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Plant mint in your backyard garden

Posted: May 7, 2010 10:40 p.m.
Updated: May 8, 2010 4:30 a.m.
The mint family offers a mouth-watering array of different types, such as pineapple mint, chocolate mint, apple mint, orange mint, not to mention spearmint and peppermint. With these refreshing scents and flavors to enhance your cooking, add to beverages, and use in potpourris, mint can be an indispensable plant.

In addition, bumblebees and other pollinators are attracted to the delicate flowers that appear in mid- to late summer. Some varieties even sport variegated foliage for added interest in the herb garden.

Mint’s only downside is it will take over your garden if it gets half a chance. But you can contain its exuberance and keep it close at hand by growing mint in pots. And I do mean “pots” plural. With the array of varieties, it can be hard to choose just one. Or you can confine mint in a garden bed with edging of metal or plastic. Bury the edging to a depth of 14 inches around the perimeter of the mint patch.

A Sampling of Mint
Spearmint (Mentha spicata), with its slightly sweet flavor, makes a refreshing tea, and can be used to highlight flavors in a fruit salad, or to add to new potatoes or grain pilaf. It’s the mint of mint jelly, and is a key ingredient in mint juleps. Plants grow 2 to 3 feet tall, with pale pink or white blooms appearing in mid to late summer.

Peppermint (Mentha x piperita) is more pungent than spearmint, growing to 3 feet tall, with pinkish lavender flowers. It’s a common ingredient in teas, especially for soothing the stomach.

Corsican mint (Mentha requienii) is a ground-hugging mint that prefers shade. It drapes over a container or weaves in between stepping-stones or in a stone wall.

Growing and harvesting
Most mints can be started from seed, with the exception of peppermint, which is propagated by cuttings. Choose a sunny location (except for Corsican mint) with moderately fertile, humusy soil. Use a light mulch to retain moisture and keep leaves clean. Most mints are hardy to zone 3 or 4; Corsican mint is hardy to zone 6 so treat it as an annual in colder regions.

Once plants are growing vigorously, you can harvest young or mature leaves. Don’t be afraid to cut the plants back frequently to promote fresh growth. Use fresh leaves in cooking or dry mint leaves on trays or by hanging bunched branches upside down in a warm, dark, well-ventilated area.

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