Sometimes you just need a plant that is easy to care for, isn’t fussy about its environment, and is incredibly useful. If that sounds good, you should be growing calamint.
It’s resistant to drought and will grow in any soil. Calamint will even flourish in partially shady conditions as long as it’s not damp or humid. It’s tasty as well.
Calamint is used as a herbal tea, in recipes and as a medicinal supplement. It’s a member of the mint family and is as hardy and easy to propagate as any mint plant you’ve ever grown.
If you’ve never heard of calamint, or you wondered if it was something you would like to try, let’s look at this easy-to-grow plant that takes care of itself.
What is Calamint?
Calamint (Calamintha spp.) is native to areas of Europe and the Mediterranean. Sometimes known as lesser calamint, mountain mint, catmint, or mountain balm, it was popular as far back as the Roman empire where it was a culinary and medicinal staple.
Calamint can be used to make a refreshing tea or used in dishes to add flavor. It goes particularly well with tomato, mushroom, or artichoke dishes.
Being a compact plant, calamint is good for ground cover or as a low fill-in, though like mint, it needs work to keep it from spreading or taking over an area.
If you want to attract bees and butterflies to your garden, calamint works well because of the strong scent of the flowers and their high levels of pollen. While it doesn’t have large blossoms, calamint makes up for it in volume. A patch of calamint growing in the garden looks like a sea of delicate lace.
Varieties of Calamint to Plant
There are multiple species of calamint, and other hybrid varieties, but the most common ones are:
Also known as lesser calamint, this is probably the most common variety found in home gardens. The blooms are usually white, but sometimes with purple streaks through, as well. Lesser calamint has a strong, pleasant aroma and you can readily smell wherever you plant it.
This is the perfect variety for making refreshing tea. It can also withstand higher temperatures than other varieties, so is good for growing zones that get hot.
This variety has the strongest scent of any I’ve tried and is a perfect plant for an area of the garden where you sit in the evening because you can smell it all around you. The flowers are larger than other varieties and is sometimes known as mint savory.
This variety is often called basil thyme and – surprise! – smells like thyme. The light purple or pink flowers are surrounded by fuzzy foliage.
Planting and Propagating Calamint
You’ll likely not see seedlings for sale unless you have access to a specialty retailer. So you’ll need to grow from seed or cuttings from existing plants.
Consider growing calamint in containers. Like mint, calamint can spread and take over, so pots can contain the rhizomes. You will need to make sure you divide the root system before they get too big for the container or the plant suffers.
Seeds need to be sown inside and kept at about 70ºF. Sow in early spring in good quality seed raising soil and keep moist.
Sow about 1/4 inch deep and place in indirect sunlight. You should see germination in two weeks, followed by leafy growth.
You can transplant outside when the last frost has passed at the earliest and the calamint is at least five inches. Try and wait until early summer if you can and make sure the root system is strong.
Take a healthy stem and cut a length of about four to six inches. Simply plant it in some seed-raising mix or potting soil, and keep moist. The new roots should form in about a month.
You can use a rooting hormone, but it’s not usually necessary.
The best time to divide calamint is when it starts to thin out or ‘bald’ from the center. That means it’s a good time to refresh the plant.
Dig the whole thing up and remove the soil from around the roots. Cut away any damaged, dead or dying roots.
Divide the roots with a spade and replant the individual sections. Water well.
How to Care for Calamint
Grow calamint in USDA Growing zones 5 to 9 and you shouldn’t have any problems being blessed with a floral display of delicate blooms around early summer to late fall.
Although calamint doesn’t like extremes of temperature, it will survive even if it drops below freezing.
Plant in full sun in most areas.
If you live in an area that gets sweltering during the summer, consider providing partial shade and more frequent watering. Or you can plant in a container and move the plant to a shadier, cooler spot during any hot spells.
A good amount of mulch can help keep the roots cool and retains moisture.
Container planting is also a good idea when growing calamint to stop the spread of its roots. They make good border plants, but you’ll have to keep them trimmed and control any unwanted spread.
Water well throughout the summer. Although calamint is drought tolerant once established, it prefers moist soil. You can let the soil dry out in between watering, but when the first inch of the topsoil becomes dry, water again.
Calamint is known to adapt to any soil type. Clay, rocky, sandy, gravel, or loamy earth will do as long as it drains well but holds moisture. Like most plants, calamint will suffer root rot and other issues if planted in areas of standing water.
A pH of 6.0 to 7.0 is best, but as you can guess, calamint will be okay in any soil pH.
When you first plant calamint, dig in well-rotted manure or a good quality compost. This just gives the plant a good head-start. Space about 20 inches apart as the spread is generally about 18 inches. Most calamints grow to between one and two feet.
Fertilizing and Pruning
Calamint doesn’t need fertilizing unless your soil is in poor condition. If you think the plant is deficient or struggling, feed once at the beginning of spring with a balanced fertilizer and water in well.
You don’t need to prune calamint, but if you want to control the spread you need to deadhead it. Do this before the flowers start to seed in summer and fall. Some hybrid cultivars are actually sterile, so see what is available in your area.
When the cold weather hits, the stalks will die off. This is totally normal and new stalks will develop next year. Cut any brown stalks that remain on the plant in the spring.
Companion Planting for Calamint
Try growing calamint next to plants that rely on pollinators, since it attracts bees and butterflies by the handful. It also grows well with things that have similar requirements such as thyme and lavender.
Problems and Solutions for Growing Calamint
Luckily the pests and diseases that bother calamint are few. Even if they do strike, they’ll rarely kill your plant. You don’t have to worry about deer or rabbits eating your plants, either. Growing calamint really is an easy feat, right?
This little pale flying insect can be very damaging. They are normally found on the undersides of plants. They are sap suckers and despite their size, cause a lot of damage, especially if the plant is low on vigor.
Powdery mildew is pretty common on many plants.
Avoid this issue by watering at the soil level rather than the foliage. Make sure the calamint is spaced properly to allow airflow. Read our article on powdery mildew to learn how to identify, treat and prevent it.
Sudden Leaf Drop
Calamint can drop its foliage suddenly and this is often due to soil disturbance. Be careful when digging around the plant, and make sure when you pull weeds, you don’t disturb the calamint roots.
Harvesting and Storing Calamint
Harvest from late spring up to early fall, but try to pick before the flowers bloom. When you see the buds appear, that is the time for harvesting calamint. The flavor is said to be more potent just before flowering.
Pick early in the morning for best behavior.
The best flavor for calamint is fresh. If you get to pick the leaves fresh for most of the season, do this as long as possible.
When you need to store the excess, the best way to store calamint is to dehydrate it. You may lose a little flavor, but not too much like some other dried herbs.
Use a dehydrator for quicker drying, or take long cuttings, tie them together and hang them upside down in a warm dry area of the house.
Store dried calamint in an airtight container in a dark cupboard or pantry.
Calamint makes a very refreshing tea. It’s said to be beneficial for many ailments from insomnia to gout and intestinal issues.
You can add it to food for extra flavor. If you cook vegetables in olive oil, add a little fresh or dried calamint. It goes very well with zucchini, artichokes, or pumpkin. It also suits meat stews, and bean, and mushroom dishes.
Sometimes you can find cheeses from southern Italy that are flavored with calamint, so try adding some as a topping to any cheese you have on hand.
5 Tips for Growing Healthy Calamint
- Plant in full sun. Provide at least six to eight hours.
- Water well by keeping the soil moist. Water when the soil is dry an inch down.
- Don’t over-fertilize. You only need to fertilize once a year at the beginning of spring, if at all.
- Calamint isn’t fussy with soil, so don’t waste time trying to make the soil perfect.
- Mulch calamint in hot and dry conditions.