by Master Gardener Stephanie Wrightson
Each has a wonderfully delicious smell when crushed between your fingers (or with a muddler in a beverage). The same smell and taste that attracts us deters other critters including deer and jack rabbits. Some claim that mint deters rodents, spiders and ants. But you will not find in-ground mint around my house to prove or disprove this claim.
Mints are one of the easiest herbs to grow. This is a true test: if you can’t get mint to grow—you need to find a hobby other than gardening. Don’t spend your money on a plant. Instead, buy an unusual variety from a seed catalog. Fill a clean seeding pot with potting soil. Wet the soil and let it drain. The seeds are small; don’t cover them with much soil. Place your container in a sunny window. Keep the soil moist (not wet). Contact with moist soil is necessary for germination. I use a spray bottle in order not to disturb the seeds, and continue to use it until seedlings are well-anchored. Seeds will germinate in about 10 to 15 days. If you plant a number of seeds, thin them—selecting the strongest seedlings to remain in the pot. You can use small scissors to snip the weak seedlings so as not to disturb the shallow roots of the others.
Transplant the seedling(s) into a container filled with potting soil up to two weeks before the first frost date. We can use November 15 for the AVERAGE first frost in Sonoma County. But, consider your micro climate as the actual date can vary throughout the county, and from year to year.
A sunny location near your kitchen door is ideal. But mint also will survive in a partially sunny location. You may read that mint is somewhat drought-tolerant once established. However, soil in pots tends to dry out faster AND you are growing this plant for a culinary purpose. No one wants mint leaves that are crispy around the edges in their beverage or food. Throw the leftover water from washing your veggies and fruit on your plants to keep them happy.
In many areas of Sonoma County, we do not have hard freezes. You may find that you have a year-round harvest. However, if the cold does knock it back, keep the roots moist if there is no rain. The mint likely will rise again come spring. Whatever you do, do not dump the soil in your garden or you may be pulling out mint for quite some time.
Mint can be dried and, subsequently, stored in a dark bottle in the cupboard for about one year. Or use it fresh. Explore exotic ethnic dishes that call for fresh mint. Besides the myriad of beverages that call for muddled mint or a sprig of mint, you can use mint to liven up a bowl of fruit or berries or to flavor ice cream. Add a sprig to your coffee or tea, or steep the leaves to make a refreshing cup of mint tea. Any chocolate dessert can be kicked up a notch with mint. Enjoy!