Considered a best herb for indoor growing, and a popular choice for outdoor gardens too, thyme is a functional herb well worthwhile. With a myriad of varieties, this pretty perennial has tiny, aromatic leaves and spry, little flowers ranging in color from white to deep magenta.
Common thyme (Thymmus vulgaris) is most often grown for its culinary use, while mother-of-thyme (Thymus serpyllum), a creeping variety, can tolerate light foot traffic and is used aesthetically for stone pathways and rock walls. Thyme can easily be grown outdoors in the U.S. Department of Agriculture Hardiness Zones 4 to 8. In containers and indoors, thyme can be enjoyed year-round everywhere.
As with many herbs, thyme has been a venerable plant used throughout history. Thyme originated in Asia, North Africa, and Europe. Ancient Egyptians used thyme as a preservative. Ancient Greeks believed bathing in and burning thyme for incense would boost courage. This symbolic use of thyme continued into the Middle Ages when women would give their favorite knight a sprig of thyme before battle.
Once thyme’s antiseptic properties were discovered, it was used on bandages to heal wounds quickly. That same antiseptic quality is found as an ingredient in a popular brand of mouthwash today. Most often, thyme has been used as an easy-to-grow savory seasoning for a wide variety of foods.
How to grow thyme
Thyme is best grown from plants rather than from seeds. Find a friend in your area with a healthy thyme plant and take a rooted cutting. Or purchase a variety of thyme according to your preference from your local nursery. Plant the cutting or transplant in average soil with a handful of course sand or fine gravel. Thyme thrives in dry, well draining, and gritty soil.
Thyme enjoys full sun best, but it will be happy with a minimum of six hours of daylight. Water your thyme regularly, but be careful not to overwater.
Once your outdoor edible thyme plant is established, you are free to clip and snip for your culinary needs. This will allow you to enjoy the flavor while encouraging your plant to develop new growth. You can trim your plant several times during the summer. In the fall, cut small bundles of thyme and hang to dry in a warm, dark location. Or, remove the leaves from the stems and dry on a tray.
For a non edible creeping variety that has inched beyond its boundaries, simply cut it back to where it belongs. Cut into the woody and more mature portions of the plant to encourage fresh growth and to reshape your plant once a year.
Plant indoor thyme in a clay pot. This allows the soil to dry between watering. Use a mix of sand, peat moss, potting soil and perlite to ensure excellent drainage. Place your thyme in a southern- or western-facing window that will provide your plant six hours of direct or indirect, bright sunlight daily.
Indoor thyme will enjoy spending time outside during the summer. Begin by exposing the plant to a semi-shaded area to acclimate it to outdoor sun exposure and to temperatures. Gradually move it to a full sun location. Bring your indoor plant back inside before the outdoor temperatures drop below 60 degrees.
Thyme Pests and problems
Thyme will rot in moist soils, so careful attention to watering is important. Thyme and humidity are incompatible. The two combined can result in grey mold and rot. To avoid this, plant thyme in an area with good air circulation, especially in humid regions. When planting thyme next to leafy neighbors, discard any decaying leaves that might trap moisture to the ground around your thyme plant.
Thyme varieties worth trying
“Wooly Thyme” (Thymus pseudolanuginosus) forms a dense ground- covering mat with hairy leaves. It creeps, cascades and spills over walls and softens pathways as it grows between pavers and stones.
“Lemon Scented” or “Silver Thyme” is an elegant addition to your herb garden or your ornamental garden. Its striking green leaves are tipped with silver, and its aroma is a distinctly citrusy lemon.
“Annie Hall” is a creeping variety of thyme used by some as a beautiful, low maintenance alternative to a lawn.
Want to learn more information on growing thyme?
See these resources:
The National Gardening Association has a great overview of caring for thyme.
Fine Gardening shows you how to use thyme as a ground cover.
Penn State Extension Agency writes about growing thyme.