GROWING MINTS FROM SEED. Yes or no.
Actually growing the seeds is not usually a problem. Mint seeds, while
often slow to germinate, usually grow fairly quickly and easily.
The problem is what plant you will get from the seed.
There are HUGE number of plants in the mint family and many of them are
really happy to cross breed. If there was a category for promiscuous plants
then mint would be right up there at the top of the list. Some species
just don't care who they mate with. So if you have another type of mint
or even a wild mint growing near your mint bed then the pollen is bound
to find its way by one insect or another to your prize mint bed. The mint
does not care it will produce seed with any old wild boy. Thus when you
come to plant the seeds you can get all sorts of results.
So is buying mint seed a waste of time?
Yes and No. It going to depend in several different factors.
Some mints, like mountain mint, don't cross pollinate easily. They -
like a lot of plants - are just fussy about who they mate with. We have
been growing mountain mint for many years, and testing the seeds, we get
the same thing every time. Good for mountain mint.
Other mints are not so fussy. After all its how we got some of our mints
in the first place because they cross bred with something else. However
you can make it so you do get good seed.
The grower has to ensure that there are no other forms of mint that the
plants can cross pollinate with within the radius that the insects will
fly. This is not easy but it is doable. These mints would include peppermint,
spearmint, chocolate mint and other such mints, they all look very similar
and its not until you taste it that you can tell what kind it is. They
will cross breed with each other and many of the wild mints that are far
more common than most people realize.
So if I buy peppermint seed from a reputable dealer I will get peppermint
Sort of. Mints have a lot of chromosomes and so you can get a lot of diversity.
From a good dealing hopefully most of the plants you grow will be peppermint
however some might not taste quite the same and some may be horrible no
matter what the seed.
To create the best 'true' seed - which due to genetic diversity in these
mints is never going to be fully 'true' the grower would need to have
his plants growing in very large plots totally away (meaning several miles)
from any other form of mint to prevent cross pollination. This would mean
one of those huge monoculture areas where nothing else growing but the
mint crop for miles. To do this they would need to be in an isolated area
with no other mint plants growing anywhere near them. Wild mints are pretty
common and can grow in hedgerows, wild areas, abandoned gardens or even
out of the sidewalk. They are darn tough. Its very hard to get a mint
to be isolated from all other sources.
Young peppermint leaves
So growing mint from seed is a bust?
NO! It a matter of numbers. If you buy a packet of mint seeds you are
going to get a lot of seed. Mint seeds are very tiny, our small packets
are about 275 seeds. So when you sow them you are going to get a lot of
plants. I am guessing that you don't need 250 mint plants unless you are
going into the mint business. But you still plant a lot of seeds SOME
of those plants that develop will be perfect peppermint (or spearmint
or whatever mint) plants that you want. The rest you just throw away.
Is growing from seed cost effective?
Yes! If you buy a packet of mint seeds for say $2.50 you get 275 seeds.
Mint seeds usually germinate pretty well so even if you only get half
come up (which is unlikely) you will end up with more than 130 plants.
Most likely you are only going to need one or two plants as mint will
spread out well once established. So now you taste test each of the mint
plants you have grown and choose the ones that taste as you want them.
You are bound to have at least a few that taste the way you want them
too. You may even find something that you like better. Its like Forest
Gump said 'you never know what your gonna get'. Whatever you end up with
its cheaper than buying one plant at the store.
But store bought plants are cuttings right?
Maybe, but in most cases no. Checking around the commercial seed catalogs
there are a lot of companies offering peppermint and spearmint seeds,
and they offer them year after year. They would not be doing that unless
the growers were buying them. We bought some and tried out our theory
and even with their seed only a some of the tasted like we expected peppermint
or spearmint to be. Some were horrible and some were, well, interesting.
Today plants for garden centers are grown by specialist growers. These
companies have specialized growing facilities in greenhouses that can
cover tens of acres and all they do is start seeds and grow little plants
that they then sell to garden centers. These centers either buy very small
plants and grow them on themselves then sell to you, or they buy slightly
bigger plants and sell them on immediately. Very few garden centers grow
their own seeds any more its not cost effective. The price of plants has
not gone up much with inflation and the margins these people work on is
very very small. So they are now grown on a production line crop, it's
the only way that anyone can make a profit from growing seedlings. There
are a couple specialist growers near our farm with over 15 acres of greenhouses
and all they do is grow little seedlings for garden centers. Ever wondered
where all those little plants are your garden center came from? Well now
Some mints have small fairly insignificant flowers
How can a tell a seedling from a cutting?
That's not easy. In most cases you cant. When the plant is very small
with just a small thin stem and a few leaves in as small diameter pot
then its going to be a seedling. Once that plant gets bigger in a 4-6
inch pot (10 - 15cm) or more its pretty well established and there is no way
to tell if its from a cutting or not.
Check the root ball. Take the plant out of the pot if necessary but most
often just turn it upside down and see if the roots are coming out of
the pot. Good rooted cuttings will have thicker stems and well developed
root balls. Seedlings often have not filled out the pots with roots.
Don't trust the label. It wont usually tell you if it's a cutting but
even if it does that does not mean its true, there is no law to stop the
grower from saying it's a cutting even if it's a seed. Most likely the
growers are doing exactly what I just described and sowing seeds then
tossing the ones that don't taste right, if they even do that. There are
too many seed companies selling mint seeds for this not to be true.
Always taste test the plants before you buy them.
It comes down to you and taste. . Always taste test your mint before you
buy it. Buy in the spring when the phytochemicals that give mint its flavor
are the strongest so you get a good idea of how it will taste. Don't just
taste one plant, taste test several, maybe even from several different
markets until you are happy with the taste. IF you don't how one tastes
then don't buy it. Keep tasting until you are happy with the plant. Just
don't take too much off any plant or the garden centers wont like you.
You need to make your own judgment. Its going to be down to, do you like
the taste is it what you want. (this applies to other herbs too especially
tarragon where most 'French' tarragon is not really its Russian).
Other mints have larger more showy flowers like this spearmint.
But I just want one plant!
Then get one from a good garden center. Just make sure you test it first.
Some places do have plants that are grown from cuttings, there are companies
that sell cuttings for these growers to root and sell on. However these
are far fewer than those raising seed.
For everyone else, buy some seed and pick your own its more fun, you
get the same results and it's a lot cheaper. Don't be afraid to throw
out a plant, growers toss hundreds of plants every year. Don't feel like
you have to save them all. You pull up weeds with impunity just think
of these are more weeds. Find a mint you like and enjoy it. You may find
you enjoy it more because you had to 'discover' it yourself and your mint
is genetically unique to you.
How Floral Encounters grows mint.
We grow several different kinds of mint but the only two promiscuous ones
we grow are spearmint and peppermint. - We tried growing chocolate mint
too but that really messed with the other two so we ripped it out. - These
two we have placed at opposite ends of our farm to maximize the distance
between them and prevent cross pollination. While its not impossible for
bees to fly between the two and pollinate both its unlikely as they tend
to be lazy and work only one patch at a time. We also try to ensure that
there are no wild mints growing on our property however we cannot ensure
that there are none growing outside the farm especially since we back
onto a wildlife management area. That area however is pretty wooded and
not the ideal place for wild mints to grow.
So does that mean that all our seeds will be true to type? No. As stated
above mints have a pretty large gene pool and they do like to express
it in different ways. Not all the plants that arise will taste totally
peppermint or totally spearmint there are going to be things in between
and some that are darn nasty. That is going to be the case no matter what
mint seed you purchase is just genetic diversity which mint is very keen
on expressing. So grow what you like and toss the rest.
Peppermint info and seeds
Spearmint info and seeds
Mountain mint info and seeds