Red creeping thyme (Thymus praecox) spreads quickly to make a lush carpet of small leaves and bright blooms! When touched or crushed, the soft green foliage releases an aromatic scent.
In early summer, hundreds of bright pink and red flowers bloom, enhancing the already pleasant aroma. Butterflies and bees are drawn to the flowers because of the nectar they produce.
Red creeping thyme is an excellent low-maintenance addition to any garden. As it spreads, it grows densely, crowding out undesirable weeds.
Keep reading this article to learn the ins and outs of caring for red creeping thyme so it thrives in your garden.
Botanical Name: Thymus praecox ‘Coccineus’
Common Name: Red creeping thyme, crimson thyme, mother of thyme
Plant Type: Woody perennial
Hardiness Zones: 4 – 9 (USDA)
Sun Exposure: Full sun
Soil Type: Well-drained, sandy
Soil pH: Neutral to alkaline
Height: 3 to 6 inches
Bloom Time: Summer
Flower Color: purple, deep-pink, red
Quick Guide: Planting, Growing & Caring for Red Creeping Thyme
- Red creeping thyme requires full sun to grow and bloom
- Plant in well-prepared sandy loam with good drainage
- Do not overwater and allow it to dry between waterings
- Frequent pruning is essential to maintain this stunning ground cover
- Red creeping thyme is known to attract bees and butterflies
Red Creeping Thyme Plant Care
Red creeping thyme or Thymus praecox ‘Coccineus’ is a perennial herbaceous plant in the mint (Lamiaceae) family. It thrives in full sun and can withstand dry conditions.
Despite its delicate appearance, this thyme adapts well to a variety of well-draining environments and can even withstand light foot traffic. Due to these characteristics, it requires little care and is an excellent choice for newbie gardeners.
Red creeping thyme is hardy to Zones 4–9, and in milder climates, it stays evergreen. In the fall, the foliage turns bronze. This plant is also known as Thymus serpyllum, as well as other common names such as crimson thyme and mother of thyme.
As with other thyme species, red creeping thyme attracts butterflies and serves as a host for beneficial insects, making it an excellent choice for those who wish to protect biodiversity. The deer-repelling qualities of red creeping thyme are also highly regarded.
Red creeping thyme’s summertime flowers, which can range in color from purple to crimson, form a dense carpet of color above the plant’s sprawling, low-growing fragrant foliage, which grows to a height of only 4 inches but can cover a width of 12 to 18 inches.
This level of growth also fills in tricky gaps in the landscape and controls weed growth.
Red creeping thyme is commonly used in walkways, rock gardens, xeriscapes, retaining walls, understories, alternative lawns, and container gardens.
Native to southern Europe and Turkey, red creeping thyme prefers a sunny location with at least six to eight hours of sunlight per day.
If this beautiful plant is in complete shade, it won’t bloom and will only make dark green leaves. Therefore, always plant them where they will receive the most sunlight.
Well-draining soils with neutral to alkaline pH levels are ideal for red creeping thyme. Since this plant is susceptible to root rot from overwatering, it does best in sandy loam or rocky soils and may not do well in clay soils because it retains moisture and may waterlog.
Avoid root damage by planting red creeping thyme in well-prepared sandy loam soils with good drainage.
Do not overwater this slow-growing plant; it is drought-tolerant so it needs little to moderate water and likes to dry out a bit in between waterings.
Water regularly during the seedling stage to keep the soil moist but not too wet. To prevent standing water, water the plant only once every ten days after it has become established. Don’t plant in places where water can pool after it rains.
Temperature and Humidity
Red creeping thyme thrives in USDA hardiness zones 4 through 9, and it’s hardy to -30 degrees Fahrenheit. Seed germination requires a temperature range of 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
On the other hand, these plants can survive drought, so they don’t need a lot of humidity. Instead, they like 30–50% relative humidity and good air circulation.
When planting red creeping thyme in healthy soil, it is not necessary to fertilize it because it is not a heavy feeder. However, applying a well-balanced organic fertilizer in the spring can promote lush growth, especially in soils that are deficient.
When fertilizing, choose an organic, slow-release fertilizer and carefully follow the application instructions. For low-maintenance plants like creeping thyme, a light topdressing of compost or leaf mold can be used instead of fertilizer to improve the soil’s nutrient content, structure, and microbial activity.
Red creeping thyme is considered semi-evergreen, meaning that it will remain mostly green and keep its leaves through cold winters, though its stems and/or branches may die back slightly.
After the onset of cold weather, the best way to protect plants in colder USDA zones is by applying a 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch. Use it on a day when the temperature has dropped below freezing.
It will keep the soil at a steady temperature and give the plant a better chance of surviving temperature swings that can hurt it.
Red creeping thyme requires frequent pruning whether grown in a rock garden or as a ground cover to form a dense mat. If you want your creeping thyme to thrive, this is the single most time-consuming step.
Trimming back the fine creeping texture stems in early spring allows for new growth during the growing season. You can also prune flowers when they die back at the end of summer. After that, wait until late fall to prune the woody stems of your plant.
How to Plant and Grow Red Creeping Thyme
Choose a sunny location where they can thrive. Although creeping thyme can tolerate some shade, peak flowering requires full sun i.e. 6+ hours of sunlight per day). Next, ensure that the soil drainage is great.
The soil can be made lighter by amending it with compost, leaf mold, or soil conditioner; sand can be added to clay soils.
How to Plant Red Creeping Thyme from Seed
Red creeping thyme grows quickly and has self-seeding characteristics. Once established outside, creeping thyme reproduces by self-seeding and keeps growing and enhancing the landscape.
Plant the red creeping thyme seeds directly in the ground after the last frost has passed, or sow the seeds indoors in trays filled with a high-quality potting mix before the six-week countdown to the end of frost season.
Since these seeds must have light to germinate, cover them with soil no deeper than 1/16 of an inch. Maintain temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit and keep the soil moist but not wet.
In 14 to 21 days, the seeds will sprout, and new growth will appear. Do ‘thinning’ by keeping only healthy seedlings and removing the weaker ones.
When the danger of frost has passed, transplant the seedlings into a large container or plant them directly in the garden once they have developed roots and grown in size.
How to Propagate Red Creeping Thyme
Red creeping thyme can be propagated by stem cutting or division. Snip a few stems that are not in bloom, remove the lower leaves, and then put them in water on a windowsill to develop roots. Cuttings can be potted once some roots have emerged.
You can divide red creeping thyme as well. As the plants grow, you can gently pull out a root ball and divide it in half. Replant one half and replant or donate the other half. Remember to water deeply to assist the roots in recovering from stress.
It’s best to divide every few seasons in the spring or early fall. Plants may need to be divided sooner if they are initially spaced more closely together.
How to Grow Red Creeping Thyme in Containers
When planted in pots, red creeping thyme spreads its dense mat of foliage and tiny flowers along the soil. Small containers, such as coffee cups, are perfect for planting the red creeping thyme seeds. Lightly cover the seeds in soil.
Maintain proper lighting conditions for them and moisten the soil with a spray bottle. These tiny pots are perfect for placing on kitchen tables as the new growth appears in just 14-21 days. You can also put them in big pots and put them on windowsills or balconies.
Common Pests and Plant Diseases for Red Creeping Thyme
All types of thyme have natural antibacterial and antifungal properties that keep pests and diseases away. This makes it a great companion for other plants. The most important thing to keep an eye out for is root rot, which can occur if the soil does not drain well.
If you experience root rot, amend the soil by adding sand and other organic materials like compost or leaf mold. Then replant while keeping a close eye on the soil’s moisture content.
However, spider mites can be a problem for creeping thyme plants in hot, dry summer conditions. These pests can be effectively treated with insecticidal soap. Both spider mites and aphids can infest houseplants and can be killed with insecticidal soap.