Mint is an aromatic, tasty herb that is easy to grow and popular for it’s culinary and medicinal uses. While it can be grown as a perennial, many gardeners choose to grow mint as an annual, harvesting the leaves throughout the growing season. Learning the proper techniques for harvesting mint helps ensure healthy, bushy plants that will continue producing abundantly all season long.
Selecting the Right Variety
When planting mint, there are a few key varieties that are best for harvesting:
Spearmint is the most common culinary variety. It has a sweet, sharp flavor that is widely used for teas, jellies, desserts and meat dishes. Spearmint tends to grow vigorously but stays lower to the ground, making it easier to harvest.
With it’s high menthol content, peppermint has a stronger, cooler flavor than spearmint. It is used for candies, teas and medicinal purposes. Peppermint grows rapidly upright, so it can grow quite tall between cuttings.
As the name suggests, chocolate mint has an intense minty flavor with delicious undertones of chocolate. It can be used either dried or fresh to add flavor to drinks and desserts. Chocolate mint remains short and compact.
Orange mint combines the fresh taste of mint with a citrusy twist. It is delightful in fruit salads, summer beverages and anything that could use a little tang. Orange mint stays bushy when harvested correctly.
Subtly sweet apple mint can spice up soups, salads, punch, jellies and more. It’s round, soft leaves stay neat and tidy when harvested by the guidelines in this article.
Getting Ready To Harvest
To get your mint plants ready for their first harvest, there are a few important steps:
Let It Establish
After transplanting new mint plants into the garden, allow 4-6 weeks for the root system to establish before beginning to harvest. Attempting to harvest too early could stunt the plant’s growth.
Prune Early & Often
Pinch or snip off any flowers buds you notice to encourage more leaf production. Frequent tip pruning will also prevent plants from setting seed and developing tough, bitter leaves later in the season.
Harvest Before Flowering
For the best flavor and texture, always harvest leaves before plants begin flowering. Once flowers emerge, leaves tend to be tougher and less flavorful. Timely harvesting prevents this.
When To Harvest Mint
Harvesting mint at the right time is key to getting the most out of your plants:
Spring & Early Summer
The period just before flowering is when mint leaves contain the highest concentrations of aromatic oils that give them their distinctly bright flavor. Frequent cutting during spring and early summer encourages tender new growth.
For maximum flavor and fragrance, harvest mint in the morning after any dew has dried but before the midday heat. The essential oils in the leaves will be most concentrated early in the day.
While not ideal, mint can still be harvested after flowering begins by cutting stems above the lowest set of leaves or pinching off flowers. Avoid taking more than 1/3 of the plant when harvesting after flowering has commenced.
How Often To Harvest Mint
Ideally, mint should be harvested multiple times through the growing season. Here are some harvesting guidelines:
Every 3-4 Weeks
For strong, healthy plants, pinch, snip or cut back mint stems every 3-4 weeks during the peak growing season. Frequent harvesting prevents flowering and encourages the growth of new leaves.
1/3 of Branches At A Time
Never harvest more than 1/3 of the total plant branches at one time. Removing more can stunt plants. Allow at least 2 weeks of growth before taking another 1/3 of branches.
Last Harvest After First Frost
Mint is hardy enough that harvesting can typically continue 1-2 weeks after the first light autumn frost. After a hard freeze, leaves quickly turn black and lose flavor. Use or preserve leaves promptly after late-season harvests.
How to Cut Mint
Over time, mint plants tend to grow woody stems with leaves concentrated on the tops. Periodic cutting encourages tender new basal growth:
Cut Stems to Soil Level
Using clean, sharp garden shears or scissors, cut mint stems down to soil level. Make cuts at an angle to allow moisture to drain off cut ends.
Cut No More Than 1/3 Branches
Taking no more than 1/3 of total branches per harvest prevents shocking plants and avoids bare patches. Space cuttings evenly throughout the mint bed.
Make Cuts Just Above Leaf Nodes
New stems and leaves will emerge from leaf nodes on cut stems. Trim just above nodes to encourage optimal regrowth. Removing extra stem above nodes also improves air circulation.
Remove Old Wood Growth
Every few years, cut away and discard very old, thick woody stems to stimulate the emergence of younger, tender new shoots from root system.
Harvesting Mint Leaves and Stems
In addition to cutting back whole stems, mint’s tasty leaves and tender top stems can also be harvested throughout the season:
Pluck Individual Leaves
Gather leaves as needed from the tops of stems or pinch off sprigs from various points on the plant. Remove no more than 1/3 of the leaves at a time and alternate harvesting locations.
Use Sharp Bypass Pruners
Tender top stems can be selectively harvested to use fresh or preserved. Make cuts with clean, sharp bypass hand pruners, snipping stems just above key leaf nodes.
Leave Lower Leaves
When harvesting top leaves and stems, always leave the lowest 2-3 sets of leaves on each stem untouched. These continue producing energy to fuel regrowth.
Harvest Early, Harvest Often
Snipping only the top leaves and stems encourages lush, ongoing growth. Harvesting frequently ensures a steady supply of the most flavorful leaves.
Maintaining Flavor & Texture
There are some key factors that affect mint’s characteristic flavor, fragrance and texture:
Never Harvest Wet Plants
Moisture sitting on leaves promotes rot, disease and bitterness. Always wait until after the morning dew has fully evaporated before harvesting.
Harvest Before Heat Sets In
For best flavor, harvest mint leaves early in the day before high heat and full sun has peaked. Intense midday sun degrades mint’s aromatic qualities.
Preserve Quickly After Picking
To retain flavor and color at their freshest, preserve leaves promptly after harvest using freezing, air-drying or another method.
Once plants begin budding in midsummer, leaves often take on a bitter taste. Minimize bitterness by pruning flowering stems promptly upon noticing buds.
What To Do After Harvesting Mint
With proper care after cutting back mint for harvest, plants will continue thriving:
To support active regrowth, water freshly cut mint plants thoroughly immediately after harvesting stems or leaves.
Apply Organic Fertilizer
Feed plants with an organic nitrogen-rich fertilizer or compost tea a week after harvest to fuel the growth of tender new leaves.
Monitor for Pests
Removing 1/3 of mint branches at a time keeps plants lush but avoids creating bare patches very attractive to pests. Check frequently for aphids, spider mites or signs of disease when regrowing harvested plants. Apply organic treatments promptly if issues arise.
Weed & Mulch
Keep beds free of weeds to eliminate competition for nutrients and water. Apply fresh compost or wood chip mulch around plants as needed to help retain soil moisture and suppress additional weeds.
What to Do with a Mint Harvest
The aromatic leaves and stems of homegrown mint have countless uses for culinary, medicinal and other purposes:
Chop or tear mint leaves to add instantly to cold drinks, fruit or green salads, soups, lamb dishes, jellies, desserts and more. The flavor and aroma of just-harvested leaves is unmatched.
Place washed sprigs or leaves loosely in a single layer on trays or mesh racks out of direct light. Air drying retains color and seals in essential oils beautifully. Store dried leaves to use all year long.
A quick and reliable way to preserve harvested mint at it’s peak is by freezing chopped leaves in water in ice trays or freezer bags. Frozen mint retains flavor and freshness for excellent teas, cocktails and recipes into the winter months.
Infuse Vinegar or Oil
Steep fresh mint sprigs and leaves in vinegars or oils to impart their essence beautifully. Mint vinegars make tasty salad dressings, marinades and herbal sauces while mint oil shines in desserts, beverages and quiet literally, everything.
Pour boiling water over fresh leaves and steep for 5-7 minutes for fresh mint tea. Or brew tea bundles with homegrown air-dried or frozen mint leaves for a warming cup of tea anytime.
Create Mint Extract
Blend fresh leaves into alcohol or glycerin, then strain and decant the liquid to produce organic mint extract to flavor all kinds of baked goods, beverages and more.
So in a nutshell, harvesting homegrown mint is very rewarding, with so many possibilities for enjoying your flavorful leaves and stems. Follow these simple guidelines for when and how to cut back your plants correctly. Then use your harvest promptly to make the most of mint’s aromatic compounds that imbue incredible, refreshing flavor into endless culinary and medicinal preparations.
Avoid harvesting mint immediately after transplanting new plants. Allow 4-6 weeks for the root system to establish first. Also do not harvest if plants are wet from rain or dew since excess moisture promotes disease.
Cut mint carefully with clean, sharp bypass pruners or garden shears, trimming stems diagonally just above leaf nodes. Leave lowest 2-3 sets of leaves intact on each stem and avoid taking more than 1/3 of branches per harvest. Removing too much plant matter at once can injure or kill mint.
Absolutely. In fact, harvesting mint frequently and consistently encourages more tender new growth and better leaf production over a longer period of time. Aim to cut established mint plants back by 1/3 every 3-4 weeks during peak growing seasons.
If not harvested regularly, mint will focus energy on flowering and seed production rather than leaf growth. This leads to woody stems, tougher leaves and reduced flavor. Unchecked plants also spread rapidly and can take over garden beds.
Yes. It’s best to pinch off any mint flowers as soon as you notice them forming. Removing flowers encourages lush foliar growth instead of allowing the plant’s energy to be diverted into seed production.