“I have even killed mint!” is a line I see at least once a week from gardening newbies. It’s a feat that is often thought of as the hallmark of a truly terrible horticulturist. Yet, as someone who has been obsessively gardening all my life, I don’t understand where this idea comes from. Far from being invincible in the hands of anyone but the most awful gardeners, mint is something I have killed over and over again, in a variety of different ways. Just enough times, in fact, to finally learn how to grow it well. Here is my advice, not only on how to successfully grow mint but, more importantly, how to give yourself a break.

Mint probably gets its reputation for being hard to kill because it has a high metabolism, which means it is a very vigorous grower. Quickly spreading to colonise large areas of ground through its subterranean runners, it will often swamp neighbouring plants as it expands outward. However, like many superhero powers, this lightning-fast metabolism is as much a curse as it is a gift. If confined to a pot, as is often the case when in the hands of first-timers starting out with gardening, mint will soon exhaust the space, filling the pot with trapped runners that spiral round the container, strangling its own growth and depleting the available nutrients. This is particularly the case in containers made of porous materials, such as terracotta, which can contribute to severe drought stress. Mint is particularly susceptible to this. Without new territory to conquer, plants quickly run out of steam. This makes them susceptible to rust, a common and untreatable fungal disease that can decimate this genus.

To avoid this, always plant mint in the largest container you have (we are talking tubs and troughs of 60 litres or more in volume), or preferably in the ground. Yes, it will swallow up the space, as is its nature, but it is an excellent choice if you have an empty border to fill with ground cover. If you don’t have the luxury of space, a simple alternative is to regularly lift plants and divide them during the growing season. Potting up only half of the original plant back in the container with a good feed and some fresh compost will mean it doesn’t get congested and can keep its relentless hunger for constant growth satisfied. You can do this two or more times in the same growing season, depending on how fast-growing your cultivar is and how ideal your growing conditions are. This gives you lots of free plants to hand out to your mates, while keeping your existing ones in good health.

If you have failed with mint, don’t feel bad about it. And do not let it make you give up gardening. The only way anyone learns how to garden is by continual trial and error. The one and only secret to green fingers is persistence, and that starts with being OK with killing mint – though you now know the secret to helping it thrive.

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