Advice on Mint Selection for Edible Landscaping and Spa Products Projects
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Martine Liguori
Posted on: July 02, 2005

We have two projects going. The second one will only start 2 years from now (the actual buildings are going to go up first before the landscape): it will be large acreage dedicated to edible landscaping. It will be in zone 8a, very alkaline soil. Large deer population. Our goal will be to landscape, produce healthy and abundant food for hotel guests and produce healthy spa like products: herb teas, iced, flavored water to drink; soaking and rubbing concoctions. We have plenty of space for experimentation and thank you for your extraordinary web site.

The alkaline soil and the large deer population could both be problems. A soil pH over 8 could inhibit mint; and although mints are considered deer-tolerant, they will perish if the grazing pressure is too high. A large deer population can destroy just about anything.

Our second project is in zone 9, 1/3 acre; we shall plant it Sept 15-October 1, 2005. I originally considered using ground cover substitute for lawns: dymondia, Scleranthus Biflorus (Australian astroturf), Elfin thyme. Cotula Squalida green and atropurpurea, as the job was supposed to go in July 1st, so I was just ready to grab locally grown flats and jumbo packs of ground covers.

Now that the planting was delayed until the fall, I returned to my long term goal which is working with you as a resource.

I previously, about 2 years ago, had consulted your hard copy catalogue. You had about 60 varieties of mint listed, probably as 4" plants. I just looked at your web site and still need to look at your very first entry: catalogue. In the trays of plugs, you had about 21 varieties of mint listed. Only a few gave the finished height of the variety. You listed a hybridizer (Jim W..) and you had several of his creations which had experienced crop failure.

We have an online herb growing database which gives such details as height and spread of most of our plants and seeds. You can search by common name, latin name or catalogue number. Please see:

http://www.richters.com/show.cgi?page=./InfoSheets/webbase.html

Please note that the potted plants we ship are in 2-1/2 inch square pots. Customers who shop in person at our facility get larger plants -- 3-1/2 inch square pots -- for the same price. In the case of mint, a 2-1/2 inch pot -- or a one inch plug for that matter -- will soon catch up to a 3-1/2 inch plant once planted in the garden. By the second year you will not see much difference between the two.

You list that mint should stay moist, or develop otherwise yellow leaves. But your information is for growers. You say to rotate the crop every two to three years to avoid soil diseases. But what if you just planted the mint and just left it there to be happy and grow as it pleases (cement borders delineate the area). This would give me the opportunity to test the mints for looks, disease resistance, taste, flavor.

The information in the growers section of our website is indeed meant for commercial growers. Their interests are, of course, to maximize yields, minimize costs, and maximize profits. Commercial growers typically do not keep mint fields for more than a few years because yields gradually decline after 3-4 years. Because the buildup of disease is a problem in mints, crop rotation is strongly recommended.

However, if you are happy with moderate yields, you could keep mint fields (or patches in your case) longer. If your patches are weeded and thinned out, and are fertilized once a year with well-rotted manure, you can keep your patches going for many years. The main problems are overcrowded roots and depleted soil fertility -- both of which contribute to the disease problem.

For the varieties of mint for which you experienced crop failures, when it the next timing where you will have a second chance; it is crop failure of the Mother plants or a temporary crop failure of your cuttings productions which, as you state in your web site, has a very fast turn around production time table.

It can be both. There are several mints that will be unavailable this year because of problems with mother plants. But mostly "crop failure" indicates a crop was late or failed at any number of stages from cuttings to finishing in pots. Depending on the variety, we may or may not replant a variety that is in crop failure -- it depends on the expected demand. Some varieties sell better than others and they will be replanted. But if you are looking for large numbers of plants we will replant if we have an order and we have adequate mother plant material for cuttings.

I would use the mint in the areas where I need a low border. For the lawns per se, you used to have in your paper catalogue a whole section on your specially hybridized very short thyme. You also mention in your web site the lemon carpet thyme. You do list the Penny Royal mint. Could you please recommend other very short ground covers that can be used as a lawn substitute and ideally be also water thrifty?

A "low" border can mean two inches or 24 inches depending on who is talking! There are only two mints that can be called ground hugging: our new ‘Spice Ball’ mint and our carpet pennyroyal. Even they will throw up the odd shoot above 4 inches at times and it will be necessary to cut if you want a neat low lawn. The regular pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium) starts out low the first year, but in the second and subsequent years it will reach 24 inches or more. The regular pennyroyal has the advantage, though, that it can be grown from seeds while most other mints cannot.

I am partial to common yarrow as a lawn substitute. It is extremely hardy, not invasive, has beautiful soft foliage, forms very tight patches that resists weed infestation, tolerates cutting (albeit at a higher height than grass), is much more drought tolerant than grass or other herbs, and can be raised from seeds which are relatively inexpensive (by herb standards), and seeds are abundantly available. It will need cutting -- though not as much as grass. The only serious drawback is that when it does try to go to flower it can produce thick stems that are uncomfortable to walk on when cut. But if it is kept cut the stems are not that bad to walk on.

Another option is english chamomile, the non-flowering variety of roman chamomile. It is a hardy perennial and can be raised from seeds, but like the mints it is not as drought tolerant as yarrow is. It is also not quite as hardy but in your zones 8 and 9 this should not be a problem.

For taller plants needs, I could use another of your products: The Berkeley botanical garden has a lovely set-up: their rose garden is blanketed with Hidcote lavender and you do provide plugs of said lavender.

So 1) could you provide me with the height of the mints that you grow in plug trays (128/120 plugs). Among the 21 mints available in trays, which ones would you specially recommend and which ones do you think I should stay away from for use as a permanent planting. I assume that when I go to your catalogue, I shall find available in 4" the other 60 mints that you listed thus 60-21=39 other options. Any recommendation here of the ones to be sure to grab and the ones to stay away from?

This not easy to answer because just about any mint can be useful in the right situation. Given that you want mints for edible landscaping and spa products, I would focus on those that best fit the expected uses. Some varieties I would be sure to grab on this basis are: peppermint, improved spearmint, english mint, orange mint, scotch spearmint. Others I would take a good look at are silver mint, ‘Sweet pear’ mint, banana mint, and ‘Marilyn’s Salad’ mint.

Thank you for your help and congratulations for developing such a vibrant and useful enterprise.

Glad to be a help to you.

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