Splitting Mint

First a word of warning, never plant mint in an open border. You may think that you have a plant in your borders at the moment that is 'a bit of a thug' but mint will beat the living daylights out of it. At our old house, Drovers, our neighbour planted mint in a border by his car, he wanted a low maintenance plant, the mint ate his car. That's how tough mint is. It will grow in any soil, I have seen it romp through gravel and through brickwork. This is down to a voracious fleshy root system that expands, this is a rhizome system or in lay terms, they send out shed loads of runners in every direction. You need a barrier to stop them taking over your borders and the best way to do that is to plant them in a pot and nowhere near your favourite border. Mint in a pot will quickly become pot bound after three-four years, and the first sign of that is a bald patch in the centre of the pot. Like most perennials, our Garden Mint (Mentha spicata) now needs splitting up and this is the ideal time of year to do this. It's always good practice to go through your pots in spring, get the root balls out and check for any diseases or pests. Vine weevil is a common pest nowadays in pots, a maggot like grub with an orange head, it munches through your roots and the best way to combat these is with nematodes or spend an afternoon picking them out the root ball. There is a perverse sense of satisfaction in putting the little buggers on the bird table. Your mint may look like this at the moment. Can you see that bald centre?


Time to tip the lot out of the pot. You don't have to be delicate getting the mint out of the pot. I just turn it upside down into a trug, you can see in the photo below how rampant the roots are and why it needs to be contained. Just one piece of the root accidentally dropped into a border will create a host of sweet smelling runners trampling over your border and you will have a new mint patch. So, be careful when splitting mint up and make sure before you use the trug again that you have no roots left behind.

Mint roots

Mint is easy to split with a garden trowel, knife or secateurs. I tend to opt for a trowel and secateurs, the latter for thicker roots. Knives are great for cutting roots but I have had some nasty cuts in the past and age brings wisdom if not fear of slicing off a finger. I plan to split this root ball into four parts, that will make four reasonable sized plants that will have plenty of room to spread. I have two mint pots in the herb garden and I will get eight plants in total. The other six I will be using in the potager.

Splitting mint

Garden Mint, Life on Pig Row

Planting mint up after splitting up a larger plant is easy, take one of the clumps and place back into the original pot then top up with gritty compost, it doesn't need rich compost to get going, make sure as you fill the plant pot that the top of the root ball is level with the final soil level. You can see this in the final photo below.

Mint planting


Now the mint has room to expand again and in another four years I will have more plants for using or swapping with others. It's then a matter of watering in and placing in the sunshine. Mint loves the sun and is drought tolerant to an extent but don't forget that any plant in a pot is reliant on you to keep care of it. This is especially true with any plant you have split in spring, so water them weekly, a good soak will do until the water pours out the bottom of the pot. You can then use your new plants in pots around the garden or in window boxes. Mint is great for bees when it flowers and tastes great with yoghurt and cucumber. Just make sure you place your mint somewhere you can brush up against as you pass so it can release its heady scent. 

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