Can Mint Grow in the Shade? How Much Sun Does Mint Need?
Mint is a favorite of many gardeners because of how quickly it grows, and the many uses it brings. But just how much sun does mint actually need to grow? Can mint grow in the shade? In this article, gardening and flower expert Taylor Sievers answers these questions and more!
Mints are probably one of the most popular plants in an herb garden, and they’re also one of the most well-known flavorings for chewing gums, toothpastes, candies, and more! Plucking a handful of fresh leaves to mix with your lemonade in the hot summer or steeping the dried leaves in a warm cup of tea to soothe your throat in the winter are some true delights that every home gardener should experience.
You have the perfect spot in your garden picked out for your new planting of mint, but there’s just one problem—it’s a little on the shadier side. You find yourself asking, “Will my mint grow in this shady spot?”
There are a number of different growth factors that can impact how Mint will grow in your garden. This includes but isn’t limited to the amount of sunlight it gets. Read on to learn if these refreshing aromatic plants are a perfect fit for your garden!
Will Mint Grow in Shade?
Yes… and no. It is recommended that Mentha species are grown in full sun (6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight per day). Similar to how basil reacts in shady environments, mints can be grown in part shade, too (2 to 5 hours of direct sunlight per day).
This doesn’t mean you can’t experi-mint! Try growing mint in different spots in your garden to see what works best for you. You’ll likely be growing these aggressively spreading plants in pots, anyways, so moving them around the patio to find the best spot should be easy.
Mint Growth Requirements
When growing mint, there are several factors that come into play, not just sunlight. It can be an invasive but also fickle plant to get right, so it’s important to make sure all its needs are met. Let’s take a look at all the factors you’ll want to consider when growing mint in your garden.
Mints are herbaceous perennials in the Lamiaceae (mint) family. Most mints are hardy down to -20 degrees F. ‘Perennial’ means the plant will live beyond one year.
Sometimes the top growth of a perennial will die back after frost, but the roots will remain alive. Sometimes the top growth is “evergreen,” meaning the leaves and stems do not die back in the winter. Mint leaves are deciduous, meaning they will drop in the fall (unlike evergreen perennials). ‘Herbaceous’ implies that the stems are not woody.
In some areas, mints will need to be either brought inside or mulched heavily during the winter to survive, but they can also reseed themselves if you let them flower. You can start mint seeds indoors and plant the seedlings outside after your last estimated frost. They will be prolific and spread quickly by runners.
Mints are particularly hardy to cold temperatures, so they can be grown almost anywhere. They will tolerate winter temperatures down to -20 degrees F.
Mint prefers moist, well-draining soils. This means that the soil should be evenly moist most of the time, but not soggy. Well-draining soils are typically light soils with high amounts of sand or silt. Heavier soils (or soils with large amounts of clay) can be remediated by additions of organic matter (i.e. compost or well-rotted manure) to improve drainage qualities. Growing mint in a pot will also help promote drainage.
Mint loves moisture. A steady supply of water (1 to 2 inches per week) throughout the growing season is important but watch for signs of disease. Water the soil beneath the plant leaves rather than over the top of the leaves to reduce the prevalence of disease.
Mulching can help reduce water stress, as it reduces water evaporation from the soil surface. As long as the plants receive ample moisture, mulching may not be necessary. Another benefit to mulching, however, is that it can help suppress weed growth, and it may be necessary if you live in an area with exceptionally cold winter temperatures.
Pinching or Pruning
Mints are vigorous growers. It is important to clip back your mint periodically during the growing season to induce branching and growth of leaves from your mint plants, especially because you’ll likely want to harvest leaves rather than flowers.
In fact, your mints will grow best if they are cut back once or twice a season at least. If you allow your mint plant to flower, the oil content in the leaves can be severely diminished, though some sources claim that just as the plant is about to flower is when the leaves are at their highest oil content.
Mints will flower and can hybridize with other mint species easily. If you aren’t wanting your mint plants to flower and set seed, then you should keep them clipped back or harvested regularly.
One application of a well-balanced, slow-release fertilizer at the beginning of the growing season may be all you need for your mint plant. Another alternative is to mix compost into the soil when planting your mint, but overall fertility is not much of an issue for Mentha species. In fact, overapplication of fertilizer and overwatering can lead to the disease of rust or to reduced mint oil production.
Will mint spread in the garden?
Mint can spread either by underground stems, called rhizomes, or it can spread by creeping, horizontal stems (runners) that are called stolons. Because of these two characteristics, mints can rapidly take over an area if left unchecked.
Often people will plant mint in pots or even old large tires to keep it contained, but there’s no guarantee that your mint can’t escape. Be vigilant at cutting back your mint and uprooting new sprouts if you don’t want it to spread.
How do I know what type of mint I have?
All mint species will have a square (4-sided) stem, leaves arranged opposite of each other along the stem, a tell-tale “minty” fragrance when the leaves are crushed, and a terminal flower spike (“terminal” meaning at the end of the stem).
The flowers will range in color from white to pink to lavender, depending upon the species. However, mint will hybridize easily with other species of the mint family, so it can often be confusing to identify. In addition, you will notice that many garden centers may not label their plants in detail, and therefore the plant tag may just say “mint”.
The most common species of mint you will find are peppermint, spearmint, and apple mint. Of the three, apple mint has the largest leaves (wider) and is the lightest shade of green. They are often very soft to the touch (woolly), and the veins of the leaf are fairly prominent.
Spearmint leaves have a rough or wrinkly appearance due to the deeply-cut veins in the leaf that is usually about 1 to 3 inches long and less than an inch in width. The flowers range in color from pink to white.
Peppermint has the smallest leaves of the three, with leaves that are more lance-shaped and ranging in length from 1 to 3 inches and half as wide. The leaves are often smoother in appearance, though small hairs may be present on the underside of the leaf. Peppermint tends to be more dark green in appearance. The flowers range in color from pink to lavender.
What are the best garden vegetables to plant with mint?
Mint can be a great companion plant in the garden. Companion plants are those herbs, flowers, and vegetables that can benefit each other if planted together. They may improve the health or flavor of the other plant, or they may help repel certain pests that can destroy the companion.
Mints are excellent companion crops for tomatoes, cabbage, and peas. They are known to repel pests such as cabbage loopers, flea beetles, ants, squash bugs, and aphids. It can also repel rabbits, and other furry nuisances.
Does mint grow faster in shade or full sun?
Your mint plant will thrive in full sun (6 to 8+ hours of direct sunlight per day), however, they will grow in areas of part shade (2 to 5 hours of direct sunlight per day). While mints love the sun, if you live in an area of intense sun and dry soils, you may try growing mint in a shadier area that does not have such high evaporation. Mints love moist soils.
Mint is a must-have in an herb garden. It provides plenty of refreshing and soothing flavor it can provide to your supper dishes, iced beverages, and warm tea. Sometimes it’s just fun to pluck a leaf off and chew on it while you’re strolling through the garden.
Maybe you haven’t taken the leap of faith yet and purchased mint for your garden because you’re afraid you don’t have the right amount of light for mint to thrive. Never fear! As long as you have at least 2 hours or more of direct sunlight per day, you’re good to go.
As always with gardening, it’s good to experiment because your conditions may not be the same as your next-door neighbor. Regardless, don’t be afraid to pick up a mint plant next gardening season!