The common name "creeping thyme" can refer to one of several woody-stemmed perennial species of the Thymus genus that are good ground covers for sunny areas. While not all types are specifically grown as herbs, they do have a pleasant scent, and most can be used for culinary purposes. The thymus genus is a large group composed of many plants that are perennial in moderate climates. While some are upright with a shrub-like growth habit, the creeping types described here are low-growing, with a vine-like habit.
Related to the well-known edible herbs, creeping thymes are also aromatic. They are principally grown for the fine texture of their leaves as they spread out to softly blanket the ground, but they also produce flowers of various colors, depending on type. The flowers usually appear late spring and early summer.
|Botanical Name||Thymus spp.|
|Common Name||Creeping thyme|
|Plant Type||Herbaceous perennial|
|Mature Size||2 to 6 inches tall and 6 to 18 inches wide (depending on variety)|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun|
|Soil Type||Well-drained, loose, rocky, sandy|
|Flower ColorP||Pink, white, purple|
|Hardiness Zones||4 to 9 (depending on variety)|
|Native Area||Southern Europe|
How to Grow Creeping Thyme
Creeping thyme plants grow best in a soil with a neutral to slightly alkaline pH. It is a must that the soil is well-drained. And far from craving fertilizer, creeping thyme seems to crave poor soils, as do most herb plants. Grow them in full sun if possible, although they will tolerate a bit of shade.
Creeping thyme plants can become woody over time. If woody stems begin to dominate, you may want to remove and replace the plants. Strongly pruning back the plants may rejuvenate growth.
There are very few problems to anticipate with creeping thyme, although they can be susceptible to root rot in soil that is too moist.
Creeping thyme is a sun-loving plant (think: Mediterranean). Almost all varieties need full sun to thrive.
The key to soil success with thyme plants is drainage. It doesn't like wet feet, so make sure the soil drains well. It loves loose, sandy, rocky soil, and even loam if it drains well; wet clay, not so much.
Given the well-drained soil needed, you'll need to watch carefully and not let the plant dry out, especially when it's starting out. Water as needed to keep the roots moist but not so much that they are sitting in water. Once established, thyme is reliably drought-tolerant.
Temperature and Humidity
Prune your thyme as needed to keep it bushy and dense. You can do this anytime in dry climates. As a general rule, thyme plants don't like humidity. If you live in a humid area and your plant is losing leaves, or the foliage is looking rough, trim off the affected stems, and try to improve air circulation. Also, add sand or gravel around the plant's base to prevent contact with moist soil. Affected plants should revive when the weather turns cooler and drier.
Creeping thyme growing in well-prepared soil shouldn't need to be fed. If the soil is poor, you can compensate by feeding with a delayed-release fertilizer.
Varieties of Thymus Plants
- English thyme (Thymus vulgaris): the best-known variety; also called common thyme or garden thyme; typically grown as a culinary herb; purple flowers; 6 to 12 inches tall and wide; zones 5 to 9
- Spicy orange creeping thyme (Thymus 'Spicy Orange'): pink flowers; 2 to 4 inches tall; zones 5 to 9
- White creeping thyme (Thymus paocos 'Albiflorus'): white flowers; 1 to 2 inches tall and 12 to 18 inches wide; zones 2 to 9
- Red creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum 'Coccineus'): pink flowers; 3 inches tall and 12 to 18 inches wide; zone 4 to 9
- Wooly (or woolly) thyme (Thymus pseudolanuginosus): pale pink flowers, 3 inches tall and 3 to 12 inches wide; zones 5 to 8
- Archer's Gold thyme (Thymus citriodorus 'Archers Gold'): pink flowers; 6 inches tall and 12 inches, leaves turn bright gold in winter; zones 5 to 9
Landscape Uses for Creeping Thyme
A versatile plant, creeping thyme has four primary uses:
- Ground cover for weed control in landscaping
- Fragrant plants in a landscape devoted to aromas
- Culinary herb
- Folk medicine
Creeping thyme plants generally stay short and can be effective ground covers. Some people go as far as using them as grass alternatives. A more common use for them is as a ground cover to fill in the spaces between stepping stones, although caraway thyme may be too aggressive for this purpose. Wooly thyme, which has silvery foliage, may be a better choice in tight areas. This slow grower will not engulf your stones so quickly in a mass of foliage. White and red thymes, planted en masse, provide a fine floral display. Wooly thyme meanwhile is grown for its soft, silvery foliage.
In a scent garden, creeping thyme can be used as an edging plant or as a groundcover around shrubs and taller perennials. Or, it can be used to fill in between pathway stones through a scent garden. As your feet brush against the thyme, its fragrance will be released.
Harvesting Creeping Thyme
As an herb, thyme is used to flavor not only meats but also soups and stews, olives and olive oil, bread, and desserts. If you will be growing thyme for culinary purposes, note that you can use it either fresh or dried. If you want to dry thyme leaves, wait till after the plant has bloomed, then harvest the fresh growth. Harvest in the early morning, after the dew has evaporated. Bundle up a few sprigs and hang them out of direct light in a dry place indoors (like an attic). When completely dry, thyme can be stored in an air-tight container.