Harvest, take pleasure in mint from the backyard | Existence

Add a cool taste to your drinks, meals and desserts this summer with home-grown mint. Try using peppermint leaves in fruit cocktails and ice cream. Add spearmint to your tea or use the leaves to flavor lamb and jelly. Or try chocolate mint for a unique, sweet and refreshing taste in desserts and drinks.

Mint is easy to grow and suitable for container gardens. In fact, growing them in a pot helps keep this powerful herb at bay. Or sink a container of mint in the garden or plant it where surrounding paths and walls keep it in check. Keep a close eye and remove any unwanted plants as they appear.

Grow mint in full sun to partial shade with moist, well-drained soil. Mulch the soil to save moisture. Although it’s hardy in zones 3 through 11, you need to provide some winter protection when growing mint in containers in colder regions. Either sink the container into an open space in the garden or place the planter in an unheated garage. Water thoroughly when the earth is thawed and dry.

Gardeners who lack space outdoors or in areas with cold winters can grow this herb indoors as well. Grow mint in high-quality, well-drained potting soil. Place in a sunny window or under artificial light and keep the soil evenly moist.

Harvest the mint leaves as needed. Cut leafy stems from the plant just above a healthy leaf or bud to help the wound close faster and the remaining plant to look better. Rinse the clippings and remove hard stems and bad leaves before adding mint to your favorite drink or dish.

You can enjoy the most intense taste when you harvest mint just before the plants start to bloom. This is the best time to make larger crops for drying and freezing. Fortunately, you can remove up to 75% of the foliage from an established plant. Look for fresh new growth and continue harvesting as needed.

Keep any extra mint cuttings in a vase of water, cover them loosely with a plastic bag, and place them in the refrigerator.

Consider adding mint to your patio, balcony, or cover planting. Keeping it near the kitchen and outdoor living space makes it easy to harvest and use. Plus, your guests will enjoy plucking some fresh mint leaves to add to their iced tea, mojito, other favorite summer beverages or salads.

This easy-to-grow herb not only adds flavor, but also aids digestion. Add a garnish of mint to beautify the dessert plate and soothe a queasy stomach. And use it to increase the levels of manganese, vitamin C, and vitamin A in your diet.

Make this the year you plant, harvest, and enjoy the minty-fresh taste straight from the garden.

Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books including The Midwest Gardener’s Handbook and Small Space Gardening. She hosts the DVD series The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” and the nationally broadcast Melinda’s Garden Moment TV and radio program. Myers is a columnist and editor for Birds & Blooms magazine. Her website is www.MelindaMyers.com.

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