How to Grow Thyme

Thyme can pretty much grow itself if left alone

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris), close-up
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Thyme plants (Thymus vulgaris) 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.

Growing Thyme

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

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

But most varieties of thyme are best left alone to grow; the more you fuss with it, the less hardy it will be. Give your thyme plants a spot in full sun; they handle hot, dry conditions better than cool, damp soil.

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 area, space new plants about 6 inches apart, to form a cover.

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

Where to Plant Thyme

Thyme is often used as a ground cover and is able to grow in the cracks between pavers and rocks. You can also buy seed in bulk to create a thyme lawn. Trailing varieties look nice 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 of Thyme

  • 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.

Maintenance 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 and Problems with Thyme

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.