Thyme - How to Grow This Fragrant, Flavorful Herb

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris), close-up
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Overview and Description:

Thyme plants are low-growing, woody perennials. Thyme is a highly aromatic herb which grows especially well in somewhat dry, sunny conditions. A Mediterranean herb, thyme holds its flavor in cooking and blends well with other flavors of the region, like garlic, olive oil, and tomatoes.

Thyme is also considered to have antiseptic and preservative properties and has long been used medicinally as well as when preserving meats.

You’ll even find thyme in perfume.

The pink, lavender or white tubular flowers of thyme plants are very popular with bees. The tiny gray-green leaves remain evergreen and most can even be harvested in winter. There are about 350 different species of thyme, in many scents and flavors.

Botanical Name:

Thymus vulgaris

Common Name:

Thyme

USDA Hardiness Zones:

Thyme is widely adaptable growing in USDA Hardiness Zones 5 - 9 or even higher.

Exposure:

Give your plants a spot in full sun. Thyme is better at handling hot, dry conditions than it is with cool, damp soil.

Mature Size:

Different varieties of thyme have different growing habits. Some send up flower stalks, other form mats, and still other will cascade. Some varieties form an almost flat carpet. However, thyme is generally low growing, spreading, 6 - 10 inches in height.

Days to Harvest:

Established thyme plants can be harvested at any time. Simply snip a few stems.

The blossoms are also edible flowers and are at their best when first opening. Thyme grows slowly from seed and should be allowed a few months of growth to become well established, before cutting.

Uses:

Thyme is flavorful fresh and dried. It makes a nice complement to tomato sauces, cheeses, eggs and vegetables.

It can also be used to flavor jellies, bread, vinegar, marinades, sauces and in bouquet garni.

You can preserve thyme by freezing it, but it is a herb that dries easily and retains its flavor when dry.

Design Tips:

Thyme is often used as a ground cover and is happy to grow in the cracks between pavers and rocks. You can also buy seed in bulk to create a thyme lawn.

Trailing varieties look well in pots, especially the golden and variegated varieties.

Thyme can be used as an edger, but it has a tendency to die out in spots, so be prepared to fill in with new plants.

Suggested Varieties:

  • Thymus x citriodorus ‘Aureus’ - Lemon-scented thyme with a true lemon scent, the minty quality of thyme and golden variegated leaves.

  • Thymus pseudolanuginosus ‘Woolly Thyme’ - Very soft, flat spreading carpet. No scent. (Zones 6 - 5)

  • Thymus herba-barona ‘Caraway Thyme’ - Low growing, with pale pink flowers and the scent of caraway. Also look for thymes with the scents of orange, rose and lavender and check out other suggestions in Creeping Thyme Plants.

Thyme Growing Tips:

Thyme pretty much grows itself. In fact, the more you fuss with it, the less hardy it will be. Thyme is most fragrant and flavorful when grown in dry, lean soil.

Too much moisture will rot the plants.

Thyme plants are usually propagated by division or cuttings. Thyme may be grown by seed, but the different varieties will cross pollinate and hybridize, so it may not grow true from seed.

If trying to cover a large areas, space new plants about 6 inches apart, to form a cover.

Thyme will grow well indoors, if given a bright sunny window. However, since it survives quite well outdoors all winter, you might want to consider giving it a sheltered location outside, where you can continue to harvest.

Maintenance  Care for Thyme Plants:

When grown in warmer climates where it can get shrubby, prune hard, in early spring, to prevent the plant from getting too woody. Additional shaping can be done after flowering. Otherwise all that is needed, is to prune by harvesting and to remove and replace any areas that die out.

Pests & Problems:

Ants like to build their nests in thyme beds and can disrupt the roots.

If grown in damp or humid conditions, molds and rots can become a problem. Care should be taken that thyme plants are not sitting in wet areas throughout the winter months.