Mint is a huge family of plants. Over 600 varieties exist today. In Middle Eastern, Greek, European, and some American dishes, mint is an important ingredient. The most common varieties in the United States are peppermint and spearmint.
Spearmint (Mentha spicata) and peppermint (Mentha piperita) are both invasive in the extreme. Care should be taken to plant them in large containers or in beds that keep them from spreading. Otherwise your herb bed will quickly become a mint bed.
Although mint seeds are sometimes offered for sale, the best mint does not produce viable seeds. Instead, the plant reproduces by sending stolons, or horizontal runners out from itself. Pull the runner up from the soil and then cut it between each nodule. The nodules usually have roots already extending from them.
If you do not have a plant to use as a starter plant, you will have to purchase one. The best plants are often available from local nurseries, where you can see, feel, and sniff them. Ordering a plant site unseen can yield disappointing results.
When you obtain your plant, place it in your soil. As the plant matures, it will sent out runners. Then it will bloom and the leaves will be smaller from then on. As mentioned, mint is very invasive. The entire bed will become one mat of mint plants.
At this point, air circulation will be inhibited and diseases may take hold. Rusts and other fungal diseases are the primary culprits. The mat is also a good place for insects. Whitefly and leafhoppers are major pests, and aphids will eat mint when desperate.
The remedy for this mat of plants is to cut them to the ground. They will grow back quickly with nice, uniform foliage. As a bonus, plants that were too mature to use will produce nice leaves again.
Mint grown from the cuttings will be ready to harvest in four or five weeks. Mint growing from the old bed will be ready a week to ten days after the haircut. Having two small beds and alternating harvests means you always have some mint ready to use.
Because mint spreads by runners, it is best to have a single type of mint in each container or bed. Otherwise the varieties become jumbled and it is difficult to distinguish which type is which. Mixed mint can hybridize if allowed to flower, although its. primary method of reproduction seems to be the stolons.
In addition to spearmint and peppermint, each of which come in many varieties, here are some other popular mints. Pineapple mint is popular as a garnish. Chocolate mint is popular for teas as both a garnish and a flavoring agent. Orange mint is used for the same purpose. These mints must be purchased as plants and do not grow as vigorously as the regular spearmint and peppermint. New plants will have to be purchased periodically to renew their beds.