Both basil and mint are tremendously popular, versatile herbs used in an array of culinary dishes as well as natural health remedies. Their pungent, aromatic flavors liven up meals and beverages alike. Given their complementary uses, it might seem logical to plant these herbs together in the same garden space. But it turns out basil and mint have extremely different growth patterns making them incompatible neighbors in all.
The Propagation of Mint
Before planting mint, it’s crucial to understand how dramatically it spreads. The parent plant produces vigorous underground stems called rhizomes. Rhizome roots can extend several feet in a single season. Above ground, each emerging shoot grows up to 2 feet tall on erect, square stems lined with aromatic pointed leaves.
If left to spread freely, a few original mint plants quickly burgeon into a yard-swallowing monoculture thicket excluding all other species. Mint’s fast-growing, encroaching nature earns it a reputation as a troublesome invasive in gardens and yards.
The Charm of Compact Basil Plants
In contrast to mint’s domineering takeover tendency, basil forms a tidy, restrained ornamental annual when provided full sun and regular harvesting. The central stalk produces several branches, each lined with clusters of broad, emerald leaves culminating in flowers. Given adequate warmth and soil fertility, plants grow rapidly up to around 2 feet tall and wide. But regular tip pruning promotes dense, bushy growth for an attractive pot or border specimen.
Basil’s compact size and inhibited vertical reach indicate it might compatibly occupy garden space near sprawling mint. And given basil’s popularity for pesto, herbed oils, flavored vinegars and more, having abundant plants is usually desirable. But close proximity with mint still poses problems.
The Challenge of Planting Basil and Mint Together
Initially, combining these useful herbs seems like a great efficiency move for gardeners short on space. But upon maturity, incompatible growth habits soon overtake good intentions:
Mint’s lateral spread overwhelms basil’s orderly form through shading and competition for soil resources.
As mint colonizes, it crowds out and replaces individual basil plants.
Basil suffers reduced flowering and seed production essential for yearly replanting.
Mint’s encroachment under basil kills sections, leaving odd gaps.
Without intensive management, a mixed mint-basil bed soon becomes a struggling basil plant here or there drowned in a sea of mint.
Solutions for Successfully Growing Mint and Basil Side-by-Side
While challenging, situations exist where gardeners can jointly grow basil and mint, including:
- Plant in Separate Contained Beds
- Raised beds with bottom barriers
- In-ground beds with vertical root barriers
- Provide Space and Edge Control for Mint
- Frequent mowing/cutting of stems around bed edges
- Manual removal of stray rhizomes
- Multiple plantings spaced well apart
- Harvest Basil Frequently
- Consider Partial Shade for Basil
- Increases hardiness against mint
With sufficient controls on mint and favor toward basil, the two herbs can exist in adjacent beds or planters. Just don’t expect to simply blend these very different plants together with lasting success.
Consider Keeping Basil and Mint Separated
Despite the challenges, some gardeners will accept the intensive maintenance required to grow mint and basil within close range. However, many decide complete separation is smarter in the long run.
You can always use individual containers on a patio, porch or windowsill to keep each herb close but fully independent. For larger needs, locating mint on the garden’s perimeter and dedicating central space for basil prevents conflicts. Or grow mint in isolated areas like pathways or sections of lawn.
While basil and mint may complement one another in the kitchen, their incompatible growing habits argue against them sharing the same garden real estate. But with extra effort and controls, or by keeping them completely separate, gardeners can enjoy bountiful harvests of both herbs.