Lemon mint is quite simple to grow in the garden. When this herb is happy, it produces plenty of leaves with a plethora of uses, such as lemon mint teas or for flavouring desserts.
There are more mint varieties than just those with the classic, intense menthol flavour. Together with strawberry mint (Mentha species) and apple mint (Mentha suaveolens), lemon mint (Mentha x gentilis var. citrata) is another mint variety with a fruity-fresh aroma. It can be grown in the garden and in pots in a similar way to other types of mint. Read on to find out all about lemon mint, including how to plant lemon mint, whether it is frost hardy and more.
Lemon mint: origin and characteristics
There are about 30 species in the mint genus. Numerous mint hybrids have also been created through mostly natural crossbreeding. One of these is the peppermint (Mentha x piperita). New varieties regularly appear on the market as a result of breeding. Therefore, there is not just one lemon mint. Rather, there are different varieties and crosses whose scents and tastes are reminiscent of lemon. One of the most common is Mentha x gentilis var. citrata, a variety of ginger mint (Mentha x gracilis). There is also a variety of peppermint that is traded as lemon mint. This is Mentha x piperita var. citrate, which is also known as Eau de Cologne mint.
Tip: Ginger mint, which is also called noble mint, is a type of mint that probably resulted from a natural cross between field mint (Mentha arvensis) and spearmint (Mentha spicata). The ginger flavour of the leaves is rather subtle and their menthol content is relatively low. Mentha x gentilis var. variegata is a form of ginger mint with yellow variegated leaves.
Like all mints, lemon mint (Mentha gentilis var. citrate) is a deciduous perennial. Every year it develops new reddish 40 to 50cm high shoots. Compared to other mints, these have very delicate and fine leaves that exude a pleasant lemon fragrance. Mentha x gentilis var. citrata flowers from July to September. Lemon mint’s bright purple flowers attract numerous insects. Like other mint species, lemon mint forms runners, spreading further and further in the bed. However, its spreading instinct is not as pronounced as that of some other mint species.
What is the difference between lemon mint and lemon balm? Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) and lemon mint both belong to the labiates (Lamiaceae) plant family, but within it they belong to different genera: the mints and the balms (Melissa). At first glance, the plants look similar, as both are herbaceous perennials. Since both belong to the labiate family, even the flowers are similar. You can tell the plants apart by their leaves. While the leaves of lemon mint are rather smooth, the leaves of lemon balm have a coarser, blistered structure. In contrast to lemon mint, lemon balm is somewhat more drought tolerant. There are also differences in terms of the contained substances: lemon balm does not contain menthol, so its lemon aroma is usually a little more intense.
Planting lemon mint: how and where to do it
Like all mints, the lemon mint herb prefers a warm, sunny location, although full midday sun should be avoided. Even in partial shade, lemon mint usually thrives without problems.
It is best to plant lemon mint in loose, hummus and nutrient-rich soil with a neutral pH value. In the garden, you can improve heavy, clay soil by working some sand and our Plantura Organic All Purpose Compost into the subsoil before planting the lemon mint. This reduces the risk of waterlogging, which lemon mint does not tolerate. Soils that are too sandy and dry out quickly can also be improved by working in our Plantura Organic All Purpose Compost so that the soil can better retain water and nutrients.
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Tip: in a herb garden, lemon mint grows well with chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium) and coriander (Coriandrum sativum). Note, however, that lemon mint may well crowd out the plants in its vicinity thanks to its runners. This can be prevented by using a 50cm deep root barrier.
The best time to plant the lemon mint herb is in spring, around mid-March. After finding a suitable location and preparing the soil, you can start planting the lemon mint. To do this, dig small planting holes spaced 40cm apart and place the young plants in them. Then water the lemon mint plants well.
Planting lemon mint at a glance:
- Ideal time: in spring from about mid-March.
- Location: sunny to semi-shady; loose, nutrient-rich and moist soil
- Spacing: 40cm
- Water well after planting
It is also possible to plant lemon mint in a pot. Here it cannot spread unintentionally throughout the garden with its runners. Use a wide planter with a capacity of at least 5 litres. Put a 5cm high drainage layer in the bottom of the pot, such as pebbles or horticultural grit. Fill the pot with a high-quality, preferably peat-free potting compost. Our Plantura Organic All Purpose Compost, for example, is not only completely peat-free, but it also consists of 100 % natural raw materials and is sustainably produced in Germany.
Tip: if you have purchased or harvested lemon mint seeds, starting the seeds indoors in spring is a good idea. Choose pots that are 8 to 10cm in diameter and fill with a moistened growing medium. Our Plantura Organic Herb & Seeding Compost is peat-free and made from natural raw materials, making it suitable for sowing mint seeds. Sow the seeds 0.5cm deep in the pots; lemon mint seeds need light to germinate, so do not cover with soil. At 18 °C with consistently slightly moist soil, the lemon mint seeds usually germinate within 2 weeks. Continue cultivating the young plants in a bright place until they reach a size of 7 to 10cm. At this stage, a little fertiliser will encourage vigorous growth. Then they can be transplanted to their final location.
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Lemon mint care
During the growing season, lemon mint likes constantly slightly moist soil. In summer, it is important to water them regularly. This is especially important for lemon mint in pots, as the soil in pots dries out much faster. Particularly in the first year after planting, lemon mint is dependent on frequent watering, as its root system is not yet fully developed.
Tip: one way to save water in the garden is to mulch around the lemon mint plants. Lawn clippings are best suited for this, as they provide nutrients at the same time.
Likewise, do not neglect to feed the lemon mint herbs with some fertiliser. The plants will thank you with lush growth and a rich harvest. Work a slow-release fertiliser into the soil around the plants at the beginning of the growing season in spring. Our Plantura All Purpose Plant Food is long lasting, giving the mint plants the nutrients they need for at least 3 months. It consists largely of organic components, which also promotes humus build-up and has a positive effect on soil structure and water retention capacity. Similar results can be achieved with good, mature compost. After about 3 months in summer, feed the mint plants again.
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Caring for lemon mint also includes regular pruning. This prevents the plant from spreading too much and at the same time helps the harvest. Just like when pruning mint, make sure to cut off not only upright shoots but also runners that run along the ground. As lemon mint is very tolerant of pruning, it can be harvested and cut practically all year round. However, the lemon aroma is most intense in the period leading up to flowering and then diminishes noticeably. In spring, shortly before new shoots appear, remove any dead brown shoots completely.
Lemon mint forms a dense root system. Plants in pots should therefore be repotted after 3 years at the latest. Spring is also a good time for doing this. Make sure that the new planter is at least 5cm larger in diameter than the old one.
You can find more tips on caring for lemon mint as well as information on possible diseases and pests in our article on caring for mint.
Lemon mint care at a glance:
- Water regularly so that the soil is never completely dry
- Apply a slow-release fertiliser twice a year, in spring and summer
- Prune vigorously to keep growth in check and for a rich harvest
- Repot lemon mint in pots at least every 3 years
Is lemon mint frost tolerant?
Mentha x gentilis var. citrata tolerates temperatures down to -22 °C and Eau de Cologne mint (Mentha x piperita var. citrate) even down to -28 °C. Both lemon mints are therefore very hardy and usually survive the winter in the garden without any problems. The green shoots die back in autumn, but in the following spring the lemon mint perennials sprout again from the rootstock.
Take care when overwintering lemon mint in a pot, as the roots of the lemon mint are less protected than in the garden soil. It is therefore a good idea to pack the pot in a jute bag, for example.
Lemon mint use and effect
Lemon mint contains menthol compounds, although much less than peppermint. As a result, its main flavour is fresh and lemony rather than minty taste. You can make lemon mint tea from fresh or dried leaves. In addition, lemon mint can be used in recipes in a variety of ways. It can be used to enhance desserts and sweet dishes but can also be used in cocktails, lemonades and savoury dishes.
Due to the lower menthol content, the effect of lemon mint is less pronounced. Therefore, it does not have the undesirable side effects that can occur when peppermint is taken too frequently. So if you are looking for a mint for daily consumption, lemon mint is the right choice.
If you do not want to miss out on the lemon mint aroma in the winter months, find out about the different methods of preserving the leaves in our article on drying and freezing mint.