URGENT! growing mint indoors

burngirlFebruary 21, 2009

I live in a country where finding fresh mint is incredibly difficult. Last week I happened to pass a vendor at the market who was selling potted mint! So I picked up 3 (two spearment, one peppermint). I live in an apartment and must grow them indoors.

They were lush and green when I first got them. Now they are starting to look a bit sickly, losing their dark green colour (now they are sort of pale green). I've been watering them 2-3 times per week. The soil feels sandy and seems to get dry quickly. Initially I put them on the windowsill, but then they started to droop; I have a very sunny apartment!! So now they get indirect light, further away from the window.

I don't want them to die! I'll probably never find mint again. Can you help me figure out what's going wrong? What do I need to give them?

p.s. I'd really like to re-pot them so that they can grow larger. But every time I've repotted something here in Korea, it dies. I think it's something to do with the very dense soil, which is probably made of compost. I've tried to put rocks in for drainage. Maybe I also need to mix some sand in? Admittedly I have no idea what I'm doing ;) I'm a complete newbie. Please help.

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fatamorgana2121(Zone 5/6)

Watering 2 to 3 times a week, unless the weather is very hot and dry, is most likely excessive - even for mints. I would cut the water back to once a week. More indoor plants die from overwatering than not having enough water. I would also give them plenty of natural light if possible - maybe not a western or southern window if it gets too hot. But a window or grow lights to be sure.


    Bookmark   February 21, 2009 at 9:41PM
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Repot them in a high quality fluffy potting soil and space them out a little when you plant them. Make sure you're extra careful not to damage the roots

    Bookmark   February 22, 2009 at 2:26PM
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Garden soil is not suitable for use in pots. It compacts down as hard as rocks, which means that the roots cannot access food or water, and they can't grow.

You need a potting mix - any garden centre will have some. In my part of the world you can buy it in the supermarket along with your groceries!

If you've ever sat close to a window on a hot day, you'll know how hot that glass can get. The heat can burn your skin. And it can also burn plants, especially tender baby plants. If you can't leave the window open, keep the plant away from the window.

Your plants do need plenty of sunlight - and that's NOT the filtered sunlight that comes through glass, which doesn't do much for the plant at all. If you have a balcony, put your plants out there. Protect from excessive wind or sun by placing other plants nearby which can take it.

If you want your plants to grow, you'll need to provide big enough pots to allow it. Mint has a very aggressive root system, and planted in the ground in the right conditions, it can cover vast areas in no time flat. The smaller the pot you choose, the more frequently you'll have to repot - or your mints will quickly become potbound and choke itself to death.

Since your plants are inside, drainage is definitely a problem. You've probably got your pots sitting on saucers which hold any water which runs off. This is an absolute NO-NO. You must keep those saucers empty of water! Rocks in the pot will do absolutely nothing to help.

The potting mix needs to be kept constantly moist, not soggy-wet. Poke your finger into the pot as far down as it will go. If the tip of your finger feels cool and moist, there's no need to water. A fine misting from a spray bottle might provide enough moisture for several days (and help to keep the leaves free of the dust and grease that inevitably builds up on indoor plants). A teensy bit of washing up liquid in the misting water will not only help to 'kill' any grease, it will also deter a lot of bugs.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2009 at 4:16PM
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Not certain in Korea there are many garden centers as such. Use some small rocks to add to the soil. If you can try to get soil from an area that has growing plants. It could be the place that you are getting your soil may have had herbicides on it. It may be possible to import a bag of potting soil but I think the cost would be too high plus you might need an import license. I think that you might be able to purchase the rice hulls to add to the soil that you do have to lighten it.

For now cut down on the water, cut off a sprig of each and see if you can root them just in case.

Good luck.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2009 at 7:22PM
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As Daisyduckworth said, garden soil in not to be used in containers for the exact reason she gave, as Fatamorgana said ease back on the water, Mint is a tough plant once established; but very tender if grown from seed and are just seedlings, just how big is this plant, is it a cutting? a seedling? if a cutting has it any roots, did you transplant it and if so did you see any roots, my best guess is the root system is not yet big enough to handle the heat of direct sun from your window, if you have a flourescent light use that until good growth starts.


    Bookmark   February 23, 2009 at 1:39AM
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Thanks! Wow, a lot of great information to take into consideration.

These plants are about 7 inches high currently. I bought them in the tiny pots that gardeners sell plants in, and plan to repot them soon.

I've looked for "fluffy" soil, but haven't had luck, and due to the language barrier it's even tougher. Perhaps I'll take a Korean friend with me and see what they can do :)

Thanks for all of your help! I had no idea i was overwatering them, but it makes a lot of sense now.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2009 at 8:13AM
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Since I am over curious, when you do find the potting soil could you tell me what kind of store or shop you find it in. Different countries sell things in what to a midwesterner are odd type of places.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2009 at 10:53PM
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I live in an apartment too and grew mint last year from cuttings a friend gave me. Granted I'm in the New England region of the USA so don't have the heat issues you might have in Korea. But for smaller plants with young or "weak" root systems I have found that a window blind made of .. well to be honest I'm not real sure what it's made of.. it looks like a 1/2" bamboo rod at the top and really tiny bamboo or reed stalks woven together at regular intervals and maintained close but not touching from top to bottom diffuses the sunlight from the window. I have seen similar types in home decor stores and places like Home Depot and Lowe's (US retailers, could probably order from them online, I've never looked).

In the summer I tried to keep the window open as much as possible but kept the blind half lowered on really warm days. I used 6-8" across pots to start with and when the plants started "exploring" I put them the entire contents of the pot in a window box and filled the remaining space with potting soil. The type of mint I had put out a runner from the root or base of the plant that runs along the surface of the soil. It has leaves and is green but will put roots out to multiply from. This is how that particular species of mint spreads so quickly. The runners can grow 1-3" inches or more a day under the right conditions.

The advice on keeping the soil moist but not sopping wet is excellent.

The advice on using potting soil instead of garden soil is also excellent. It is premixed to be "fluffy" for air circulation and drainage as well as is usually fortified with some basic minerals for healthy plant growth.

After 6 months in this premixed potting soil you may want to consider using plant food to replace the minerals. Try using 1/4 - 1/2 what the recipe calls for to start because too much can hurt the plants and you can always add more if it's too little.

I don't know if this is technically "right" but if you have florescent lights in your apartment (or can put one in if the window just isn't working for you), keep the plants within 3 feet under the light. Too far away and it won't be as affective, too close and it will burn them. I've grown plants at work before using this method by putting the pots on top of filing cabinets under florescent lights.

I agree with taking some small cuttings off the top if you can and putting them in water to root just in case your plants don't make it.

Like they said, once the roots are established, mint is a very hardy plant that WANTS to grow and will take over an area when outdoors.

Send me an e-mail and keep me up to date on your progress. I don't have plants I could send you right now but later in the season I expect to have some Spearmint, Chocolate Mint, and Grapefruit Mint. I'd be happy to set some aside specifically for you and get the roots good and strong to send you if you'll foot the postage. Not sure what the postage would be from the USA to Korea, or even Korea's rules on shipping plants into the country, but if it's that hard for you to get it might be worth considering if this lot doesn't make it.

Good Luck,

    Bookmark   February 25, 2009 at 7:01PM
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when using florescent lights three feet is too far away, anywhere between three inches and 1 foot is best , just make sure the leaves are at least one inch above the light so that the leaf won't get burned any thing less than 24 inches is not enough light.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2009 at 12:56AM
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there might not be potting medium where you are - actual compost would lighten the soil, as might the potting chips for orchids. an inch-thick layer of sand or pebbles in the bottom will surely help.

mint is weird - i've seen it grow contentedly in a coffee cup half full of water for weeks on end, put out roots and everything, and seen it survive 11 weeks of drought.

good luck :)

    Bookmark   March 5, 2009 at 11:24AM
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corgicorner(Mass 6/7)

Why not take the plants back to the grower and ask him for some suggestions?

    Bookmark   March 13, 2009 at 5:40PM
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Wow! Everyone has great advice here! I am also a brand new gardener and just started with spearmint and peppermint. Have you thought about cutting back your mints? Even when my mints were small I also had some issues with them, but when I cut back the leaves that were damaged by rust or overrun by aphids the mints responded well and grew even more vigorously. Maybe you can try that too?

    Bookmark   April 23, 2009 at 5:51PM
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Easy soiless potting mix recipes & advice can be found at
or if in the US, call your local cooperative extention to talk to a master gardener for FREE about what will work in your area.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2009 at 11:09PM
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