Native to the western Mediterranean, home gardeners are growing thyme plant(Thymus vulgaris) from seed for its earthy, slightly minty flavor.
This versatile culinary herb blends nicely with other flavors and is often used to season meat, egg, or vegetable dishes.
Thyme grows virtually anywhere and is equally at home inside or out. Plant in pots, along walkways, or in a sunny garden spot. In some cultures, thyme was even thought to bring fairies to homes whose families planted it nearby.
A low-growing, compact, and tough perennial plant, thyme can tolerate moderate foot traffic and is often used as a lawn alternative or ‘walkable’ groundcover. It spreads easily, requires less water than grass, and is hardy all the way north to zone 4 if it’s healthy.
Fun Fact: In earlier days, the Scottish highlanders drank thyme tea for strength and courage. It was also believed that a concoction of beer and thyme could cure shyness.
Botanical Name: Thymus vulgaris
Common Name: Thyme, Common Thyme, Garden Thyme, English Thyme
Plant Type: Herbaceous perennial
Hardiness Zones: 5 – 9 (USDA)
Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
Soil Type: Loamy, sandy
Soil pH: Acidic to alkaline (6.0 to 8.0)
Maturity: 90-180 days from seed
Height: 4 to 12 inches
Spacing: 6 to 12 inches apart
Native Area: Mediterranean
Quick Guide: Planting, Growing & Harvesting Thyme
- Perfect seasoning for eggs, soups, meat, and vegetables
- Tough perennial that overwinters well
- Easy to propagate from divisions or cuttings
- Start seeds 6-8 weeks before the last frost; prepare for a long germination
- Harvest sparingly during the first season — use fresh or dried
- Watch for botrytis rot, Rhizoctonia, aphids, and spider mites
Thyme Plant Care
It is a popular Mediterranean herb that retains its flavor in cooking and blends well with other regional flavors such as garlic, olive oil, and tomatoes.
Pollinators like bees particularly enjoy the tiny pink, lavender, or white tubular flowers of thyme plants that appear in the spring and summer.
The majority of thyme varieties can even be harvested in winter in areas where it is a perennial because its tiny gray-green leaves remain evergreen.
Almost any time of year is good to plant thyme. It will be ready to harvest in a few months, and in climates where it does well, it will come back reliably year after year.
Given their Mediterranean origins, thyme plants thrive best in direct sunlight.
Plant them in a sunny, exposed area of your garden or in decorative containers that can be moved throughout the day to follow the light.
If you want to grow thyme indoors, put it on a sunny windowsill or, better yet, in a room that gets a lot of sun all day, like a sunroom.
If plants are growing slowly, spend a day observing their location to ensure they are receiving enough sunlight. If there isn’t enough sunlight, leaves and foliage will grow more slowly.
The poorer the quality of your soil, the better the growth potential of your thyme plant. The low-maintenance plant does best in dry, sandy, or loamy soil, but it can also flourish in rocky gravel if given the chance.
Thyme grows quickly, so keep your plants at least 12-24 inches apart when adding them to your garden.
If you choose to plant thyme in a container, choose one that is large enough to accommodate its growth.
Using a clay pot can also help wick away extra moisture from the soil and help create the ideal environment for your thyme. Make sure your soil drains well no matter what, as thyme is finicky with wet roots.
Depending on the outdoor climate, established thyme plants should be watered every other week or once per month. Wait until the soil is completely dry, then saturate it with water, and then let it dry out again.
Thyme is also drought-resistant, so don’t worry if you go a few days without watering it. However, until the roots of young plants are well-established, water them more frequently and with greater care.
Temperature and Humidity
When it comes to temperature and humidity, thyme plants have no special requirements and can thrive throughout the majority of the year until the first frost, at which point they will go dormant for the winter.
During the summer, they experience their greatest period of growth, and this is also when their flowers bloom, attracting bees and other insects.
To avoid fungal diseases, thyme requires good air circulation, especially in warm, humid climates. Plants should be well spaced to allow for adequate airflow.
Each spring, apply a diluted all-purpose fertilizer to thyme plants.
Keeping the fertilizer at half-strength will prevent the plant from producing an excessive amount of foliage, which can dilute the aromatic oils the herb is known for.
Pruning and Maintenance
Pruning thyme promotes new growth and branching, resulting in a fuller plant. In general, the more you prune your plant, the faster it grows.
However, during the growing season, never remove more than one-third of your plant in a single month, and always leave at least five inches of growth uncut.
Thyme also needs to be weeded more often than some other plants because it doesn’t grow as densely and its leaves aren’t very big, so they don’t cast enough shade to keep weeds from growing.
Different Thyme Varieties You Can Plant in Your Garden
If you want something a little different from common thyme (T. vulgaris),
Golden Lemon Thyme (Thymus x citriodorus’Aureus’)
This thyme has golden, variegated leaves and a true lemon scent in addition to the minty quality of thyme.
Creeping Thyme (Thymus praecox)
This low-growing and mat-forming variety blooms in shades of pink, magenta, lavender, and white, and definitely lives up to its name. And so, it’s frequently used as a ground cover.
Caraway Thyme (Thymus herba-barona)
This low-growing variety has pale pink flowers with a caraway-like aroma
How to Plant and Grow Thyme
Thyme prefers full sun to light shade and well-drained soil amended with plenty of organic compost or well-rotted animal manure. Plants thrive in pots and will spread between pavers to soften stone walkways. Used as a garden border, thyme’s delicate flowers attract many beneficial garden insects.
Keep sheltered from cold winds. Thyme may not survive severe winters unless covered or heavily mulched (watch our video How to Grow an Herb Garden).
How to Plant Thyme
Thyme is easy to propagate from cuttings or plant from nursery stock. Space 6- to 12-inches apart in all directions.
Start seeds indoors, covering lightly with soil and keeping moist until seedlings appear. Transplant outside after all danger of frost has passed. If you prefer, direct-sow in prepared garden beds two weeks before last frost.
The container should have at least one large drainage hole. A good mix of sand, potting soil, peat moss, and perlite will provide adequate nutrients and drainage.
Companion Planting for Thyme Plant
Thyme thrives in sunny conditions, so plant it in containers alongside rosemary, which has similar watering requirements. Plant thyme in the garden alongside strawberries, cabbages, tomatoes, eggplants, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts.
How to Harvest Thyme
Begin harvesting thyme sprigs during the first year from cuttings; snip seedlings sparingly until the second season. For the best, maximum flavor you can get out of your plant, harvest herbs in the morning just before bloom.
Strip leaves from the stem and use them fresh or dried. Thyme is one of those herbs that tastes great both fresh and dried, like oregano or sage.
How to Store Thyme
To dry herbs, cut stems just as the flowers start to open. Hang upside down in small bunches.
What Can You Use Thyme Plant For?
Thyme is easy to dry, store in the fridge, freeze, or keep in oil or vinegar. Flavor butter or mayonnaise with thyme for added depth of flavor.
English thyme variety is typically associated with cooking and is what we usually think of when the thyme plant comes to mind.
Use thyme in dried beans, meat stews, fish dishes, and vegetables that have a strong flavor, like cabbage. Thyme goes well with any soup, stew, vegetable, meat, or sauce that is cooked slowly.
Lemon-flavored varieties can be used in teas, on seafood, or in almost any dish that calls for zing of lemon.
Common Insect & Disease Problems for Thyme Plants
- Remove weeds and other garden debris to eliminate alternate hosts.
- Discard severely infested plants by securely bagging and putting them in the trash.
- Release commercially available beneficial insects to attack and destroy insect pests.
- Spot treat pest problem areas with diatomaceous earth, neem oil, or other organic pesticide.
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