Growing Spearmint in my Backyard
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Mint or spearmint (Mentha spicata) is a perennial aromatic plant classified in the Lamiaceae family (the same as basil, rosemary, lavender, and others). Plant leaves have a rich aroma and a high content of essential oil. Pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries widely use this essential oil extracted through the distillation of the spearmint leaves. Many scientific studies verify the antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial effects of the leaves and the essential oil produced. The multiple uses and high value of spearmint essential oil have established this plant as a globally respected, recognized, and irreplaceable crop, with annual turnovers of millions of dollars.
However, apart from adding it to mouthwashes, cosmetics, medicines, soft drinks, cocktails, and other products, spearmint has countless uses in our kitchen. It can also accompany meat dishes or a cold salad and serve as an ingredient in marinade and sauces.
We could say that a pot of spearmint is necessary for almost every balcony, as it is a plant that asks for so little but gives so much. With minimum care, we can have fresh spearmint leaves nearly all year round. The plant is relatively easy to grow, provided that we offer it well-drained soil and place it at a location with partial or full access to direct sunlight.
Growing it into a pot has many advantages, as we can move the plant if needed and keep it limited to avoid any problems of uncontrollable spreading in areas of the garden that we do not want to. This happens because the spearmint can act as a weed if it finds ideal growing conditions and spreads with rhizomes in new places in the garden.
Plant Purchase and Preparation
Although it is possible to grow spearmint from seeds or cuttings, the easiest way is to buy a plant from the nearest nursery. Like the one demonstrated in the picture, a small to medium-sized plant is very cheap to buy, costing only 2 euros (2.3 dollars). Before transplanting the spearmint to a new pot, we need to carefully remove dry shoots, leaves, and all flowers with a pair of scissors.
How to transplant spearmint
After removing the plant material mentioned above, we choose a pot large enough to transplant our spearmint. Usually, we prefer a pot with a base diameter of at least 20 cm (0.65 feet). The flowerpot demonstrated in the picture has a base diameter of 21 cm (0.7 feet), a height of 24 cm (0.8 feet), and a capacity of 9.5 liters. This is the smallest pot we could use for our spearmint. Next, we select standard topsoil found in the market, as the plant has no special requirements. It is not uncommon to see it grow even on rocky soils. However, adding compost and river sand to the soil could benefit our plants. Besides mixing compost with the soil, we can also add a small amount on top to prevent rapid evaporation of water during summer. Finally, after carefully transplanting our plants, we need to water.
Choosing the best location to place our pot.
Spearmint plants prefer to have access to direct sunlight, but they can handle partial shade as well. If we place our plants in a spot with abundant sunlight, we should water them often.
Spearmint’s Water Requirements – Irrigation Of Spearmint
Spearmint demands enough water to produce constantly fresh green shoots for several months. However, professional growers claim that the plant – when overwatered – loses its aroma and essential oil content while the risk of fungal diseases rises. In any case, it is good to water the potted plant regularly close to the root system but always to keep the leaves dry.
Fertilization of spearmint
Although the plant can perform well in most soil types, we can boost its growth by adding a granular fertilizer in spring and summer, watering well immediately after the application. Alternatively, we can add a liquid fertilizer 7-7-7, once in early spring and once in summer. This will help the plant’s rapid regeneration, especially after removing a large number of shoots with strict pruning.
Pruning and harvest of spearmint
As in most potted herbs, pruning coincides with harvesting for spearmint too. The first four weeks after the first transplanting, it is best not to prune/harvest. However, the plant needs frequent pruning from then onwards to promote the regeneration of shoots and keep the plant fresh and alive. From spring to autumn, we can harvest weekly green shoots with leaves, cutting them above the previous node. We never remove at once more than 25% of the vegetation (leaves). If we harvest meticulously, we will probably never see the plant bloom, and that’s what we want. Once flowers appear, the plant is genetically programmed to devote its energy to produce seeds. Propagation is a process competitive to vegetative growth, which is what we need in this case. Moreover, all the evidence suggests that the fragrances and the essential oil concentration at the leaves pick shortly before flowering. The green shoots that we cut can be added fresh in cooking, stored in the refrigerator, or dried for future use.
In most cases, the upper part of the plant will shrink and wither during the winter but will regenerate the following spring.
And one last tip:
Suppose you suddenly see that your plant withers and dies after changing the pot’s position or after transplanting it into a larger pot. In that case, it is not worth worrying about it or spending time and energy to regenerate it. And that’s because you probably won’t succeed. Aromatic plants growing in pots have a specific lifespan, and many factors threaten their robustness and vitality. When your oregano starts senescence, it’s probably time to buy new plants, which will give you more tender and fragrant shoots.
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