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Make it mint

Add this pervasive plant and enjoy many uses

I was recently reviewing my plans for the garden for next spring. One of my success stories in the garden has been my mint harvest. I grow apple mint in a rocky area and chocolate mint in containers.

Mint has health benefits, and I use it to help chase away the winter chills. Often as I settle in for the evening, I am craving a warm cup of mint tea or minty hot chocolate.

Mint has many, many other culinary uses too.

Mint gets a bad rap because the plant spreads quickly into the other parts of flower beds. This can be remedied by growing it in its own bed, planting in containers, and pulling or harvesting to remove plant tops. The benefits outweigh the spread.

Many varieties of mint are grown for their flavors. Apple mint, pineapple mint, ginger mint and pennyroyal are just a few of the many examples.

Mint grows best in slightly acidic soil in full sun. Mint grows rapidly as a perennial herb up to 3 feet tall. I find the woolly mints are very winter hardy. These and apple mint are some of the most invasive.

I have grown peppermint, spearmint and apple mint in my garden plots. These require a barrier to prevent quick spreading, or they can be in a bed by themselves. Plant mint in containers that extend 4 inches above the soil and 12 to 15 inches below. I have used an old washtub with a hole rusted out of the bottom.

My process has been to divide existing plants in early spring or early fall for me to plant in another location or to share with friends. I place divisions in 6 inches of topsoil with roots just below the surface. Plants are spaced 2 feet apart and watered an inch per week. My plot is about 4 feet by 8 feet.

I use a hedge trimmer to cut 1/3 of my crop at a time. This provides a constant supply of fresh sprouts, a mature area to harvest without flowers and a crop with flowers that pollinators just love.

Mint can grow at least three good harvests per year. With my rotation, I harvest through December if the weather permits.

At the end of your last harvest, I cut everything back to the ground to discourage pests and limit disease. I also find that the deer in the neighborhood do not like the smell of mint.

I harvest fresh leaves after the plants are 4 inches tall. The youngest leaves are tender and more flavorful. I cut stems with a sharp knife or scissors about 1 inch above the soil.

Mint leaves should be washed and can be stored for up to a week in water in the refrigerator. Fresh leaves can be chopped and frozen with water in ice cube trays. I usually pick a quart bag full of leaves in the late morning and place them in a bowl of hot water to steep. Before dinnertime, I strain the tea make a quart of concentrate. I refrigerate this and use as needed to make my hot or cold tea.

Mint can be picked, hung upside down and dried until brittle. Dried mint can be stored for up to a year. I also put a few dried leaves of mint in my new sweeper bags and shop vac to keep things smelling fresh.

For more information on growing mint go to http://go.osu.edu/mint.

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