I know a lot of people avoid growing mint, or only grow it in containers, because of its invasive nature. As a gardener, I totally understand this sentiment, but as a homesteader with a lot of land to to plant and a shortage of quality soil, I am a huge fan of pretty much any useful plant I can successfully grow and spread.
The risk, of course, is that these will get out of control. But I have a plan of action for that too. And it’s really simple.
Just use them. A lot.
I know, I know. No one can drink that much mint tea or put that much oregano in their pasta sauce. But how about drying them on a tarp until they are good and dead and using them as mulch in your vegetable garden? I did that last year with culinary mint around my cabbage and even though the cabbage moths were out in force, I didn’t have a single cabbage worm on my plants. You can also mix them with straw in your animal shelters as a parasite preventative.
Or how about taking a machete to your unruly plants and tossing fresh herbs to your chickens? They’ll eat some or scratch them to death. And even if, by some miracle, they do take root in a chicken run, would that really be a bad thing?
By regularly butchering your fast growers and spreaders, you slow down potential plant invasions by forcing them to put their energy into top growth. By growing something, rather than nothing, you get mass for mulch, increase the life in your soil, gain food and medicinal products, create pollinator food, attract beneficial insects, confuse pests, and make your landscape beautiful until you can plant the things you want for the long run.
Dividing plants regularly and learning to identify and pull self-seeders early can also help slow down invasions. When you are ready to plant other things, mow your area down, and cover with old carpet, black plastic, or super thick sheet mulch for a couple months, then plant your new plants. Some of those almost-invasives may survive being smothered and emerge later, but not all of them will. So you only have to weed a few plants rather than an entire area.
Mint is just one example of plants that will happily take over and help heal your landscape while making it beautiful. There are lots of varieties of mint and plants in other families that have almost invasive properties that can help fill a landscape in a hurry. Following is a list of some of my favorites for beauty, utility, and ease of identification for later removal.
Anise Hyssop – This is a beauty by late spring. Tall, stately, full of pale purple blooms, and is pollinator preferred. The leaves make great tea. It’s a vegetative perennial in my area and readily self-seeds. But the slightly purple leaves and unique leaf structure make it easy to recognize as soon as the first true seeds emerge.
Buckwheat – Loves hot weather and flowers like crazy. It self seeds and makes great chop and drop mulch and pancakes. The benefit of buckwheat is that it’s an annual. If you want to get rid of it, just don’t let it seed again.
Elephant Nose Amaranth – These are gorgeous. They love heat, had no issues with our drought last year, are totally edible – leaves, flowers, stalks, and seeds. They self-seed by the hundreds and if given a little space, can get to 5-6 feet tall with 2 foot flower heads. I chop up the flower heads and put them in the food processor with some oil to make a paste. Then I mix the paste with a little flour, eggs, onions, garlic, salt, and pepper, and make veggie patties. I also use the flowers for pesto.
Lemon Balm – We grow this everywhere, but especially along paths and outdoor sitting areas. As we walk around, we break of bunches and rub it on our arms and legs as a natural pest control. It holds on well into winter for us and is one of the first herbs to start breaking ground in spring.
Mustard – This is a great edible, but also works well in pasture, as a beneficial insect attractant, and the gorgeous and varied leaf styles make great space fillers in edible landscapes.
Oregano – I love these flowers in salads and bouquets. We use lots for cooking and making herb de Provence mix. I throw lots of this to the chickens and use it as mulch. It’s also good for tea and stock.
Prairie Flowers – They flower prolifically, make great cut flowers, and grow in the worst conditions possible like rocky hillsides.
Red Perilla – This self-seeding member of the mint family makes delicious sun tea, surprises in salads, and is great in kimchi.
Yarrow – This stuff is green all winter long. The feathery fern like leaves are almost as pretty as the flower umbels that last forever. It has lots of medicinal uses. And, it is incredible for preventing erosion.
Don’t let poor soil prevent you from having a beautiful homestead. By using these prolific growers in large groupings or alternating color patterns you can give a more structured feel to almost-invasives. Bring on the bounty of spring using whatever grows well in your soil and area!