs for its mellow flavor that has chocolate undertones.

This species of mint is actually a peppermint with chocolate-covered overtones to the leaves and stems. The stems are often a purplish shade and the leaves are a deep shade of green with a purplish-cast. The flavor is said to be chocolate-like as well. The flowers are lavender.  

Common Pests and Diseases 

There are two main cultural practices that you can utilize in your garden to greatly increase the health of your mint plants.  

The first practice is that you should water your plants in such a way that the leaves will not get wet or stay wet for long. This can be accomplished by watering in the morning so that the plant has sufficient time throughout the day for the foliage to dry. The second is to water at the base of the plants either by hand or via drip irrigation. 

The second important cultural practice is to make sure you divide your mint plants at least every two years. This will ensure your mint planting remains healthy with lots of active, fresh growth. Now, let’s dive into some common pests and diseases that can affect mint plants. 


Fungal Rust Growing on a Leaf
If the color of the spots on your leaves is rusty, then it may be the fungal disease called rust.

Small whitish spots that are slightly raised will form on the underside of the leaves, and eventually, these spots will turn reddish-orange (like the color of rust). If you rub the leaves between your fingers, there may be some rust-colored spores that will rub off on your hands.

Avoid wetting the leaves as much as possible to prevent mint rusts in the garden! Keep your plants adequately spaced to ensure good air circulation. 


Anthracnose on a Plant
Mint suffering from anthracnose should be removed and destroyed so it does not spread.

Small, water-soaked lesions will appear on the leaves and the stems of mint plants if infected with anthracnose. Remove and destroy all infected plant debris and rotate mint in the garden each year if possible. Make sure to clip off all old plant growth in the Fall. 

Verticillium Wilt 

Verticillium Wilt on Basil Plants
The best way to combat verticillium wilt is to prevent it at all costs.

The leaves will turn yellow and curl around the edges if your mint plant is infected with wilt. Mostly, the plants will have a bronze cast on the leaves and they will start to grow very slowly in the spring.

The fungus that causes wilt is soilborne, so it is important to make sure you do not plant mint in soils that have previously had plants infected with verticillium wilt. If you notice signs of verticillium wilt, remove and destroy any infected plants in the garden. Prevention is key. 


Aphid on the Tip of a Mint Leaf
As with most plants, mint can be infested with aphids that will eat at the leaves.

Aphids are insects that can be green, black, gray, or shades in between. They use their piercing-sucking mouthparts to feed on the plant juices, and due to this method of feeding, they can readily transmit plant viruses. Their feeding can also cause stunting and reduced plant health overall.

Once you see one aphid, you likely have hundreds. You may even notice black spots on the plant leaves and stems, which are the result of sooty mold growth on their sticky, sugary excrement that is called “honeydew.”

Spraying plants with forceful streams of water to knock off the aphids or using insecticidal soaps may help control the spread of aphids in your garden and therefore reduce the chances of infection by a virus. Releasing or encouraging beneficial insects like lacewings and lady beetles will also feed on aphids.  


Cutworm Rolled Up
These worms can do some damage to the plants in your garden, so it is best to remove them as soon as they are noticed.

These larvae of the cutworm moth hide at the base of the plant, sometimes just below the soil surface, and feed on plant stems and leaves. Most often you’ll see the stem cut cleanly off (which is why they are called “cutworms”).

They are most active at night. You can do some digging in the early morning in your garden and usually find the culprits to destroy them. There are various insecticides that can be used also, but I’ve found it easy enough to find the cutworms by gently disturbing the soil around the affected plants.  


Thrip and Leaf Damage
These little pests can cause severe damage to your mint plants.

Thrips are extremely tiny insects (approximately 1/15th inch long) that are cigar-shaped, winged, tan, or light brown in color, and have piercing-sucking mouthparts (which means they readily transmit viruses). Because they are so tiny, they are often extremely difficult to see.

The most common evidence of thrip damage is stippling (tiny pale spots), distorted growth, discolored flecking, or abnormal petal coloring, severe stunting of the plant, and silvering of the leaf surface.  If you notice thrip damage, make sure to prune off damaged parts of the plant or remove the plant altogether.

Using a reflective plastic mulch in colors of white, gray, or silver may reduce thrip infestation because it causes flying insects to be unable to locate plants. Chemical control is not recommended because by the time damage is present, the thrips have already moved on.

Harvesting Mint 

Gardener Pruning Herb Garden
The flavor is said to be at its peak on a sunny day in the late morning, so that’s the optimal time to harvest mint.

Harvest of mint leaves can begin any time after the plant reaches about 4 inches in height or more. The best time to harvest mint leaves is in the late morning on a sunny day, which is when flavor should be at its peak. Cut the stems down to about 1 inch in height using a sharp knife or clippers. The youngest leaves will have the most flavor.  


Herbs Hanging Upside Down to Dry
If you choose to dry mint, the best method is to hang it upside down.

After harvesting, wash mint leaves thoroughly and pat dry with a paper towel. You can store the leaves in your refrigerator for fresh use for up to 1 week, freeze mint leaves in water in ice cube trays, or dry the leaves to use later.  

You can dry mint leaves by hanging the stems upside down in a bunch or laying them flat on a screen. The leaves will be brittle and crunchy when dry. Crunch the leaves in your hands and store the dried leaf bits in an airtight container for up to 1 year.  

Plant Uses

Mojito Cocktail
There are tons of ways mint can be used, from treating a tummy ache to being used in a yummy cocktail.

Mint seems to have a billion uses! Use the dried leaves to flavor dishes with pork and lamb or even to make mint tea. Fresh leaves can be added to beverages like tea, lemonade, water, and popular alcoholic drinks like a “mint mojito” to provide a delicious and refreshing burst of flavor on a hot day. You can also make mint jelly

Mint oils, especially peppermint oil, are used to flavor chewing gum, toothpastes, mouthwashes, candies, pharmaceuticals, aromatherapy products, and more.  

Some mint varieties are also popular in cut flower arrangements due to their delicious scents like apple, pineapple, ginger, and more. Their leaves are also attractive as greenery in a bouquet. Mint should be well-hydrated before using a bouquet. Make sure to harvest the stems and keep them in water for at least 24 hours before arranging them. 

Some people plant mints in the garden as a deterrent for pests like deer. Peppermint oil has been used successfully in the garden to deter dogs, cats, and some insects. This is due to a compound in peppermint called menthol. Menthol has been shown to have biocidal properties that are effective against mites, mosquito larvae, and other pests.  

Frequently Asked Questions

Will mint spread in the garden? 

Mint can spread either by underground stems, called rhizomes, or it can spread by creeping, horizontal stems (runners) that are called stolons. Because of these two characteristics, mints can rapidly take over an area if left unchecked.

Often people will plant mint in pots or even old large tires to keep it contained, but there’s no guarantee that your mint can’t escape. Be vigilant at cutting back your mint and uprooting new sprouts if you don’t want it to spread.

How do I know what type of mint I have? 

All mint species will have a square (4-sided) stem, leaves arranged opposite of each other along the stem, a tell-tale “minty” fragrance when the leaves are crushed, and a terminal flower spike (“terminal” meaning at the end of the stem).

The flowers will range in color from white to pink to lavender, depending upon the species. However, mint will hybridize easily with other species of the mint family, so it can often be confusing to identify. In addition, you will notice that many garden centers may not label their plants in detail, and therefore the plant tag may just say “mint.”

The most common species of mint you will find are peppermint, spearmint, and apple mint. Of the three, apple mint has the largest leaves (wider) and is the lightest shade of green. They are often very soft to the touch (woolly), and the veins of the leaf are fairly prominent.

Spearmint leaves have a rough or wrinkly appearance due to the deeply-cut veins in the leaf that is usually about 1 to 3 inches long and less than an inch in width. The flowers range in color from pink to white.

Peppermint has the smallest leaves of the three, with leaves that are more lance-shaped and ranging in length from 1 to 3 inches and half as wide. The leaves are often smoother in appearance, though small hairs may be present on the underside of the leaf. Peppermint tends to be more dark green in appearance. The flowers range in color from pink to lavender.

What are the best garden vegetables to plant with mint? 

Mint can be a great companion plant in the garden. Companion plants are those herbs, flowers, and vegetables that can benefit each other if planted together. They may improve the health or flavor of the other plant, or they may help repel certain pests that can destroy the companion.

Mints are excellent companion crops for tomatoes, carrots, cabbage, and peas. Any crop that may be affected by mice (like peas) would benefit from mint planted nearby, as mice do not like the intense scent of mint. Mints are also known to repel pests such as cabbage loopers, flea beetles, ants, squash bugs, carrot flies, and aphids.

Does mint grow year-round? 

Mints are perennial plants, which means they will survive throughout the Winter in certain hardiness zones. However, they are deciduous, which means they will drop their leaves in the fall.

Mints will continue to put on new growth once they have begun putting up new shoots in the spring. Keeping your mint plants cut back will help keep the foliage fresh for harvesting.

Mints will flower in the summer naturally, but most gardeners do not want their mint plants to flower because they want the plants to focus on leaf growth. You could bring your pots of mint indoors during the winter if you’d like to continue harvesting mint leaves.

Final Thoughts 

Mint is a must-have in an herb garden with all the refreshing and soothing flavor it can provide to your supper dishes, iced beverages, and warm tea. Sometimes it’s just fun to pluck a leaf off and chew on it while you’re strolling through the garden.

Maybe you haven’t taken the leap of faith yet and purchased mint for your garden because you know how aggressive it can be. Never fear! You can always plant mint in a pot to keep it contained. The benefits of walking out of your backdoor and harvesting your very own mint leaves greatly outweigh the negatives of this plant!  

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