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Lesser Calamint Plants: Growing Calamint Herbs In The Garden

Lesser Calamint Plants: Growing Calamint Herbs In The Garden


By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist

Herbs enliven the garden and accent it with a richness of texture, unique scents and properties. Calamint (Calamintha nepeta) is a native herb to the UK with a host of potential medicinal uses and a lovely flower display and intense leaf texture. The herb thrives in organic to sandy soils and releases a strong camphor scent when the leaves are crushed. You may wonder, “Can I grow calamint?” The plant is hardy in USDA plant hardiness zones 5 to 9 and is an easy to grow and care for herb.

About Calamint Plants

Calamint plants are thick stemmed, bushy herbs that spread from rhizomes like most mint plants. The leaves are heavily veined and highly textured, many sporting ridges and most with hairy or fuzzy foliage.

Some types of calamint may be 4 to 24 inches (10-60 cm.) tall and bloom in mid to late summer with some varieties flowering in fall. Flowers are two-lipped slender tubes in hues that range from purple to red and into white and cream. The plant can self-sow but its more invasive qualities are found from the ranging stems and rhizomes, which root at internodes and can create new plants.

Types of Calamint

Calamint is a member of the Labiatae family and includes all types of mints. This group of herbs is vast and includes a variety of cultivars and specimens. There is a grandiflora variety with larger fuzzy veined leaves and lavender tubular flowers. The scent is amazing, with a burst of minty-tangerine freshness.

Among the lesser calamint is a variety with a grapefruit-mint scent and many other pungent aromas. The diminutive Ozark calamint is only 6 inches (15 cm.) tall with vibrant red flowers in late spring.

Other varieties sport imaginative names such as wild basil, monkey flower, mountain thyme, and limestone savory. The smallest of the lesser calamint is a 4-inch (10 cm.) tall trailing variety with pink to mauve blooms.

Growing Calamint Herbs

Place calamint plants in full sun where soils drain well. Container gardening is a good way to keep the herbs from spreading. They also make excellent border plants but some maintenance is necessary to keep the plant from invading other areas. The potager garden is also a prime spot for growing calamint herbs. There you can easily access the leaves and stems for a host of useful purposes.

Calamint has few pest or disease problems but you need to be vigilant for small insect pests such as whitefly. Treat with a horticultural soap or blasts of fresh water to rinse off the insects.

How to Use Calamint

This has long been a medicinal herb with uses ranging from topical to endemic. The high menthol content of the leaves makes it a perfect poultice for bruises and contusions, as well as a rub for bronchial issues. It is not wise to handle or use the herb if you are pregnant.

But how to use calamint in seasoning? Traditionally, the herb has been used to flavor meats, but the variety dictates the flavor profile. Some more closely resemble thyme, while others are similar to zingy basil.

Calamint plants are attractive to butterflies and bees and dry well as an addition to potpourri. Dry the leaves for a refreshing hot or cold tea. This versatile plant will become one of your favorites for its carefree nature, beauty, and usefulness.

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Clinopodium nepeta

Previously known as:

Lesser Calamint is a mint-family short-lived perennial herb that, while native to the Mediterranian and parts of Iran, is naturalized in areas of Mexico and the US. In NC it is primarily found in the Piedmont. The leaves are pleasantly fragrant when crushed with a minty-lemon scent. The tubular flowers occur in loose clusters of white, pink or lavender from mid to late summer until frost.

Use this plant in cottage gardens, borders, rock gardens or as a ground cover in well-drained sandy to rocky soils in full sun.

Stems may root at nodes where they touch the ground, or the plant may spread by rhizomes or self-seed. Powdery mildew may be a problem with heat and humidity.

Plant overview Debbie Roos CC BY 2.0 Form Luciano Arcorace CC BY-NC 4.0 Close up of flower Drepanostoma CC BY-NC 4.0 inflorescence Drepanostoma CC BY-NC 4.0 Side view of flower Luciano Arcorace CC BY-NC 4.0 Leaves and stem Enrico Castello CC BY-NC 4.0 Leaf closeup Luciano Arcorace CC BY-NC 4.0

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The Perennial Plant Association has chosen Calamintha nepeta, common name calamint, as its 2021 Perennial Plant of the Year.

Calamint boasts a confetti-like cloud of tiny white tubular flowers sometimes touched with blue or lilac. It has a low, mounding, bushy form that grows 18” tall and wide. Both the flowers and the gray-green ovate leaves are fragrant. Calamint checks two boxes that are important to gardeners: bees, butterflies and other pollinators love it, and deer do not.

Calamint requires full sun, but afternoon shade on the hottest days of summer is fine. It prefers an evenly moist, well-drained soil, but will tolerate drought once established.

Even though calamint will bloom from June until frost, it isn’t the star of the garden on its own, but is the perfect foil for other perennial and annual flowers. It is ideal for rock gardens and can fill a space at the front, center or back of any flower bed depending on the height of its neighbors. It will fit into every garden landscape whether formal or more casual. It does well in containers, but pots must be brought into the garage over winter.

If calamint gets a bit raggedy over the summer, it can be sheared back lightly to shape and to promote new flowers. It should be cut back to 6” in fall or early spring

Calamint is a member of the mint family and like all mints, will spread. It sends out rhizomes – horizontal roots that send up shoots – and in addition, stems that touch the ground may root where the nodes touch the soil. Besides that, it seeds prolifically. All this should tell you a few things: one, it is easy to propagate by either seed or division, and two, it needs watching to keep it in check.

Calamint is recommended for USDA Hardiness Zones 5-7. In Winnebago County, we are mostly in Zone 5a, which is the very coldest of the recommended range for this plant. Landscapes vary across our county and your own property’s microclimate might or might not be Zone 5a. Because we’re on the edge here, you should provide winter protection for calamint in the form of hay, straw or evergreen boughs placed around the stem of the plant after the ground freezes.

Are you wondering how a plant gets to be chosen Perennial Plant of the Year? Perennial Plant Association members vote each summer on the following year’s plant. At that time, each member is allowed to nominate two plants for future consideration. A committee reviews the nominated plants, which may number 400, and narrows the field to three or four to be placed on the ballot.

Plant nominees need to satisfy the following criteria: suitable for a wide range of climates, low-maintenance, relatively pest-free and disease resistant, multiple seasons of ornamental interest, and be readily available at garden centers the year it is elected. Look for calamint at your local garden center this spring!


Pick a Soil, Any Soil

Where the sun isn’t brutal, this butterfly-attractor will generally take full sun. If you live in a blast furnace, however, situate the plant so that it gets a bit of afternoon shade.

This tough shrub does well in sandy, loamy, rocky, or shallow well-drained soils. It thrives in acidic or neutral soils and will even grow in very alkaline soils.

As this plant is relatively unknown in the United States, sourcing seedlings might be tricky, and your best bet might be to purchase seeds or steal a cutting from a neighbor. You can also divide clumps to spread the beauty.

Plant in early spring, and you’ll likely get blooms the first year!


Types Of Calamint - How To Use Calamint Plants In Gardens - garden

Montrose White Dwarf Calamint

Calamintha nepeta 'Montrose White'

Montrose White Dwarf Calamint in bloom

Montrose White Dwarf Calamint in bloom

Montrose White Dwarf Calamint in bloom

Montrose White Dwarf Calamint in bloom

Tiny white flowers cover this variety throughout summer on this improved upright form non-reseeding an excellent choice for borders and containers

Growing Place Choice Plants

Our Growing Place Choice plants are chosen because they are strong performers year after year, staying attractive with less maintenance when planted in the right place.

Montrose White Dwarf Calamint features dainty spikes of white trumpet-shaped flowers rising above the foliage from early summer to early fall. Its fragrant oval leaves remain green in color throughout the season. The fruit is not ornamentally significant.

Montrose White Dwarf Calamint is an herbaceous perennial with an upright spreading habit of growth. Its relatively fine texture sets it apart from other garden plants with less refined foliage.

This is a relatively low maintenance plant, and is best cleaned up in early spring before it resumes active growth for the season. It is a good choice for attracting bees to your yard. It has no significant negative characteristics.

Montrose White Dwarf Calamint is recommended for the following landscape applications

  • Mass Planting
  • Rock/Alpine Gardens
  • Border Edging
  • General Garden Use
  • Herb Gardens
  • Container Planting

Montrose White Dwarf Calamint will grow to be about 9 inches tall at maturity extending to 12 inches tall with the flowers, with a spread of 15 inches. It grows at a medium rate, and under ideal conditions can be expected to live for approximately 10 years.

This plant does best in full sun to partial shade. It prefers to grow in average to moist conditions, and shouldn't be allowed to dry out. It is not particular as to soil type or pH. It is somewhat tolerant of urban pollution. This is a selected variety of a species not originally from North America. It can be propagated by division however, as a cultivated variety, be aware that it may be subject to certain restrictions or prohibitions on propagation.

Montrose White Dwarf Calamint is a fine choice for the garden, but it is also a good selection for planting in outdoor pots and containers. It is often used as a 'filler' in the 'spiller-thriller-filler' container combination, providing a mass of flowers against which the larger thriller plants stand out. Note that when growing plants in outdoor containers and baskets, they may require more frequent waterings than they would in the yard or garden.


Watch the video: Nepitella Plant Profile