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Gardening 101: Mountain Mint

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Gardening 101: Mountain Mint

June 8, 2023

Mountain Mint, Pycnanthemum

It seems most of us gardeners love mint—as long as it’s in other people’s gardens, in tea, or in mixed drinks. In our own yards, plants from the Mentha genus—be it peppermint, spearmint, chocolate, or apple mint (yes, there’s a mint that has an apple scent)—all tend to spread beyond their allotted spot. Mint does this via underground runners and can easily take over an entire bed in just one season. Best then to grow it in a container.

Why even consider planting a mint in the garden given its aggressive behavior? Because there’s a mint that will respect your boundaries: mountain mint. If it spreads at all, it spreads very slowly, making it easy to rein it back in if it does stray. It has a long blooming season that lasts two to three months. It is a wonderful native source of nectar for pollinators. And it can crowd out weeds and stabilize hillsides.

Clustered mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum) is a superb pollinator-attracting plant. (It&#8\2\17;s also known as short-toothed mountain mint.) Photograph via Prairie Nursery.
Above: Clustered mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum) is a superb pollinator-attracting plant. (It’s also known as short-toothed mountain mint.) Photograph via Prairie Nursery.

There are about 20 types of mountain mint, mostly differentiated by the leaf shape, which ranges from heart shaped to needle shaped, with many shapes in between. Leaf color is dark green to silver green bracts at the flower heads. And like most mint family members, it has a square stem. Its compound round flower head has many tiny flowers, opening over the course of two to three months starting in June.

Mountain mint is not nearly as badly behaved as its mint cousins and, in fact, is one of the best plants to have in your garden if you want to attract pollinators. According to a 2013 Penn State study of flowering herbaceous perennial plant species, clustered mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum) attracted the most pollinators—over 78 insect visitors compared to the runner-up plant, gray goldenrod with 36 insects.

Cheat Sheet

Broad-leaved mountain mint (yet another name for cluster mountain mint) has attractive silvery leaves. Photograph by Dan Jaffe, from Wild Flower Society: \10 Outside-the-Box Native Plants.
Above: Broad-leaved mountain mint (yet another name for cluster mountain mint) has attractive silvery leaves. Photograph by Dan Jaffe, from Wild Flower Society: 10 Outside-the-Box Native Plants.
  • Flower color is mainly white; some varieties have pale pink or pale lavender flowers.
  • While the name has the word mountain in it, this plant prefers open fields.
  • Native to the east coast of the US within zone 4 through 8.
  • It has a pleasant but sometimes medicinal mint aroma when the leaves are crushed.
  • Very unattractive to deer and rabbits!
  • Very attractive to native pollinators!
  • Plants can grow from one to three feet tall and can spread a foot to three feet wide.
  • Great for naturalizing. The lower growing varieties can be used as a ground cover.

Keep It Alive

Above: A 3-inch pot of Virginia mountain mint is $6.99 at Prairie Nursery.
  • Mountain mint likes full sun to light shade. The more sun it gets, the more flowers it will have.
  • The taller varieties should be planted towards the back of the garden beds. Cutting the plants back when they are about two feet tall will make them grow back bushier and less leggy.
  • It prefers fertile, well-draining soil. It does not like to have “wet feet.” The soil can be neutral to slightly acidic.
  • Mountain mint is drought tolerant once established but should be watered during extended periods of drought.
  • Should the plant extend itself outside of the area you intended it to stay, cut the roots with a shovel and pull out the straying plants.
  • The plant is very low maintenance with few diseases or pests.

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Frequently asked questions

What is mountain mint?

Mountain mint (Pycnanthemum) is a type of herbaceous perennial plant native to North America. It belongs to the mint family and is known for its aromatic leaves and flowers.

How do I grow mountain mint?

To grow mountain mint, choose a location with full sun to partial shade and well-drained soil. Plant the seeds or young plants in the spring or fall. Water regularly in the first year, but once established, mountain mint is drought-tolerant.

Can mountain mint be grown in containers?

Yes, mountain mint can be grown in containers. Choose a large pot with good drainage, fill it with a well-draining potting mix, and place it in a sunny location. Water regularly but do not overwater.

How does mountain mint attract pollinators?

Mountain mint is a pollinator magnet. Its fragrant flowers attract a wide variety of bees, butterflies, and other beneficial insects to your garden. The nectar-rich blooms provide a valuable food source for them.

Is mountain mint invasive?

No, mountain mint is not considered invasive. However, it can spread through self-seeding if the flowers are allowed to go to seed. You can prevent excessive spreading by deadheading the spent flowers.

What are the culinary uses of mountain mint?

Mountain mint leaves have a strong, minty flavor with a hint of citrus. They can be used in teas, cocktails, and culinary dishes as a substitute for traditional mint. The leaves can also be dried and used in potpourri or herbal crafts.

Are there any medicinal properties of mountain mint?

Yes, mountain mint has been used for its medicinal properties. It is believed to have antimicrobial, antispasmodic, and anti-inflammatory effects. It has also been used to relieve indigestion and soothe headaches.

How do I prune mountain mint?

Pruning mountain mint is not necessary for its growth, but you can trim it back in early spring to maintain a compact form. Cut back any dead or damaged stems. Avoid pruning in late summer or fall, as the plant's flowers provide valuable food for pollinators.

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