This low-maintenance plant needs very little water or attention but delivers huge returns as a garden pollinator and seasoning. Dried or fresh, it adds a subtle finishing flavor to a wide variety of dishes. Vegetables, soups, meats, stews, sauces - you name it, thyme can often enhance it.
type of perennial: herb
There are more than 200 varieties of thyme but not all are fragrant enough to use in cooking. Varieties you can flavor food with include french, lemon, carraway, orange, german winter, summer, and english. Many varieties also make good ground cover.
WHERE THYME THRIVES
Thyme grows well in zones 5 to 8. While thyme grows best in dry conditions, you can grow thyme anywhere. In areas where temperatures fall below 10 degrees thyme becomes an annual. Some culinary varieties are particularly sensitive and die with hard ground frosts.
Optimal shade & sun
Thyme grows best in full sunlight, unless it’s grown in hot climates. In hot regions thyme will thrive best with some shade.
Adaptability to climate extremes
With so much variety it’s easy to get the wrong kind of thyme for your region. Here’s where it pays to ask your local nursery for recommendations. Generally speaking, however, thyme can adapt to extreme hot and dry weather, and could still grow well in extremely wet and cold weather as long as the soil is well-drained and maintained.
Because thyme grows best in dry soil it is extremely drought-resistant.
PREP YOUR SOIL
Optimal type of soil
Thyme grows well in sandy loam soil, that is, soil that is gritty, includes sand particles, and drains well. Soil that is too rich or waterlogged will inhibit thyme’s growth. If you don’t have, or don’t want to cultivate, sandy loam soil, use a light touch with watering. Thyme grows best in dry dirt.
As with mint and many other mint family herbs, thyme is tough to grow from seed. For that reason, experts recommend starting with cuttings or store-bought plants. Use cuttings from plants that have been grown in sand or dry soil and plant in a pot. Dipping the end of the stem in a hormone powder before planting will enhance growth. Once a root ball forms the thyme can be transplanted to your garden. Thyme should be planted about a foot apart.
If you’re planting from seed, sprinkle them a few inches apart and lightly cover with soil. If you sow thyme too deep they won’t be able to push through the surface.
Best time of year to plant
Plant thyme cuttings 2 to 3 weeks after the last frost, which usually falls from mid-April to mid-May, but of course varies depending on region. This frost chart by region can provide guidance. If you try growing thyme from seed, start indoors at least 10 weeks before the last spring frost.
Rosemary is a natural herb companion because it has similar watering needs. Grow thyme alongside eggplant, cabbage, strawberries, tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli.
Thyme is a fragrant evergreen herb that spreads well, produces tiny flowers, and can grow to a height of about a foot. For its first year prune only lightly to help it get through the winter. After that go ahead and prune as needed. Pruning promotes the growth of new woody branches. You can prune by pinching off the tips
Thyme only needs to be watered occasionally. When the soil becomes dry, give it a thorough watering.
To help thyme get through the winter apply 1 to 2 inches mulch after the soil has cooled from summer temperatures but before the ground freezes. Many gardeners mulch thyme with a thin layer of limestone gravel to maximize drainage, reflect sunlight, and suppress weeds. The lime also produces more alkaline soil, which thyme prefers.
Add fertilizer to the soil before planting. Adding organic matter like compost or mulch can be helpful early spring, but is not necessary.
Thyme doesn’t handle competition well. Keep thyme well-weeded and protected so that it can flourish on its own. Using limestone gravel as part of regular mulching can help minimize weeds.
In dry weather or dusty conditions, near dirt roads, for instance, or windy areas with exposed soil, spider mites can pose a challenge. Proving proper drainage, air circulation, and pruning can help prevent a pest infiltration.
In humid climates, root rot and various fungi can develop. Giving each plant plenty of space, good drainage, and air can help prevent these problems from happening.
Particular growing challenges
Avoid heavy pruning in late summer or fall. It encourages growth that will quickly be killed by frost.
Thyme can be harvested and used whenever. As with mint and lemon balm, you’ll get the best flavor if you harvest right before the plant flowers in summer. Don’t be shy about taking what you want; typically everything you harvest will grow back.
Refrigerate in a sealed plastic container.
Thyme’s miniscule leaves dry quickly and can be stored and used as a dry seasoning or rub.