HARDINESS: Zones 4 to 9
PREFERRED SOIL pH: Neutral to slightly alkaline
PREFERRED SOIL TYPE: Crumbly, well-drained
PREFERRED LIGHT: Sun
ATTRIBUTES: Fragrant creeping herb; white, pink, or lavender flowers; for groundcover
SEASON OF INTEREST: Spring through foil
FAVORITES: T. serpyllum 'Coccineus'; T. vulgaris 'Argentus', 'Aureus'; T. x citriodorus
QUIRKS: Seed-grown plants mature slowly and vary in looks and flavor
GOOD NEIGHBORS: Achillea, alyssum, poppy, rosemary, lavender, salvia, most herbs
WHERE IT GROWS BEST: Sun in sandy, well-drained soil
POTENTIAL PROBLEMS: Soggy soil in any season encourages deadly fungal root-rot disease
RENEWIN GPLANTS: Lives years; divide every 2 years to maintain vigor
CRITTER RESISTANCE: Good except for mealybugs
SOURCE: Bedding plants, division
DIMENSIONS: 2-8 in (5.1-20.3 cm) tall, to 12 in (30.5 cm) wide
Thyme in the Landscape
Brush against or tread upon a planting of thyme and a pungent aroma wafts upward.This fragrant herb, used for centuries in the kitchen, is a care-free charmer in the garden, withstanding drought, heat, strong sun, and even light foot traffic. Its leaves always look tidy and become smothered under tiny flowers for several weeks in late spring and early summer.
Varying in height from 2-8 in (5.1-20.3 cm), thyme can serve many purposes. The smallest grow easily between paving stones, cascade over the edges of containers, or fit in the crevices of a sunny stone wall. The more upright varieties form little mounds of foliage that are perfect for edging a sunny bed of other herbs, flowers, or even roses.
The Colors and Scents of Thyme
Thyme leaves may be golden, green, blue-gray, bronze, or silver and they smell like everything from woodsy nutmeg to refreshing lemon. The flowers are often pastels, in white, pink, or lavender, although some varieties bloom in hot pink or red.
Woolly thyme (Thymus pseudolanuginosus) forms a dense carpet of fuzzy gray-green foliage with white flowers. The popular creeping thyme (T. serpyllum), also called mother-of-thyme, forms a 4 in (10.2 cm) tall groundcover with olive leaves and pink or purple flowers. One cultivar, 'Coccineus', spreads a bright crimson layer of flowers over its deep green leaves. Lemon thyme (T. x citriodorus) stands a little taller, reaching 6 in (15.2 cm), with variegated green -and-yellow lemon-scented leaves topped by tiny white or lilac flowers.
The thyme commonly used in cooking, T. vulgaris, is a wiry 8 in (20.3 cm) tall plant with lavender flowers. The cultivar 'Argentus' has green leaves edged in silver, while those of 'Aureus' are rimmed in gold.
Because thyme is slow to mature from seedlings, it is best to purchase starter plants in spring. Once established, thyme travels quickly by sending out runners, so set plants 12 in (30 cm) apart in a well-drained, sandy soil. Until plantlets show signs of new growth, keep the soil barely moist. Thyme can contract the fatal fungal disease root rot when grown in soggy soil, so if your soil is clay, amend it with sand and organic matter to improve drainage, or grow thyme in containers of fast-chaining soil.
After flowers fade, trim old growth to encourage new shoots. In harsh winter areas, mulch with evergreen boughs after the ground freezes to prevent wind and cold damage. In spring or fall, you can easily divide plants by digging and transplanting rooted chunks into prepared soil at the same depth at which they grew.
Thyme is pest free except for occasional visits from cottony, sap-sucking mealybugs, which can be controlled by rinsing them off the foliage with a forceful spray of water from a hose.