Spearmint: cultivation, care & benefits of Mentha spicata

Edward
Edward
Edward
Edward

With a passion for growing installed at an early age, I have always been happiest outdoors in nature. After training as a professional gardener and horticultural therapist, I currently run horticultural therapy and community kitchen gardens in the UK, helping others access the many physical and mental health benefits of growing vegetables, fruit and plants.

Favourite fruit: apples and pears
Favourite vegetable: asparagus

Spearmint is a species of mint with a sweeter and milder taste than common peppermint. Read on to learn more about spearmint, its cultivation, propagation, and the best varieties.

Fresh green spearmint leaves on plant
Spearmint, also known as common mint or garden mint [Photo: Mikulas P / Shutterstock.com]

Spearmint is an easy herb to grow. It blooms from mid-summer onwards and has small flowers that are great for attracting bees and other pollinators.

Spearmint: origin and characteristics

Spearmint (Mentha spicata) is a perennial herb that originates from Europe and Asia and is commonly used as a flavouring in food and drink. Also known as common mint, lamb mint, or garden mint, spearmint is easy to grow and care for and will come back year after year.

Spearmint belongs to the Lamiaceae family, along with lavender (Lavandula), lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), thyme (Thymus vulgaris), and lots of other mint varieties. Mint has been grown and used for centuries and is now found in everyday items including toothpaste and chewing gum. Spearmint plants are often compact, but some varieties can grow as big as a square metre. They have tall, upright square stems with green pointed and toothed leaves. From July onwards, spearmint plants begin to flower at the top of the stems, producing spikes of pale purple or blue blooms. Like other mints, spearmint is an invasive plant with a suckering habit and can spread easily if not prevented. If you are worried about it taking over, grow it in pots or containers to stop the roots from spreading.

If you are wondering whether to opt for spearmint or for peppermint, spearmint contains less menthol and thus has a lighter and almost sweet taste compared to peppermint. Other than that, they are very similar.

Mint plants growing in pots
Mint is often grown in pots to contains its roots [Photo: Irina Shatilova/ Shutterstock.com]

The best spearmint varieties

As well as classic spearmint, you might want to grow these popular types:

Moroccan Mint (Mentha spicata var. crispa ‘Moroccan’): As its name suggests, Moroccan mint originates from North Africa, and is commonly used to make mint tea. With its strong flavour and scent, it is also used for mint sauce to accompany lamb dishes. Moroccan mint is a compact variety growing to only 60cm tall and is nice to grow near to your back door so you can easily pick from it.

Curly spearmint (Mentha spicata var. crispa): Curly mint appears slightly different to other spearmints due to its thick stems and wide and curled leaves. Its strong stems are often used in cocktails as stirrers with its decorative foliage, or to make tea. Slightly larger than Moroccan mint, it can spread to a square metre in the right conditions and is a great addition to a herb garden.

Strawberry mint (Mentha spicata subsp. citrata ‘Strawberry’): Strawberry mint is another compact variety that smells and tastes of spearmint, but with a hint of strawberry. Great in both cold and hot drinks, strawberry mint can also be used in desserts.

A glass of mint tea
Mint is often grown to make mint tea [Photo: Bartosz Luczak/ Shutterstock.com]

Growing spearmint from seed

Mint plants are often readily available to buy during the growing season, but you can also grow them from cuttings and seed.

Mint seeds of all varieties can be sown from early spring until early summer. To grow spearmint from seed, prefill a seed tray or pot with a free-draining seed sowing compost, such as our Plantura Organic Herb & Seedling Compost. Slightly dampen the soil and sow the seed thinly on the surface without covering.

Organic Herb & Seedling Compost, 20L
Organic Herb & Seedling Compost, 20L
  • Perfect for herbs as well as sowing, propagating & transplanting
  • For aromatic herbs & healthy seedlings with strong roots
  • Peat-free & organic soil: CO2-saving composition

Spearmint seeds require a temperature of 21 to 24°C to germinate. You can either use a propagator or place the seed tray on a sunny window sill enclosed in a clear plastic bag. Keep the soil moist throughout. Spearmint seeds usually take one to three weeks to germinate, after which you can grow them on until they can be planted out.

Summary:

  • Sow seed onto the surface of damp seed compost and keep at 21 to 24°C
  • Keep the soil moist and once large enough, prick out and pot on individually
  • Grow on and plant out when all risk of frost has passed
A spearmint plant in flower
After mint flowers it can be cut back to stimulate new growth [Photo: olenaa/ Shutterstock.com]

Tip: Even though propagating spearmint by seed is possible, cross pollination of nearby varieties occurs regularly and can affect the following generation. If possible, propagate spearmint by cuttings and division instead, using the same kind of soil.

Plant care

Once the seedlings have grown into young plants, pot them on using a richer soil such as our Plantura Organic All Purpose Compost. When the risk of frost has passed, you can move them outdoors.

If you grow spearmint in pots long term, refresh the soil every year and feed the plants with a balanced slow-release fertiliser, such as our Plantura All Purpose Plant Food, once per year.

All Purpose Plant Food, 1.5kg
All Purpose Plant Food, 1.5kg
  • Perfect for a variety of plants in the garden & on the balcony
  • Promotes healthy plant growth & an active soil life
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Whether growing spearmint plants on a windowsill or outside, watering spearmint is a key part of its care. Even though mint thrives during the warmer months in full sun, it still requires a moist soil. Water it whenever the top inch or so of soil has dried out. This is especially important whilst mint plants establish and during hot weather. If you grow spearmint in pots, regular watering will be even more crucial, as mint grown in pots or containers have less soil and therefore dry out quicker.

That said, spearmint dislike their roots sitting in waterlogged soil, especially during the colder months. To avoid this, place pots and containers on feet to ensure that any excess water can drain and avoid leaving potted mint plants outside in heavy rain.

Once spearmint plants have flowered, they can become leggy and lose their flavour. After flowering, cut plants back to just above soil level. Water well or feed with a nitrogen-rich liquid fertiliser, such as our Plantura Liquid Flower Food, to stimulate new growth. With the right conditions, you can harvest and enjoy spearmint from spring until late autumn.

Is spearmint frost hardy?

Spearmint is fully hardy, rated H7, and it can withstand the harshest UK winters and temperatures as low as -20°C.

A mint plant in winter
Mint is hardy, but may need protection from very low temperatures [Photo: Nazaruk Nazar / Shutterstock.com]

However, if extremely low temperatures are forecast, cover spearmint plants in the ground with a layer of fleece or compost. If container-grown, move to an unheated greenhouse.

Spearmint benefits and uses

Spearmint is widely used as it has a lighter and less intense flavour than peppermint. Spearmint tea is available in most supermarkets, but it tastes even better with fresh home-grown leaves. You can make your own mint sauce for lamb dishes using spearmint, or add some leaves to salads or pasta dishes for a refreshing taste.

A jar of mint sauce
Mint sauce is used for may culinary uses, such as mint sauce [Photo: Africa Studio / Shutterstock.com]

The benefits of spearmint have been known since Roman times. Drinking spearmint tea and eating the leaves has long been used to treat digestive issues. Spearmint oil, which can be harvested from the leaves, is also readily available to purchase for culinary uses and to use in a diffuser.

When diffused, spearmint oil produces a fresh and delicate aroma, which is said to help the mind focus and help with respiratory conditions, such as the common cold.

Home-grown herbs are a highlight in the kitchen. Check out our collection of in-depth articles for more tips on growing your own herbs.

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