By: Susan Patterson, Master Gardener
Apple mint (Mentha suaveolens) is a lovely, aromatic mint plant that can rapidly become obnoxious if not contained. When kept confined, this is a beautiful herb with many fantastic culinary, medicinal and decorative properties. Let’s learn more about how to grow an apple mint herb plant.
Europeans introduced this member of the mint family to America where it has been embraced as a garden plant including many cultivars. Reaching about 2 feet (.60 m.) at maturity, apple mint plants have woolly stems, fragrant serrated leaves and terminal spikes that bear white or light pink flowers beginning in late summer or early fall.
Apple mint, known endearingly by some as the “fuzzy mint” or “woolly mint,” can be planted from seed or plant and it propagates easily by cuttings.
Since apple mint can be invasive, it is wise to consider confining the plants to a container. You can put the plant in a container and then bury the container.
Rich soil that drains well and has a pH of 6.0. to 7.0 is best. If spreading is not an issue, you can plant directly into the ground. This mint likes part shade to part sun locations and is hardy in USDA plant hardiness zones 5 through 9.
Consider planting apple mint alongside cabbage, peas, tomatoes and broccoli to improve their flavor.
Provide water for early plants and during times of drought.
Caring for established apple mint is not overly taxing. Large areas can be easily mowed to keep under control. Smaller plots or containers are healthiest if cut back a few times each season.
In the fall, cut back all apple mint to the ground and cover with a 2-inch (5 cm.) layer of mulch where winters are harsh.
Growing apple mint is a lot of fun, as you can do so many things with it. Bruised apple mint leaves added to a pitcher of ice water with lemon make the perfect “afternoon in the shade” summer treat. Dried apple mint leaves are a delicious warm tea that is perfect for cooler weather.
For drying, harvest the leaves when they are fresh by cutting the stalks just before they bloom. Hang the stalks to dry and store them in airtight containers.
Use fresh leaves as a pretty and fragrant dessert topping, as salad additions or to make tasty apple mint dressings.
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Spearmint is used most commonly in the kitchen for mint juleps, sauces, jellies, teas, or to highlight flavors in a fruit salad. It's very fragrant and grows 2 to 3 feet tall with pale violet blooms in mid- to late summer. Peppermint is another popular mint with a strong aroma it grows to 3 feet tall with smooth leaves 1 to 3 inches long. Another dozen or so mint varieties, including some interesting fruit-scented types such as orange mint, are also available.
Choosing a site to grow mints
Choose a site in full sun to part shade and moist soil. Or, since plants can be invasive, grow your mint in containers filled with potting mix enriched with compost.
Here are some of the best varieties to try in your garden. All grow 1- to 3-feet tall and spread unless otherwise noted.
'Apple mint' – This mint has a strong green-apple fragrance and makes a great tea and addition to fruit salad.
'Banana mint' – A low growing (6 inches tall) mint with round, furry leaves, it's not as aggressive as other varieties. Its banana-like flavor is good in tea, ice cream, and cookies.
'Chocolate mint' – A type of peppermint, the dark green leaves have a definite chocolate fragrance combined with the refreshing qualities of peppermint.
'Corsican mint' – This mint only grows 3/4-inch tall with small rounded leaves and a peppermint scent. It needs a cool, moist, shady area to grow, but makes a perfect plant to grow between stepping stones in a walkway.
'Ginger mint' – A colorful green-and-yellow foliaged mint with red stems. It has a spearmint-like fragrance and is good used in fruit salads with melons. It likes a cool, shady place to grow.
'Lavender mint' – This mint features grey-green leaves with purple undersides and a lavender scent. It's good for potpourris.
'Peppermint' – Traditionally used for tea, it has pink flowers and a strong fragrance. It also can be used medicinally. Japanese mint is a version of peppermint with high oil content and the ability to grow in a wide variety of climates.
'Pineapple mint' – A white-and-green variegated leaf mint that is less aggressive than others and beautiful in the landscape. A good variety for potpourris.
'Spearmint' – This traditional variety has been used for centuries in cooking meats, and more recently, to make mint juleps.
If you want an entire bed of mint, start with one or two purchased plants and set them about 2 feet apart in a sunny location. They'll quickly fill in the open area between plants.
Amend the soil well before planting with compost to help keep the soil moist. Remove all weeds, especially perennial ones, from the area, since it's painstaking to weed mint plants once planted. Set mint plants in the garden spaced 1- to 2-feet apart after all danger of frost has passed in your area. Mulch plants with bark or straw mulch to keep the soil moist and weed free. If you want to grow mint from seed, sow indoors 8 weeks before you'll be transplanting outdoors.
If you want to avoid having your mint take over, plant varieties in bottomless pots sunk into the ground. The underground rhizomes won't be able to spread as aggressively.
Mint also grows well as an indoor herb plant. Move potted mint plants indoors before a killing frost. Give them plenty of light, cut back on watering in winter, and you'll get plants from which you can harvest some leaves in winter and plant back into the garden in spring.
Mint requires little care to keep it growing. If planting a patch of different types of mint, keep the more aggressive ones from taking over by containing them, or by digging and dividing them annually in spring. Mint varieties will cross pollinate but it will only affect the seedlings that grow from the seeds that develop as a result of the pollination. Pull out seedlings or you'll get hybrids that won't taste like the mother plant. Also, if allowed to grow together, it may be hard to distinguish one mint variety from another when picking.
To share your mints, in spring dig and divide mother plants. Mint also readily roots from cuttings. Snip a 4- to 6-inch cutting from the mother plant, dip the cut end in rooting hormone powder, remove all but the top set of leaves, stick the cuttings in a pot filled with moistened potting soil, and place in a bright room, out of direct sun. Cuttings should root in about 2 weeks.
In fall, cut back plants, especially aggressive ones, to limit their growth and remove any diseased leaves. Mints generally don't have problems with insects and diseases, but sometimes rust disease will attack and can be controlled by removing and destroying the leaves in fall.
How to harvest mints
Harvest mint leaves as needed once the plant is established. For fresh use, pick the youngest leaves before the plant flowers, just after the dew dries in the morning for best flavor. If harvesting for drying, cut 6-inch long mint stems, bunch them together, and hang them in a well ventilated, 70 degree F, airy room out of direct sunlight. Place a brown paper bag around the bunch to retain the leaves color and oil content. They should be dry in about 1 to 2 weeks.
You can also dry mint leaves in an oven set at 185 degrees F, a microwave, or food dehydrator. Watch leaves carefully so they don't burn.
Plant mint in full sun or part shade. It can adapt to just about any type of soil but develops the best foliage in moist, well-drained soil that has been enriched with compost. Keep the area around mint free of weeds. Otherwise, it looks untidy, and the weeds may reduce yields and affect flavor. Divide mint every few years.
Frequent cutting keeps mint looking attractive. As with basil and other flowering herbs grown for their leaves, remove flowers as they appear, and pinch back the stems to encourage shorter, bushier growth. In fall, cut the plants to the ground after a hard frost has withered their stems.
Apple-scented foliage with a hint of mint is a fragrant addition to the garden. Whorls of purple blooms in summer are an added bonus. Attracts bees and butterflies to the garden.
Very desirable herb garden addition also looks great in any bed, border or container. The dry leaves can be used for tea. Popular for sachets and potpourri. Wash fruits, vegetables and herbs thoroughly before eating.
Slow release feed in spring.
Fertile, humus-rich, well-drained soil.
Best in fertile, humus-rich, well-drained soil. Keep soil moist, watering freely in dry weather. Harvest foliage as needed. May become invasive if left unchecked.
Perennial herbs can be planted anytime from spring through fall. Plant annual herbs in the spring.
Herbs are ideal for containers. Pots can be brought indoors for the winter and placed near a sunny window for a continuous harvest year-round.
Prepare the garden by breaking up the existing soil (use a hoe, spade, or power tiller) to a depth of 12-16” (30-40cm). Add organic matter such as manure, peat moss or garden compost until the soil is loose and easy to work. Organic ingredients improve drainage, add nutrients, and encourage earthworms and other organisms that help keep soil healthy.
Check the plant label for suggested spacing and the mature height of the plant. Position plants so that taller plants are in the center or background of the landscape design and shorter plants in the foreground. To remove the plant from the container, gently brace the base of the plant, tip it sideways and tap the outside of the pot to loosen. Rotate the container and continue to tap, loosening the soil until the plant pulls smoothly from the pot.
Dig the hole up to two times larger than the root ball and deep enough that the plant will be at the same level in the ground as the soil level in the container. Grasping the plant at the top of the root ball, use your finger to lightly rake apart the lower roots apart. This is especially important if the roots are dense and have filled up the container. Set the plant in the hole.
Push the soil gently around the roots filling in empty space around the root ball. Firm the soil down around the plant by hand, tamping with the flat side of a small trowel, or even by pressing down on the soil by foot. The soil covering the planting hole should be even with the surrounding soil, or up to one inch higher than the top of the root ball. New plantings should be watered daily for a couple of weeks to get them well established.
Finish up with a 2” (5cm) layer of mulch such as shredded bark or compost to make the garden look tidy, reduce weeds, and retain soil moisture.
New plantings should be watered daily for a couple of weeks. After that, depending on the weather and soil type, watering may be adjusted to every two or three days. Clay soils hold moisture longer than sandy soils, so expect to water more frequently in sandy settings.
Different plants have different water needs. Some plants prefer staying on the dry side, others, like to be consistently moist. Refer to the plant label to check a plant’s specific requirements.
Thoroughly soaking the ground up to 8” (20 cm) every few days is better than watering a little bit daily. Deep watering encourages roots to grow further into the ground resulting in a sturdier plant with more drought tolerance.
To check for soil moisture, use your finger or a small trowel to dig in and examine the soil. If the first 2-4” (5-10cm) of soil is dry, it is time to water.
Plants in containers can dry out quickly, depending on the weather, and may need water more frequently than plants in the garden bed. Apply water at the soil level if possible to avoid wetting the foliage. Water the entire soil area until water runs out the base of the pot. This indicates that the soil is thoroughly wet.
Herbs planted in the garden don’t require additional fertilizer. Apply a 1-2” (3-5cm) layer of mulch or compost annually. As mulch breaks down it supplies nutrients to the plants and improves the overall soil condition at the same time.
Herbs in containers can be fed lightly with a general purpose fertilizer at half the rate suggested on the package directions.
Invest in a good, sharp hand pruner or knife for harvesting. Pinching the stems off can cause damage to the main plant.
Herbs can be harvested throughout the growing season to be used fresh, dried, or frozen. It’s best not to prune more than 50% of the foliage at one time. This keeps the plant healthy and producing new growth for continuous harvesting.
Unless you are growing an herb specifically for its flowers (such as lavender), or seed production (such as fennel), it is best to remove flower buds as they appear. This keeps the plant’s energy focused on foliage production instead of blooms and seeds.
Harvest herbs in the morning, when the plant oils are at their peak. Prepare herb cuttings for use by gently washing and drying the foliage. If planning to preserve the herbs, check foliage for insects or eggs as well. Herbs can be dried or frozen for future use. The general rule for use in cooking is: use twice as much fresh or frozen herb as compared to dried herb.
Harvest seeds when the flowers start to fade and turn brown, but before the seeds fall from the plant.
Do not prune plants after September 1st. Pruning stimulates tender new growth that will damage easily when the first frosts arrive. Once plants have died to the ground they are easy to clean up by simply cutting back to about 4” (10cm) above the ground.
Perennial herbs should be dug up and divided every 2-3 years. This stimulates healthy new growth and provides new plants to expand the garden or share with gardening friends.
If you are wondering how to grow mint, its simple. Mint is one of the best herbs to grow.
Mint is easy care and in fact can become a bit of weed if let go. We tend to grow mint plants in pots or other ‘contained areas’. However it is of great value in the herb garden, so when it roams a little, just pull it up.
Growing mint in pots or containers, (see picture right) or in an ‘enclosed’ garden bed where it can not roam is one idea, but in pots you can more easily find a spot that happens to be close to the kitchen, easy for picking.
Mint grows well in pots, and this may be the best way of taming its spreading nature. It is a herb that is used extensively in Middle Eastern and Indian cooking.
Mint is very easy to propagate and grow from cuttings.
Growing mint should really be problem free, however many gardeners do have problems. A well drained humus rich, moist soil is all that mint requires, or so the story goes.
In general mint likes a cool moist root run, yet plenty of filtered light, and it also likes a fairly constant environment.
Growing mint in warmer climates can cause problems, it does require constant moisture, in Queensland try growing mint in morning sun and shade from midday on. Remember that in cooler areas plants will die back in winter, but will bounce back in spring. Generally not to many pests to worry about.
Pick or prune mint during the growing season to maintain a bushy plant
Although mint is easy to grow and in fact is fast growing it does require annual care to keep it productive.
Mint can be used in many recipes, it can also be used in spaces as well as in drinks such as iced tea.
Mint plants are a herb with many varieties that are easily grown in pots or in the home garden. The most common mint variety grown is M. spicata or Spearmint, it is used widely in cooking, for sauces, salads and mint jellies. Apple mint, Pineapple Mint and Peppermint are other popular species.
And then we have the sub species such as Mentha x piperita f. citrata ‘Chocolate’, yes it has a ‘chocolate’ taste to it.
While is one of the easiest herbs to grow, its strength is also its downside it grows rapidly, sending out runners everywhere and can become weedy if left unchecked. To avoid having the rest of your garden overrun with mint, plant it in containers.
Mint grows best in soils that retain moisture and prefers light or part shade in Florida. Space plants about 12 inches apart to give them room to spread and grow.
Mint plants are propagated by either cuttings or division. Mint runners can be removed and transplanted or passed along to share with friends.
As your plant grows, mint leaves can be harvested as needed. Leaves and flowers can be used freshly picked from the garden or dried and stored for later use. Mint is considered a tender-leaf herb, meaning that the leaves have a high moisture content. As a tender-leaf herb, mint needs to be dried somewhere with darkness and low humidity or the leaves will turn dark and moldy.
For more information on growing mint and other herbs contact your local county Extension office.