Friday, February 26, 2010

Mint in the Garden

Peppermint (Mentha pepireta)

Mint must be one of the easiest herbs to grow.  As a perennial plant, mint does not have to be replaced every season.  In fact depending on your location it remains green throughout the year.  I grow mint for adding to drinks, making cucumber sandwiches, yogurt sauce for Moroccan Lamb Kabobs, and garnishing.  

Some Common Mint species:
Peppermint (Mentha piperita) has dark green leaves with a reddish stem and lavender flowers.
Chocolate Mint is a peppermint cultivar which had bronze-green leaves. 
Spearmint (Mentha spicata) has lighter green, pointy leaves and pink flowers.
Apple Mint (Mentha suaveolens) has light green foliage.
Pineapple Mint (Mentha suaveolens 'Variegata’) has green leaves that are banded with white.

It has been my observation that mint undergoes two distinct growth phases in a given year. Understanding the events that happen during these phases helps a gardener grow mint the proper way.

1.  The first phase is the above-ground vegetative growth which happens in early spring (see above picture). The stems will then prepare to flower in the summer.  Frequent cutting will encourage branching and delay flowering. As the plant flowers, the vegetative growth comes to a halt to give way to reproductive development.

2.  After flowering, stolons, which are modified stems, begin to grow laterally underground covering a lot of distance in a very short period of time.  Eventually, these stolons will emerge from the ground and start to grow the next set of stems covering a much larger area.  This is the reason why mint need to be contained.  It is invasive and can become a weed.

Clone your mint
Dig into the soil at the base of your mint plant and look for stolons.   Pull it out and cut into short sections making sure that there are at least three nodes in each section.  I prefer the nodes that already have little buds and roots on them.  Then plant the sections horizontally and cover with soil.  Keep it watered but not too wet.  In no time you will see new green leaves emerge. 

Important definitions:
Propagate  (v.) to clone or grow a new plant from a vegetative part of an existing plant.
Stolon  (n.) a modified stem growing underground.  Distinguishable from the roots by the following: larger in diameter; white color; presence of nodes.


Chris and his Chocolate Mint said...

Hi there! I do ordinary cuttings and place them in a jar of water. How does this technique differ from cloning? Doesn't it yield the same results?

Helen Lewis said...

Hi Chris--
Thanks for your question. Cloning is just a term for propagating or multiplying a plant material by using vegetative plant parts instead of seeds. Stem cutting is another form of cloning.

Stolon is a modified stem which grows underground. I like using them for propagating since they already have roots and new sprouts on them. I don't have to wait one week for then to root. Also, you can now use the stems for other purpose.

I hope I answered your question.


Chris and his Mints said...

Yes, that perfectly clarifies it!

The stolon concept is new though. How do I get those? Should I bury some of the stems in soil BEFORE I cut them? Intriguing possibility.

Chris and his Mints said...

By the way, your peppermint seems extremely bushy. The one I have looks different. It has reddish thin stems and small leaves. Could there be something wrong with the way I'm growing it?

In contrast though, my Japanese and Chocolate mints seem "appropriately" bushy although still paling in comparison to the one in your picture.

Mastering Horticulture said...

Hi Cris -
Stolon grow naturally from the plants. You don't need to do anything. After the first season of growth, your mint should have stolons already. Dig the soil around its base and you will see numerous stolons growing underground. Do not mistake them with the roots. Roots are fine (hair-like) while stolons are thick as the stems. I'll post some pictures later to aid your imagination.

Mastering Horticulture said...

Regarding your peppermints, make sure that you give them nitrogen fertilizer.
Thanks again for asking.

Chris and his Swiss Mint said...

Hello there! I'll check those out. I haven't tried digging around the plant. I'm afraid I might mess up the roots or something.

But I'm sure I'll get curious enough one of these days.

You know my odd looking peppermint? I suspect it had something to do with the soil. It's still anemic looking. But yeah, maybe I'll dose up on the fertilizer.

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