Thyme plants are aromatic herbs that come in a wide array of varieties, from ornamental and medicinal to culinary. Growing healthy herbs means having access to healthy accouterments in the kitchen. Their earthy flavored leaves are often used to add a savory accent to soups, stews, sauces, marinades, and herbal teas.
The sight and scent of thyme growing in gardens or along stony pathways exude the essence of summer for gardeners worldwide. Follow our robust growing guide for how to grow thyme and thyme plants, so this herbaceous favorite will keep thriving in your garden year after year.
Soil Preparation and pH for Thyme Plants
When growing thyme plants, provide them with average, well-draining soil that is sandy or loamy. Thyme and thyme plants are not very picky about their soil as long as the planting space has adequate drainage. Soil for thyme plants can measure 5.0 to 8.0 on the pH scale, with the prime target of 7.0. If you are not sure of your soil’s pH level, you can obtain a simple and inexpensive soil test kit from your local garden center.
Water and Nutrients for Growing Thyme
Thyme plants are extremely drought tolerant. Care should be taken when watering thyme plants because they do not like to be too wet. Always test the soil with your finger and allow the soil to dry between waterings. It’s best to water these aromatic gems thoroughly but on a less frequent basis.
Thyme plants do not need much more than the soil that it is planted in to thrive. If desired, you can amend the soil in early spring with some well-decomposed compost or premium potting mix to give them their best start.
Spacing for Growing Thyme
Thyme plants are strong and vigorous growing herbs, so they must be spaced accordingly to account for spread. When growing thyme plants, it is best to space plants 12 to 24 inches apart in rows that are 18-24 inches so that they have room to spread. Thyme plants can reach heights of anywhere between 8-24 inches, depending on the variety.
Light and Temperature for Growing Thyme
When considering how to grow thyme and thyme plants, we recommend that you consider light and temperature when planting.
- The ideal soil temperature for planting thyme outdoors is 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Plant thyme plants in an area of the garden that receives between 6-8 hours of full sunlight, providing partial shade in hotter climates.
- While thyme is traditionally a cold-hardy perennial, they risk the chance of not surviving a harsh winter in colder climates. Consider protecting plants with row covers or cold frames and adding extra mulch around the base for added protection from frost. If you shelter them, you’ll have the best chance at healthy plants returning in the spring after a winter’s dormancy period.
How to Plant a Thyme Plant
Many people opt to purchase plants from a garden center when growing thyme and thyme plants because this herb has an extended germination time, and success can be unpredictable. If you are determined to try, thyme can be sown from seed indoors, propagated from cuttings, or transplanted into the garden bed or container. When growing thyme from seeds, you can start them indoors six to ten weeks before the last frost date in your grow zone. Thyme seeds are very tiny, and you can expect them to take up to 28 days for them to germinate, so be patient. Follow these simple steps for propagating thyme seeds successfully.
- Seeds should be planted ¼ inch deep.
- Sprinkle soil over the seeds and tap the soil to firm in.
- Water thyme seeds in well.
- Maintain consistently moist soil throughout the germination period of 14 to 28 days.
- Thyme takes an average of between 75 and 90 days to reach maturity. Some varieties can take up to 200 days until they reach maturity! So, check seed packets carefully before starting seeds.
- Thin seedlings to 12 to 24 inches apart.
- Transplant thyme seedling outdoors after all danger of frost has passed and when the soil reaches the 70 degree Fahrenheit mark.
Where to Plant a Thyme Plant
Thyme is an excellent option for growing in containers, raised garden beds, and in-ground backyard gardens.
- Containers: Thyme plants can be grown successfully in containers. Be sure that you have a nice large pot or growing container with a well-draining potting mix and water intermittently. Growing in pots and grow buckets offers gardeners the flexibility of moving plants to different locations as needed. It also allows you to have fresh herbs right outside on your porch or patio.
- Raised Bed: Growing thyme in raised beds takes much of the guesswork out of supplying a nutrient-rich and well-draining soil for plants. You can control your garden’s soil quality in a raised garden bed, and plants and seeds will stay warmer earlier in the season than if they are planted in the ground.
- Backyard Garden: Thyme plants can be quickly and easily grown in a backyard garden as long as the soil is well tilled and drains well. Mulching can help with moisture regulation, reduce soil erosion, regulate soil temperature and prevent pesky weeds from propagating in your garden.
- Other: Certain thyme varieties are fantastic additions to more abstract planting areas. Consider planting creeping thyme within a stone pathway or between pavers. Walking over them will release a fragrant essence. Since thyme and thyme plants grow so well in variable well-draining soil, rock gardens and rock walls provide an ideal growing environment for these herbs.
Thyme Companion Planting
Placing different kinds of plants together in the same garden bed or container can significantly boost plants’ production and mutually benefit them in many ways. Thyme’s flowers attract pollinators, and its aroma can ward off pests that threaten nearby crops. They can even boost the flavor of their neighbors. Consider these pairings when thinking about how to grow thyme and thyme plants.
- When growing thyme and thyme plants, allow some of your crops to flower, attracting beneficial pollinators like bees to the garden bed.
- Plant with strawberries to deter pests like worms.
- Thyme can lure aphids away from your vegetables.
- Plant near tomatoes to deter the tomato hornworm.
- Thyme can improve the flavor of potatoes when planted in close proximity to spuds.
- Plant creeping thyme by blueberry bushes to increase pollination from bees.
Thyme Pests and Disease
As always, the best defense against pests and disease is planting with intention, providing plants with space for airflow, utilizing companion planting practices, and providing plants with essential nutrients, water, and soil conditions. When growing thyme and thyme plants, these tips can help reduce the impact of pests and disease.
- Root Rot – Allow soil to dry between waterings and ensure that soil is well-draining.
- Aphids- A few sharp sprays of hose water will likely be enough to knock these tiny bugs off the plant.
- Spider mites- A few sharp sprays of hose water will likely be enough to knock these tiny bugs off the plant. Be sure to directly spray at the undersides of leaves as well.
Whether you are using the herb for culinary or medicinal uses or not, it is best to regularly pinch back the plant branches to encourage new shoots, thereby producing a bushier plant. If the thyme plant shows signs of over-drying, cut back the afflicted areas and water in well to promote regenerative growth.
Harvesting a Thyme Plant
Thyme and thyme plants can be harvested throughout the summer and through much of the fall in many growing zones. Like most herbaceous plants, harvesting times encourage new growth and fuller plants, which makes the cut and come again method of harvesting advantageous. Harvest thyme in the morning when essential oil levels are at their highest.
Thyme and thyme plants attain maturity anywhere from 70-200 days depending on the variety, but it is well worth the wait. Leaves can be harvested throughout the growing period, which will help the plant grow fuller and more robust. Harvest thyme leaves by pinching or snipping a branch just above a leaf node, using care not to cut back more than one-third of the branch or plant at a time. Continue to pinch off branch tips and leaves from stems to boost new branch and leaf production. Use the leaves fresh, freeze them in an airtight container, or dry them for future use.
Recommended Thyme Varieties
There are many different varieties of thyme plants that vary in height, color, scent, and flavor. When selecting a thyme plant, try rubbing the leaves of the plant to test its fragrance. The more intense the smell of the leaves are, the more flavor they will have. Here are some of our favorite selections when growing thyme.
- ‘Orangela’ takes 180 to 200 days to reach full maturity. The plant has delicate leaves and an earthy orange taste, making it a culinary masterpiece.
- ‘Common Thyme’ attracts bees and other beneficial pollinators. Most widely planted culinary variety of thyme.
- ‘Creeping Thyme’ makes an aromatic spreading groundcover. Lovely when planted in containers, over a stone wall, or in a rock garden.
- ‘English Thyme’ has a maturation time of 70 days and is a taller variety with light purple to gray colored blooms.
- Lemon Thyme’ is much like common thyme but with a touch of lemon scent and flavor.