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Growing Mint
How to keep mint growing in a pot

This article talks about growing mint by cutting / striking / cloning. There are many types of mint. The mint mentioned here is shown in the picture. Perhaps it is "common" type with scientific name Mentha cordifolia. Its leaf is in egg shape with obtuse tip. Its stem cut surface is in square shape. Even this type further breaks down to two sub-types: green stem or purple stem.

Mint leaves can be used in a many ways, such as for garnishing, to make mint soup (or soap), to be added into drinking water and watermelon or to make mint sauce. Eating mint can alleviate stomach trouble. Rubbing some mint leaves on the forehead may relieve headache. A flourishing pot of mint can be a decoration with nice smell too. Even pet dog or cat likes to munch on the mint sometimes. Maintaining the mint plants can be a good weekend activity. The point is it should be a household plant kept permanently.

Mint if planted on a ground instead of a pot, will keep growing by itself, probably due to having no space constraint for propagation of runners / stolons. However, the prerequisite is direct sunlight. If there is no access to direct sunlight, it is better not to try growing mint, regardless on the ground or in the pot. Without direct sunlight, it may survive for a few months but will die out eventually because the runners do not develop well to produce offspring.

Cutting
A cutting from a sprig that has three nodes.

Cutting

Mint stem contains a few nodes and one terminal bud. Each node has a pair of leaves. Terminal bud is the tip on top that contains typically two pairs of small new leaves. Root can grow from node.

To start growing mint, just utilize the sprigs of mint bought from the market. Make sure the sprigs are fresh when buying. The cutting / clipping should contain at least two nodes with healthy leaves. Leave one larger leaf near the terminal bud intact as a indicator on how well the cutting will be doing when rooting and as a food source for the cutting. It will be easier for the cutting to grow if the terminal bud at the tip of the stem are left intact. The two nodes at the bottom will be used for rooting. Do not hesitate to cut away nodes without leaves or with yellow / dead leaves because possibly the nodes are too old to root. Preferably the cut should be just above the node to be left behind instead of just below the bottommost node of a cutting. By doing this, there is a bit more stem reserve of food to be converted to energy for the rooting. Pinch away leaves for the kitchen. It is faster to pick the leaves with finger than to snip them. Avoid hurting the nodes when clearing the leaves. If the big leaves are not cleared away, the cutting may lose moisture fast by evaporation through the leaves and may not survive.

Roots
A rooted cutting.

Rooting (or rotting?)

In order for rooting to happen, avoid rotting to happen before rooting by ensuring everything is clean. Just utilize anything suitable at home to contain the water without buying new vessels. Cut the lower tip of the cutting and immediately after cutting stand the cutting in clean drinkable water. The cut should be neat so do not use blunt scissors. The scissors can be sterilized if possible. Ensure that the cutting is clean (without dirt etc). All available nodes should be below water surface so that if one node does root, the other node may. Put all nodes to work by not letting some nodes be idle. Try prevent submerged nodes from exposure to light to encourage rooting, for example by using small dark glass bottle if available. Rooting powder is not required. Willow water helps rooting but it is not needed if it is not readily available. Avoid scorching hot sunlight so that the cutting does not dry up as it cannot absorb water fast without root. However, light and heat stimulate rooting so bright indirect sunlight is needed. Change the water periodically, daily if possible, so that the water stays clean. It will be easier to change water if all cuttings are put in one single vessel. Examine sign of rooting after one week. They are ready for potting when their root is visible. In a batch of cutting, even if only one cutting roots, all cuttings can be potted. By waiting for the cutting to root in the water, cuttings that do not root can be screened out before potting.

If one feels that it is troublesome to wait for rooting, of course it can be skipped. However, still stand the cuttings in water for at least one hour for them to absorb water. Clearing the leaves for kitchen for a batch of springs takes some time so the cuttings can be dehydrated. When they are stiff, that means they have absorbed enough water. Make the soil wet. Pot by taking the cuttings one by one from water so that the cuttings remain hydrated. After potting, put the pot at a spot where there is direct sunlight only in early morning. Cuttings may not survive if there is no direct sunlight at all. Once the cuttings start the grow strong, the pot can have direct sunlight all day long.

Pot
A wide pot.

Potting

Choose a wide pot instead of deep pot so that mint runners will have space to propagate. Mint roots do not need to go deep so it is a waste to use deep pot. The soil should have good drainage. Drainage can be improved by mixing the soil with fine sand. The fine sand should not be from beach because it contains salt that will kill the plant. Water the soil if the it looks dry. Plant the rooted cutting in the soil with two nodes in the soil. The rooted cutting should be planted immediately after taken out of water otherwise the root may dry up. Avoid direct sunlight for the first 12 hours so it is better to do the planting at dusk. Water the plant daily. If the soil is wet for the day, do not water it otherwise the cuttings may die. Fertilize it fortnightly with non-chemical fertilizer. Loosen the soil quarterly.

Some cuttings may not grow and that is alright and natural. If every twig that drops on the ground does not rot, there will be no nutrient in the soil for plants to grow.

Keep growing

After a few weeks of growing, the cutting will finally become a plant with many stems. When each stem has a few nodes with healthy leaves, it is time to harvest by cutting the stems. Leave the nodes with obvious axillary buds (having tiny leaves) on the plant because those buds will grow into new stems. When cutting a stem, leave one node with healthy leaves on the plant because two axillary buds may develop into two branches. For a stem with blossom at the tip, the blossom should be snipped away otherwise the cutting will not grow. If the stem is not pruned, it will grow too long and topple. Toppling stems looks less prettier.

When the mint is planted in a pot, do not expect that one time of planting lasts for a long time. The stems if not harvested will finally get old and die because nutrient cannot be channeled to the tip of the stem due to long stem. If this happens, the purpose of growing mint for consumption is defeated. When the stems get old and wither, the pot of mint does not look pretty. A lush pot of mint shrub has aesthetic value.
Posted: 2013-08-05; updated: 2014-02-06 by Ong Seng Aun.
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