There are about 350 different species of thyme that come in many scents and flavors. Its aromatic aroma makes it an ideal herb for seasoning a variety of tasty dishes. It’s also got lots of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients!
To help ensure your Thyme thrives, we’ve put together this how-to video and transcript covering topics like:
Glossary of Thyme terms
Varieties of Thyme available
Starting your Thyme seeds
Caring for Thyme at all stages
Fertilizer and/or Mulching
Transplanting best practices
Companion Plants do’s and don’ts
Common Problems and Their Solutions
Pests, Diseases and what to do about them
Harvesting and storing your Thyme
Glossary of thyme terms
Before we get started, let’s learn a little bit about thyme!
Plants that are expected to live longer than two years. Thyme is a low-growing, evergreen, woody perennial.
The process of growing a new plant by using a cutting from an established plant.
The clump of roots attached to the bottom of your plant.
Varieties of thyme
Depending on the flavor you’re after, you have some different options to choose from!
FRENCH AND ENGLISH THYME
The most popular of the culinary varieties of thyme.
True to its name, this variety grows low and only 2-3 inches tall. It has either pink, magenta, lavender, or white flowers, and is also often used as a ground cover.
Similar Varieties: Caraway thyme This low-growing variety has pale pink flowers and the scent of caraway.
GOLDEN LEMON THYME
This thyme has a true lemon scent, as well as the minty quality of thyme. Its leaves are multicolored with a gold outline.
Similar Varieties: Citrus Thymes A diverse group that has plants with lemon, lime, and orange fragrances.
Before you get started, keep in mind that thyme seeds are difficult to germinate and can take a long time to sprout. Typically, thyme is grown by propagating cuttings or by layering.
Planting Thyme Transplants
Gently scatter your seeds over the soil in their container.
Next, gently scatter soil over the seeds and then water thoroughly.
Cover with plastic wrap, and then place the container in a warm spot.
Seeds will typically germinate anywhere between 1-12 weeks, and once seedlings are 4 inches (20 cm) high, you can plant them in your garden.
Keep in mind that if you’re growing thyme in small cells, you might need to transplant the seedlings to 3-4 inch pots first, when seedlings have at least 2 pairs of leaves.
This gives them enough room to develop strong roots before being transplanted into your garden.
Propagating Thyme Using Cuttings
Clip a three-inch cutting from the very tip of a stem, and apply some rooting hormone on the exposed part of the stem.
Typically, a small amount of apple cider vinegar is all you need to create this organic rooting hormone.
Use one teaspoon of vinegar in 5-6 cups (1.2-1.4 L.) of water.
Then, plant your cutting either in sterile sand or vermiculite (a mineral substance).
Roots typically emerge within six weeks, then you can transfer to a small pot. Here, let the root ball form, and then transfer to a large pot or directly to your garden.
PROPAGATING BY LAYERING
Take a long thyme stem and carefully secure it along the soil with wire or a U-shaped stake, leaving 4 inches of the tip free. Make sure the pinned portion is directly touching the soil. Roots will start to form along the stem within about a month. Then, cut away the newly rooted plant from the main plant, and transfer elsewhere in your garden or to a large pot.
Caring for Thyme
In this section, we’ll cover everything you need to know about ideal growing conditions, watering and thinning your thyme, as well as how to apply fertilizer and mulch. We’ll also talk transplanting, companion planting, and your growing structure options!
Thyme can be grown in USDA zones 5 through 9. Its ideal soil temperature for germination is between 15-21°C (60-70°F), while its air temperature tolerance is between 60-80°F (15-27°C).
You’ll want to choose a spot in full sun with well-drained soil to grow your thyme.
Then, prepare its bed by turning soil under to a depth of 8 inches.
Make sure to level with a rake to remove any clumps of grass or stones.
Dig a hole for each plant that’s large enough to accommodate its entire root ball.
Carefully remove the plant from its pot, then gently loosen the root ball with your hands to encourage good root development.
Set your plants 12 inches apart, and place the top of the root ball so that it’s even with the level of the surrounding soil.
Fill the hole with soil to the top of the root ball, then gently firm the soil with your hand.
Be sure to thoroughly water and apply a light mulch layer on top of your soil (about 1-2 inches) to conserve water and reduce the growth of weeds.
If you plant thyme in a raised bed, keep the plants toward the center of the bed instead of at the edges. This will help insulate their roots during the winter.
Keep your plants well-watered during the growing season, especially during dry spells – typically, plants need about 1 inch of rain each week.
You can use a rain gauge to check this amount, then add water if there wasn’t enough rainfall. It’s best to water thyme using a drip or trickle system, which delivers water at low pressure near the soil level.
If you water with overhead sprinklers, you’ll want to do so early in the day so that the leaves have enough time to dry off before the evening. This will help to minimize disease problems.
Keep the soil moist, but be careful that it’s not too saturated.
Pruning and Thinning Thyme
The lifespan of thyme plants averages about 5-6 years.
If you notice that your plants are beginning to deteriorate, prune the existing plants back to rejuvenate them.
Seedlings should be thinned to a final spacing of 4-6 inches (10–15 cm), allowing for 8-10 inches (20–25 cm) between the rows.
Growing thyme in poor soil with little water will actually cause it to grow better. For this reason, thyme is an excellent choice for xeriscaping (a landscaping or gardening process that limits/ eliminates the need for added water from irrigation) as well as for low water landscapes.
FERTILIZING AND/OR MULCHING
Seedlings don’t need much fertilizer – so you can feed them when they’re 3-4 weeks old using a starter solution (half the strength of a complete indoor houseplant food).
Once planted, thyme will grow well without fertilization, but it will definitely benefit from the occasional application of well-aged manure or a balanced fertilizer.
Mulches also help retain soil moisture while maintaining even soil temperatures.
For herbs, an organic mulch of aged bark or shredded leaves will improve the soil as it breaks down in time.
Remember to always keep mulches off your plants’ stems to prevent possible rot.
TRANSPLANTING BEST PRACTICES
Before planting in the garden, seedlings need to be hardened-off first.
Get your young plants used to outdoor conditions by moving them to a sheltered place outside for a week.
Be sure to protect them from wind and hot sun at first. If there’s any threat of overnight frost, either cover or bring your containers indoors, taking them back out in the morning.
This hardening-off process toughens up your plants and reduces transplant shock and scalding.
GROWING STRUCTURE OPTIONS
When using raised beds, make sure to remove all rocks, shrubs, weeds and plant debris first.
If needed, fertilize accordingly to supplement the nutrition added from compost or organic matter.
If your soil’s pH is too low, add some lime to make the soil more alkaline.
Then, add about 4 inches of organic matter or compost to the surface and incorporate it with a pitch fork to a depth of 6-8 inches (15 – 20cm).
Raised or slightly mounded beds provide the best drainage for this herb, and be sure to keep your plants toward the center of the bed instead of at the edges. This will help insulate their roots during the winter.
Like most herbs, thyme has a sturdy root system that’s usually a bit larger than the top of the plant.
As a general rule of thumb, a pot that contains 1 gallon of potting mix is a good size for one thyme plant, since smaller pots can cramp the roots.
Drainage is critical, so make sure your container/pot has at least one drainage hole in the bottom.
An excellent container for growing thyme is a clay planter. Other types of pots will work, but a clay pot allows your thyme to dry out between watering. It also helps prevent overly wet roots, which is important considering thyme isn’t tolerant of soggy root conditions. As with any container, clay pots need at least one large drainage hole.
COMPANION PLANTS DO’S AND DON’TS
An all-around beneficial plant for the garden, thyme is particularly good for Brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and kale) because it repels cabbage moths.
It’s also great for strawberries, as it enhances their flavor.
Brussels sprouts, eggplant, and;
sweet potato all make great companions to grow with your thyme.
Common challenges and their solutions
There are a number of pests and diseases that can potentially harm your thyme plant. Not to worry – we’ve outlined them below, as well as how to either avoid or fix the problem.
These pests are usually a problem for the undersides of leaves and/or stems of your plant. They tend to feed in groups on the undersides of branches – and often spread diseases.
Solution: Use a strong jet of water to wash them off your plants.
Neem oil, insecticidal soaps, and horticultural oils are also effective against aphids. Just be sure to follow the application instructions on the packaging!
Oftentimes, you can also get rid of aphids by wiping or spraying the leaves with a mild solution of water and a few drops of dish soap (one variation includes adding a pinch of cayenne pepper).
Soapy water should be reapplied every 2-3 days for about 2 weeks.
They might eat your plants entirely (they tend to eat a lot of things in the garden!).
Solution: You can try using a deer repellent to keep them away from your thyme.
Homemade sprays with garlic powder and cayenne are almost as effective as commercial ones, but they need to be reapplied more often since they wash off with rain more easily.
Also, you can try using a physical barrier like fences for your young plants.
Mealy bugs are small, long, and flat wingless insects that secrete a white powder which then forms a waxy shell that protects them. They clump into masses that look like cotton on the stems, branches and leaves of your thyme plant. They also suck the juices from leaves and stems, which causes your plants to become quite weak.
Solution: Wash the infected parts of your plant under the faucet and try to rub the bugs off. You can also try controlling them with predator insects like lacewings, ladybugs, and parasitic wasps.
These tiny spider-like pests are about the size of a grain of pepper and can be red, black, brown or yellow in color. They suck on the plant juices, removing chlorophyll and injecting toxins which then cause white dots to appear.
Oftentimes there’s also some webbing visible on the plant. Spider mites cause leaves to turn yellow and become dry and dotted. Typically, they multiply quickly and thrive in dry conditions.
Solution: Spider mites can sometimes be controlled with a forceful spray of water every other day. You can also try hot pepper wax or insecticidal soap to get rid of them.
These pesky flies will group together on the undersides of leaves and fly up when disturbed.
Solution: Remove any affected leaves, or the whole plant if it’s severely infested. Introduce beneficial insects (like ladybugs, spiders, lacewing larvae, and dragonflies ) into your garden, use yellow sticky traps, and apply insecticidal soaps or oils.
Keep in mind that these oils (like neem oil) might reduce whitefly numbers, but they won’t eliminate them entirely.
ALTERNARIA LEAF SPOT
Small, round, reddish-brown spots with white to gray centers will form on the upper surface of your plant’s leaves. These lesions might encircle the stems and cause them to wilt. Typically, this disease is worse in warm, wet, or very humid weather.
Solution: Prune out any infected leaves and make sure your plants have ample spacing, which will reduce humidity and promote good air circulation.
You’ll also want to disinfect your pruning shears (one part bleach to 4 parts water) after each cut.
Keep the soil under your plants clean and free of garden debris, and add a layer of organic compost to prevent the spores from splashing back up onto your plant.
A fungus that causes grey mold on flowers, leaves, stems and buds. It usually thrives in cool, wet weather conditions.
Solution: Remove any affected plant parts, avoid watering at night or getting water on your plants as you water them, and make sure your plants have good air circulation.
You can usually find safe fungicides to fight against botrytis.
A number of diseases can cause both the roots of seedlings and mature plants to rot.
Solution: Pull up and destroy any infected plants. Also, make sure that your soil has excellent water drainage.
This is one of the most Common challenges when starting your plants from seed. Seedlings will emerge and appear healthy, then suddenly they’ll wilt and die for no obvious reason.
Damping off is caused by a fungus that thrives when conditions have a lot of moisture, and when soil and air temperatures are above 68°F. Typically, this means that your soil is either too wet or it has high amounts of nitrogen fertilizer.
Solution: Keep your seedlings moist, but don’t overwater them. You’ll also want to avoid over-fertilizing them too. Thin out your seedlings to avoid overcrowding and to make sure they’re getting good air circulation. If you plant in containers, make sure to thoroughly wash them in soapy water and rinse in a 10% bleach solution after each use.
This fungal disease happens on the tops of leaves in humid weather conditions. Leaves will have a whitish or greyish surface and might also curl.
Solution: Avoid this disease by spacing and pruning your plants to provide good air circulation.
Use a thick layer of mulch or organic compost to cover the soil after it’s been raked and cleaned, which will help prevent the disease spores from splashing back up onto the leaves.
Milk sprays, made with 40% milk and 60% water, are an effective home remedy you can try.
For best results, spray your plant leaves as a preventative measure every 10-14 days.
Also, you can occasionally wash the leaves of your thyme to disrupt the daily spore-releasing cycle.
Neem oil and PM Wash, used on a 7-day schedule, will also help prevent fungal attacks on plants grown indoors.
Finally, water in the morning so that your plants have a chance to dry out during the day. Drip irrigation and soaker hoses are both options that will help keep your plant leaves dry.
Harvesting and storing
Unlike basil and other annual herbs, you shouldn’t count on harvesting thyme in the first (or even the second) year, except for a very light picking of the leaves.
Thyme is best harvested just prior to flowering, when the essential oil content of its leaves is at its highest.
Plants can also be harvested during flowering, but those flowers are very attractive to bees – which can make your harvesting problematic.
Once it’s ready, simply harvest your thyme by cutting the branches 3-4 inches (8-10 cm) above the ground.
In order to dry the leaves, cut whole stems on a sunny morning. Tie the stems loosely in small bunches, then hang in a dry, airy location out of the sun.
Another option is to spread harvested thyme on a cheesecloth or on a window screen in a dry, shady location.
Another option is to dry your thyme in the oven for 2-3 hours. Simply place on a cookie sheet, set your oven to its lowest heat setting, and leave the oven door ajar.
Once it’s thoroughly dry, store your thyme in a tightly sealed container in a dry, dark location (like a cupboard).
Thyme can also be frozen in ice cube trays, either in water or olive oil. Just be sure to remove the leaves from their stems first.
You can add thyme to vinegars and herb butters, and even infuse honey with it – yum!