Garden Variety is an occasional column about growing plants without grief.
Winter has driven most plants to death or dormancy, but no Deep South freeze is bad enough to kill mint, the kudzu of herbs—and the gardening slack season is as good a time as any to start growing. No person is so bad at gardening that they have to muddle their mojito with soggy grocery store leaves or affront their tabbouleh with dry flakes.
Mints like as much sun and rich soil as they can get, but you’ll still grow a respectable amount in iffy dirt or some shade—even in an old coffee can on a balcony. Plant it any time that it’s not freezing outside. It’s not picky.
Mints come in dozens of varieties. I have two: One was in a Clarkston Community Garden plot I had once and may be peppermint. The other was in somebody’s yard in my old East Lake neighborhood; it might be spearmint.
Mints put out a “runner” just under the ground, a kind of horizontal stem. Roots grow down from it, and leafy stems grow up from it. I call this plant a “tunneler,” though. It’ll tunnel under fences, under sidewalks, maybe under the freeway. For a more manicured look, corral it in a pot or old birdbath or an empty milk jug with a drainage hole in the bottom. Plant it by covering the roots and the runner with dirt. Use the cheapest soil from the store or your own garden soil if you have some. Plant it with a spoon or your fingers if you don’t have a shovel. Water it every week or so if it doesn’t get rain.
It can also grow in the strip between the sidewalk and the street; the sweet smell will cover up whatever dogs leave there. (But, please, grow the mint you plan to eat in a pot at the house.) Indoors, put it in the plant in the sunniest spot you have, and water it when the dirt feels dry.
In metro Atlanta, even in deep winter, enough leaves will survive above ground for you to occasionally steep a bright, minty tea. The plant will perk up in the spring and stay lush all summer. It’s fine (and sweet-smelling) to run the lawnmower over it. In the fall, the stems will die back but not all the way.
If somebody’s giving you a cutting from their yard, sever the runner, dig part of it up, and take it away to your place. Or you can visit a plant nursery to browse different leaf shapes and sizes. An established plant should just cost a few bucks. It’ll be the best investment there.