Hints for growing and taming aggressive mint

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Last Updated: 
June 28, 2004

CORVALLIS - Mint's reputation for aggressiveness in home gardens is well-deserved. New gardeners may not realize that if they give mint what it wants - rich moist soil in full sun or partial shade - it may take over your garden.


Mint reproduces from long, creeping stems that spread out just under the soil surface whenever they get a chance. Mint can even work its way, via deep, tortuous routes, under fences and other barriers.

Barb Fick, home horticulturist with the Oregon State University Extension Service, recommends some useful methods to tame the rampant spreading of this fragrant group of herbs.

A good way to grow mint without the worry of rampant spreading is to plant it in containers, preferably with bottoms, and then sink those containers into the soil of your garden, says Fick. You can also improvise - try using stove pipes or boxes at least 18 inches deep to keep mint plants in-bounds for a time. Be sure and check outside the pot for stems that have touched the ground and taken root. If you aren't diligent, your garden will be filled with mint that has jumped the container barrier.

The easiest way to propagate mint (start new plants) is to take root cuttings from established plantings. Find a piece of mint poking from the ground a short distance from the parent plant. Tug gently and pull from the ground a piece of underground stem. Pot it up for a friend or transplant it to a new location.

Harvest mint leaves as flowering begins. Mint leaves can be used right away in teas or recipes, or dried for later use.

Mint varieties commonly available include:

* Peppermint - sweet, strong mint flavor. It flavors many candies. Shiny, dark green leaves, some with a purple tinge.

* Spearmint - flavor stronger and less sweet than peppermint. The curly variety is very ornamental. Used to make traditional mint sauce for lamb.

* Pennyroyal - a ground cover and a very tough plant that grows rampantly, even in poor soil. Do not ingest pennyroyal, especially if you're pregnant. It's used as a bug repellent.

* Corsican Mint - mat-forming groundcover that can be walked upon, releasing its creme de menthe fragrance. Often used to flavor liqueurs, along with peppermint. Tiny, moss-like leaves are bright green and they appreciate some shade.

Author: Carol Savonen
Source: Barb Fick