Growing Thyme in a Garden: What You Need To Know for Success

Thyme is a versatile herb that is essential in a variety of Italian and Mediterranean cuisine. It should be a must-have in every garden, whether in a small pot for cooking purposes or planted in a larger area as ground cover. Thyme is resilient and will flourish in most climates.

Thyme can be grown for use as a culinary herb or as a drought-tolerant decorative ground cover. It prefers full to moderate sun and will lose its leaves in the freezing cold but will remain evergreen in warmer climates growing in USDA Zones 2 through 10.  

Thyme is easy to grow and shouldn’t prove to be difficult even for a beginning gardener! Read on to understand what thyme needs to grow well, when to harvest it, and common issues when growing the herb.

Also, you will find more information about common cooking uses and the health benefits it provides. 

Growing Thyme: What To Know

Thyme is a perennial cooking herb that grows well as a lush ground cover, flowering with small purple flowers in the fall. It usually grows to a minimum height of 6 inches but doesn’t grow over 12 inches tall.

Why Grow Thyme?

Growing thyme is a great addition to any herb garden for its practical culinary uses as well as a low-maintenance ground cover. Only flowering in the late summer and fall, there is no need to prune the flowers off, but it can help promote new vegetative growth. 

Where Should I Plant Thyme in My Garden?

Thyme is a low-growing woody herb that does best in full sun or light shade. It grows in a spreading habit along the ground, so it is best planted in an area in which it is free to expand. Thyme makes a wonderful underplanting that blooms with small light lavender-colored flowers at the end of the warm seasons. If you don’t have ground space in your garden, plant it in a pot! 

Ideal Soil for Thyme

Choose soil that drains quickly and has a mild sandy loamy texture. Thyme prefers dry soil over wet, and it doesn’t like dense clay soils with little air space.

What Should Not Be Planted Next to Thyme?

Since thyme prefers drier growing conditions, it is best to plant it with other herbs and plants that prefer the same conditions. While it may seem like a good idea to plant culinary herbs in the same area, it is advisable to plant herbs like cilantro, chives, basil, parsley, and dill in an area away from thyme. 

When To Plant Thyme

Thyme is best planted in the spring or summer. It will do the majority of its growth during these months, giving it ample time to establish itself. In warmer climates, it can also be planted in the fall or winter but won’t grow significantly until the temperatures and sunlight increase. 

Thyme Plant Spacing

Thyme has a spreading habit, so it is recommended to plant the herb 12 to 18 inches apart. The seedlings should grow to fill in the space over the next two seasons. 

How Long Does Thyme Take To Grow?

Thyme grows moderately quickly. If grown from seed it will be at least 3-4 months before it has grown to a harvestable size and a full season or two before it grows large enough to have an ample supply. 

Thyme Flowering

Flowering in the late summer and fall, thyme will produce small purple flowers. To keep your thyme growing usable foliage, prune the flowers back. Allowing this herb to flower will not cause it to die but will allow it to create seeds that can grow and increase the density of your plantings. 

Thyme Pests

A mostly pest-resistant herb, thyme is usually not bothered by bad insects. The most common ones you may encounter are aphids and spider mites, but both can be remedied easily by using insecticidal soap or neem oil spray (find it here). 

Thyme Uses

Thyme is commonly used in cooking either with entire full sprigs or with the leaves removed to sprinkle into sauces or chopped finely for a fresh garnish. It is also used to make thyme tea which provides minerals and health benefits.

Thyme Health Benefits

Most people don’t think of thyme as being full of health benefits, but it is loaded with minerals and vitamins that are beneficial! The most prevalent are vitamin c, manganese, and potassium, which all contribute to increased immunity, regulated blood flow, and overall healthy cells. 

Thyme Uses in Cooking

Thyme pairs best with poultry and fish dishes. It is also commonly added to marinara sauces, vegetable dishes, and potatoes, and it even pairs well with eggs! It can be utilized in full sprigs or only the leaves if the woody stem can not be removed. 

How To Plant Thyme

If you’re planting thyme from seed, it usually works best to begin the plants where you can keep an eye on them rather than out in the garden. The seeds are extremely small, so they can easily be disturbed. 

  1. Fill a small pot with soil, and simply sprinkle your thyme seeds on top of the soil. 
  2. Gently press the seeds in to help keep them from being moved.
  3. Covering the seeds can be helpful to keep the soil moist, but don’t bury them too much. They may have difficulty growing through a covering more than ⅛ inch deep. 
  4. It can also be helpful to cover the seeds with a humidity dome to keep them moist. 

Thyme Plant Care

Thyme does not mind being forgotten about and can withstand harsh environments like extreme heat and cold. Ensure you water it every so often, but it prefers dry soil rather than wet. 

Seasonally cutting the plants back can be helpful to promote new growth. As thyme ages, it will become twiggy on the interior. Pruning 50% of the thyme plant back before spring will help new stems to grow abundantly in the following season. 

How Much Sun Does Thyme Need?

Thyme grows best in full sun or partial shade. Aim to plant your thyme in an area that receives at least 5-6 hours of sunlight daily. Anything less, and you’ll notice that the plant will not grow. 

Thyme Water Requirements

A great drought-tolerant species, it should thrive only being watered every week or two. It may even last longer than that, so always be sure to check the soil moisture, only watering if the soil feels dry 1-2 inches into the soil. 

Fertilizing Thyme

Thyme doesn’t require much, but it will benefit from light fertilization. It can help to balance any nutrient deficiencies in the soil and provide ample nutrients to grow abundantly so you can harvest more for use in the kitchen! 

What Type of Fertilizer Does Thyme Need?

Since it is utilized for its leaves, thyme is best fertilized with a high-nitrogen fertilizer with small amounts of potassium and phosphorus. A well-balanced fertilizer (this one is very good) will also help to give the herb everything it needs without providing anything in an unequal proportion. 

How Often Should You Fertilize Thyme?

Fertilize thyme seasonally in the spring to give it the ample nutrients it needs to produce fresh stems for use. 

Harvesting Thyme

Cut stems when they reach a length of 4 to 6 inches. Be careful not to harvest too many sprigs of thyme off an immature plant — it may hurt it since it doesn’t have the energy to recover from the loss of the majority of its foliage. 

How Do You Increase Thyme Growth?

Increasing thyme growth can be done in a few ways: 

  • Fertilizing is the best way to give your thyme a boost of growth. 
  • Dialing in the amount of water you are giving the plant will help provide the perfect growing environment, helping it thrive.
  • If you’re able to, give the plant more sun by relocating it or pruning back other plants to allow sunlight to penetrate easily. 

How Do I Make My Thyme Bushier?

Thyme is a low-growing herb, so it usually doesn’t grow tall or bushy. However, cutting back thyme at different heights will promote taller growth. 

If you cut the thyme back by 1-2 inches, a new shoot will begin to grow from below the cut. This will then grow a few inches. Cut back that new growth by an inch or two so it grows a new shoot. This will help to increase its height, and it will become bushier over time.  

How Do You Cut Thyme So It Keeps Growing?

Only cut thyme back to harvest once it has grown a substantial amount. If you cut back the entire plant, it will have difficulty growing without its energy-producing leaves. Always leave a few inches of the stem that is connected to the roots so it can grow new stems from where you cut it. 

Does Thyme Come Back Every Year?

Thyme is a perennial herb, so it will flower in the fall, go dormant in the winter, and then regrow in the spring and summer. You don’t need to do anything in preparation for its dormancy, but pruning it back can help to promote lush new growth next season. 

Conclusion 

You shouldn’t worry while growing thyme as it can handle difficult growing conditions as well as being cut back pretty significantly. Thyme is a great ornamental and culinary garden staple that everyone should make space for in their garden!