Of the more than 30 different species of mint plants in the Lamiaceae (or mint) family, spearmint is one of the most popular and widely grown. Since ancient times, spearmint has been known as an herb that represents hospitality and wisdom. Like most species in the mint family. spearmint is quite easy to grow.
Spearmint is commonly used medicinally to reduce the effects of irritable bowel syndrome, motion sickness, hiccups and nausea as well as other ailments. It is also a staple of the culinary arts, usually used to flavor meat, fish or vegetable dishes.
Growing Conditions for Spearmint
Spearmint is not incredibly picky, but it prefers to grow in well-drained, moist, nutrient-rich soil with a pH balance around 6.5 to 7. Though it will grow in slightly higher or lower pH levels, 6.5 to 7 is the optimal range for healthy growth. Spearmint commonly grows around river beds, so it’s best to plant your spearmint in areas that get lots of sunlight. However, if you are in an extremely hot climate area, you may want to use a tarp or canopy to cover the plants during the hottest hours of the day, as too much direct sunlight will burn the leaves of the plant.
How to Plant Spearmint
Spearmint is incredibly invasive and will take over your entire garden if you do not take preventive measures. If growing outdoors, you will want to plant mint plants in a section of your garden that has borders to keep runners from invading your entire garden. If you are growing indoors, a window box or a similarly wide,shallow container with good drainage works best.
Spearmint plants are commonly grown using seedlings, as growing from seed is very hard to do. However, you can plant them from seeds when the ground has begun to warm in the spring. Growing from a seedling or a cutting from a mature plant, is highly recommended, though. When planting spearmint outdoors, place seedlings at least two feet apart, as they will spread rapidly once they take root. If you are only harvesting enough for your family and friends, you should only need to plant two or three plants. Thoe few will spread out and cover any area their roots can expand into.
How to Care for Spearmint
Mint plants will do well with very little supervision. However, the most essential thing that you can do to keep them healthy and producing well is to thin out your crop by pruning each plant with shears regularly. Allow the trimmings to air dry, and then store them in airtight containers for future use.
After your mint plants are sprouting up and doing well, add a layer of mulch to the soil to keep it at the correct temperature and to protect against harsh weather. Occasional watering (two to four times per week) is enough to keep your spearmint plants thriving if the mulch layer is doing its job correctly. Allow the plants to get plenty of sun (or artificial light) throughout the day, but outdoor mint plants can stand a little bit of shade, especially in extremely hot climate areas.
Spearmint Pests and Problems
Twospotted Spider Mites: Twospotted spider mites love to lay their offspring on the underside of mint leaves and attack mint plants for several generations. Keep your mint plants out of dry, dusty areas, and water frequently during dry months to avoid these pesky pests. Make a 1% neem oil spray, [http://www.naturallivingideas.com/how-to-get-rid-of-red-spider-mites/] and soak the soil and plants proactively if you’ve had problems with spider mites before.
Rust: If your spearmint plant starts to develop yellow spots on its leaves with brown or black spots on the leaf undersides, your plants have a fungal infection and need to be destroyed and replaced. Prevent this from happening by watering your plants at the soil level. Make sure the leaves and stems dry during the watering process, and keep the plants in a room with good air circulation. Rust infections usually only occur when growing mint indoors.
Verticillium Wilt: Another fungal infection that can distress your spearmint plants is verticillium wilt, which causes the plant to wither and die. This disease is usually due to overwatering or oversaturation. Attempt to water just to the soil levelfor indoor plants, and keep the plants in a well-aerated room.
Ways to Use Spearmint
Bug Filter: Spearmint attracts pollinating insects to your garden due to its aroma and its flowers, but the scent can also be used to drive away unwanted insects, such as ants, flies, and even fleas.
Freshen Up: Add spearmint essential oil to your household cleaner of choice to brighten up the smell of any room. Spearmint is also a great breath freshener, as it is commonly used in mints, gum, and toothpastes.
Just a Dash: Mint has long been used as a flavorant in meat, fish and vegetable dishes, especially with goat and lamb. It’s also been used to flavor teas and popular alcoholic beverages, such as the mojito or the mint julep. Mint works great in desserts as well—it’s one of the few herbs that pairs well with both sweet and savory flavors.
Tummy Tamer: Spearmint has been used in medicine for ages to treat gastrointestinal issues, such as indigestion, cramping and bloating. A cup of spearmint tea is a great cure for an upset stomach.
So, why should spearmint get a place in your garden? Because it’s easy to grow, it promotes the pollination of your garden, it smells wonderful, and it’s great to have on hand when preparing meals, desserts and tasty beverages. Spearmint is a great addition to any herb garden.
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Matt Gibson is the Sales Director and Project Manager for Russell Gibson Content. He is also a freelance writer, poet, songwriter, rapper and composer. His gardening expertise is centered around herbs, cacti, succulents, and carnivorous plants.