Are you one of those who is tired of mowing their turf lawns all the time? Are you worried about the increasing cost of fertilizing it to keep your lawn green? Then a creeping thyme lawn might be the solution for you!
In an effort to reduce water use and time spent caring for lawns, some gardeners are replacing their turf with thyme. Thyme is an ideal grass alternative.
It requires less water, is generally tough (see “you can walk on it” below), is drought resistant, hardy all the way north to zone 4 if it’s healthy, and will spread easily to fill in most of the space that you want it to.
Plus, it doesn’t have to be that tricky either; with the right tips and method you can have a beautiful lawn full of lavender-hued blooms that last long into the season.
This article will teach you all that and more, including exactly why thyme is a great grass alternative, and how to have your own creeping thyme lawn at home.
Why is Creeping Thyme Lawn Growing in Popularity?
Unfortunately, no matter how much we try and maintain our turf lawn, there comes a time when it goes from a beautiful, lush green lawn to a brown, patchy mess.
For many of us, this can be disheartening, but here at Planet Natural we want you to always have the backyard of your dreams.
That’s where creeping thyme comes in; it’s one of the best grass alternatives out there and there are many benefits to having one. Let’s look at some of our top reasons to have a creeping thyme lawn:
One of the best reasons to have a creeping thyme lawn is that it’s not only drought-resistant but it generally requires a lot less watering than traditional grass lawns.
In fact, creeping thyme dislikes wet conditions and has a preference for dry or moist soil instead. It thrives in full sun and is hardy in US Hardiness Zones 4 to 10. It’s so drought-tolerant that it’s actually recommended to hold back on our instinct to water it the way we water traditional grass!
Doesn’t Require Mowing
Yes, you read that right! There is generally no need to mow a thyme lawn, especially in the case of groundcover thymes.
It may, however, be a good idea to mow more bushy types once a year. But then again, that’s only one time a year. Compare that with the dozens of times you need to mow a turf lawn and maybe that alone is enough for you to want a creeping thyme lawn.
No Need to Replant
Since creeping thyme is a perennial, you don’t need to replant it every year. Instead, they live for longer than a year and grow and keep spreading. It’s also evergreen, meaning it stays green the whole year.
One of the best things about having a creeping thyme lawn is that it becomes a carpet of attractive, lavender, and pink flowers that lasts long into the season. If you’re looking to replace your thirsty grass with something more xeric, consider thyme.
Since thyme is essentially an herb, it emits a beautiful aroma especially when crushed underfoot. It can also serve multiple purposes, thanks to its versatility and you can collect it to use in the kitchen.
Fortunately, there are many fragrant ornamental and culinary varieties that this beautiful herb comes in. And yes, we all rave about the smell of freshly cut grass but those who have smelled a beautiful creeping thyme lawn know the true beauty of it.
Speaking of aroma, thanks to the fragrance of the creeping thyme flowers and the nectar they produce, it attracts a lot of bees and butterflies. It even provides a beautiful habitat for them.
Repels Deer, Rabbits, and Mosquitoes
The scent not only attracts beautiful pollinators, but also repels deer, rabbits, and mosquitoes! So if you’ve been looking for ways to keep deer out of your yard, consider having a creeping thyme lawn.
Keeps Weed at Bay
If having a weed-free lawn is at the top of your list of priorities (as it should be!), then a creeping thyme lawn is the perfect choice for you! Similar to other ground covers, it chokes out weeds and keeps them at bay.
No Need to Fertilize
This has got to be one of our favorite reasons to have a creeping thyme lawn! This stunning, low-maintenance turf alternative truly is low maintenance, which means that you don’t need to fertilize it either!
You Can Walk On It
Can you walk on thyme, like you could turf grass? Yes, once it’s established, but not too much, especially when dry. But make a path with stones or pavers for high-traffic areas. And when you do walk on it, enjoy the smell that rises from your feet!
It’s Also An Herb Garden
When you have a creeping thyme lawn, it’s not just a lawn but is also like having an herb garden all in one! You can use thyme leaves in a variety of ways in the kitchen, and their potent flavor is perfect for many culinary uses.
Downsides to Putting in a Thyme Lawn
There are downsides to putting in a thyme lawn. It can be expensive. When you’re planting plugs of thyme 6 to 12 inches apart, you can burn up a lot of cash fast.
Most sources recommend planting smaller areas. If you have a croquet court-sized yard (in other words, large) you might want to consider planting only part of it in thyme to start. You can always go back and expand your thyme planting another season.
The other downside is the labor it takes to get your thyme in the ground. You’ll need to kill off all the grass where you intend to plant first. This can be a slow and difficult process.
Which Thyme Varieties Work Best?
There are many varieties of thyme that you can use as a lawn alternative. Here are our top three recommendations:
Red creeping thyme (Thymus coccineus)
The red creeping thyme is one of the most popular varieties used as a groundcover and grows into attractive red blooms, as the name suggests. Interestingly, the stem grows horizontally instead of ‘creeping’ and spreading, and once it touches the soil, new roots start to grow on the stem.
Check out our article How to Plant, Grow, and Care for Red Creeping Thyme for more information.
Elfin thyme (Thymus serpyllum ‘Elfin’)
This is one of the smallest varieties of thyme and is also known to grow slowly. This makes it an ideal option in areas where you don’t want thyme to cover everything, such as walkways and stepping stones.
Wooly thyme (Thymus pseudolanuginosus)
This is a great fast-growing variety that can also handle foot traffic well, making it perfect for your lawn.
How to Plant Creeping Thyme as a Lawn Alternative
How to do it? The easiest way is to use multiple applications of some herbicides like Roundup®. But this comes down to personal choice, and you may not be in this for easy; some of us like to choose the organic route to protect ourselves, our loved ones, and the environment at large from harmful sprays.
If that sounds like you, then digging it up is a poisonless way to do it but a lot of work. You can’t just yank up sod, leaving behind roots that will result in another layer of grass popping up. If you do dig — say you have a small space that will be manageable — dig deep and make sure you remove any trace of roots.
Another tried and true way to remove turf is to smother it in black plastic, cardboard, or a ton of newspapers. Make sure the plastic has no holes and that it extends several inches beyond the turf.
Weigh it down with rocks or mulch. It may take as long as a full season — 3 months — to completely kill the grass. Be sure to till once the plastic is removed.
Another way is to cover the grass completely with newspaper and then mulch. Water evenly to soak the mulch and press the paper against the grass.
The paper will eventually decompose (we like to say “compost”) and at that point the grass will have decomposed as well. Again, turn the soil completely, pulling out any roots that remain. We told you it was work, didn’t we?
Tips for the Best Creeping Thyme Lawn
Soil for thyme should drain well for best results. It’s also wise to add bone meal or rock phosphate before planting. Organic compost — as always — is a good idea.
When tilling in these amendments, do it to a depth of only six inches or so; not the standard 12 inches (thyme is a shallow rooter). If conditions are dry, water the thyme in pots thoroughly before placing it in the ground, then water your new thyme lawn thoroughly, to a depth of at least four inches.
Thyme may be drought tolerant but it needs water to get established. Plant different kinds of thyme — silver, creeping, wooly — for a variety of colors and flowering times. A few of the popular culinary herbs — English thyme, citriodorus — could go around the edges for easy access. You can also try one of the three varieties we’ve recommended above.
Some gardeners mow their thyme after it flowers to keep it neat looking and encourage it to spread. Your practical and sometimes lazy Planet Natural Blogger doesn’t think this is necessary.
And so, once you’ve set up your creeping thyme lawn, you can happily say goodbye to regular watering and fussing over your lawn and enjoy the beautiful blooms and pleasant aroma of this lawn alternative.
Eric Vinje founded Planet Natural with his father Wayne in 1991, originally running it as a grasshopper bait mail-order business out of a garage.
Eric is now retired, but is still a renowned gardener known for his expertise in composting, organic gardening and pest control, utilizing pesticide-free options, such as beneficial insects.
Eric believes when you do something good for the environment, the effects will benefit generations to come.
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