Food & Garden: The many benefits of mint

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By Andrew Padula, Contributing Columnist and owner of Greer-based Padula's Plants:

Mint not only has many uses and benefits as an herb, but it simultaneously shares it's benefits as an "herbaceous plant" to beautify areas of your home while also feeding wildlife.

Running mints such as Peppermint, Giant Apple Mint, Bee Balm, Spearmint, Lime Mint and countless other varieties of runners have what is called an indefinite spread. This means that the "runners" or stems that creep along at ground level will continue to root where the bottoms of those stems touch the soil (as long as there is ample moisture to support life in the soil).

Once these running stems root, they will begin to grow like the rest of the mature mint plant that originally sent them out. Then, over time, those rooted runners that are now mature, will send out runners of their own. This growth habit is the cause of their indefinite spread. This indefinite spreading growth habit is excellent for helping to control areas of erosion, helping to soak up water where it collects after rains, and naturalizing easily when planted as a beneficial plant for wildlife.

In ideal growing conditions (plenty of water, fresh air, and sun) a running mint can easily cover 6' or more of ground in a single season. Many mints like Bee Balm, and Peppermint continue to grow by means of underground runners through the Winter. They do this here in the Upstate by sending up small leaves at ground level that act like solar panels, collecting energy for the mints runners that are growing just below the soil level.

Clump forming mints like Golden Hyssop, Basil, and Lemon Balm will tend to grow more vase-shaped and stay in bounds. This makes them more popular to place inside the middle of a garden as opposed to at the edges of one, which is where a running mint would do best.

Clump forming mints rely more on seeds for natural propagation, rather then running stems that root along the soil surface over time. Clump forming mints are also a good choice to plant in containers where other herbs are inter-planted with them. Since there is less competition for space because they are not aggressive growers like running mints are.

When it comes to choosing mint flower style and color for your garden, most mint flowers that have not had their colors altered by science will be in some shade of purple. However, there are other colors of mint flowers (ie. Lemon Balm has white flowers, Bee Balm flowers can range in colors between red and purple, Hyssop flower colors can range in even a broader color spectrum to include a pink/orange). Knowing the different styles of mint flowers is important both for your own personal taste.

Mint as a pollinator:

When it comes to your gardens' aesthetics and for knowing what different pollinators they attract to the garden:

• Bee Balm flowers are large and rounded almost like a Rose flower and are great for attracting many different pollinators including hummingbirds;

• Agastache Hyssop flowers are more similar to Rosemary flowers, but they also attract Hummingbirds;

• Mints like Peppermint, Apple Mint, and Spearmint have spiked shaped flowers that primarily attract pollinators like bees, wasps, and hoverflies.

• Water mint has flowers that are rounded and grow in clusters up the stem of the plant. Water mint will also cascade over a container when grown in one. Attracts mainly bees and wasps as pollinators.

• Lime Mint, and Orange Mint also have rounded flowers, but mainly at the tops of the stems. Both attract mainly bees and wasps as pollinators.


When planting mint according to the height of the plant, Bee Balm, Lion's Ear, and Mountain Mint will grow to be some of the tallest. It is not uncommon for Bee Balm to reach 4' - 5' tall and Lion's Ear to reach a height of 6' or more. Their height makes these great mints for the back border or edge of the woods.

Next in height would be many of the wild mints like Horse Mint, or Wild Bergamot which is also a type of wild Bee Balm. Next is Giant Apple Mint which grows to a height of around 3' and has large leaves and flowers that are great for tea. Peppermint, Hyssop, Lemon Balm, Lime Mint and Orange Mint all grow roughly to the same height of around 2'. Some of the lower growing mints like Corsican Mint, Pennyroyal, and Variegated Water Mint will grow to a height of between 4'' - 1'.

All mints are excellent for planting in areas where erosion is an issue. Because mints have roots that grow similar to fine netting, they hold all parts of the soil together very well. This includes parts of the soil like, fine organic material, coarse sand, small rocks, twigs, clay, and fine sand.

Some mints like Bee Balm prefer wet conditions while other mints like Oregano and Hyssop prefer slightly drier and well draining conditions. This makes Mint very useful in many different areas of your garden or landscape. When it comes to the health of your mints, some places of concern around your garden would be damp shady areas. When Mints like Lemon Balm and Bee Balm are planted in an area that receives plenty of sun and is damp, they do very well. However when these same Mints are planted in areas that have little direct sun/mostly shade and the same damp soil, they can become susceptible to Powdery Mildew. So a fair amount of sun is important.

As for the wildlife that mint attracts, it is mainly beneficial pollinating insects. That is why having mint in your fruit and vegetable garden can help increase the amount of your harvest. To maximize the helpful effect that mint has in attracting pollinating insects to your garden, plant it in an area where the pollinators have to go through all of the other flowering vegetable or fruit plants before they get to the mint.

Remember, that not only are there countless varieties of beautiful mints to choose from. They have many benefits that extend past their beauty in the garden.

Learn more about Andrew Padula and Padula's Plants here.