What plant tastes fantastic but also gives your garden an attractive look? Obviously, it is thyme we’re talking about.
It can make your garden look outstandingly appealing with its white (and sometimes pink) flowers. Either way, it takes little to no time to grow to its more beautiful state. More importantly, it is an excellent plant to harvest and add to your favorite dishes.
Below, we want to teach you all of that, from planting and growing to how to harvest thyme when it’s time. If you’re interested in what this gorgeous and tasty herb has to offer, then keep reading!
What is Thyme?
Thyme is an herb, part of the mint family (Lamiaceae) like catnip, oregano, and basil. Similar to its cousins, thyme produces a strong smell and flavor. This makes it one of the most sought-after herbs, either for its aromatic scent or for its capacity to improve dishes.
This herb is originally from the Mediterranean, making it a drought-resistant and easy-to-grow plant. Interestingly, it is also gorgeous. Producing eye-catching flowers in the spring, thyme attracts tons of helpful insects and keeps unwanted pests away.
There’s a lot about this fragrant and strong-tasting herb to enjoy. When harvested, for example, it makes for an unbeatable addition to most plates. And when left in a garden, it can form a beautiful bed that covers a large area.
Either way, it is a plant you can’t miss. Especially if you love its taste and flavor, it will make an amazing addition to your garden.
Types of Thyme to Consider
While we’re talking about thyme in general, it would be great for you to know that there are actually many types to consider. Some are more ornamental than others, while a few boast a more pungent smell and taste. Either way, it would be ideal if you learn about them before choosing.
Here’s a list of the most popular thyme species to think about:
English Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
First off, let’s start with the most common of all – the English thyme. It typically grows lush green but sometimes can have slightly different colors like silver and touches of white. Either way, it is the one you’re more likely to find in supermarkets and shops. It has a strong flavor and smell.
Bertram Anderson (Thymus pulegioides)
The bright green leaves give the appearance of grass when it’s growing. Later on, it looks like a small bush that can cover an entire garden. This one produces golden leaves, making it an excellent ornamental option. That’s why its taste is not the most flavorful, being milder than the typical thyme.
Caraway Thyme (Thymus herba barona)
Capable of growing to over 20 inches in size, a Caraway thyme will give you enough harvest to cook for weeks. But it is not precisely for cooking people choose this one. Despite its size, this species produces gorgeous purple flowers, the most attractive from thyme species.
Hi-Ho Silver Thyme (Thymus argentus)
As the name says, the Hi-Ho thyme grows with a slightly silver color. It sometimes develops variegated leaves, meaning they boast white, green, and silver at the same time. This is one of the smallest, growing no more than 10 to 15 inches, producing a pungent smell and intense flavor.
Italian Oregano (Thymus vulgaris)
While it comes with the same name as the English thyme, this one produces slightly different flowers. Instead of purple, the flowers look white and dense. Most Italian Oregano plants grow to about 12 inches. This one grows almost anywhere. And more importantly, it is both ornamental and culinary.
Lemon Thyme (Thymus citriodorus)
For those who appreciate a more acidic taste, the Lemon thyme will come like a charm. It is one of the tastiest of thyme, boasting a lemon-like flavor that mixes well with any dish. You can find it with lush green and white flowers. Sometimes, it grows variegated leaves. The flowers may develop a golden tone.
Lime Thyme (Thymus lime)
Colored like lime and exerting a strong scent, the lime thyme is one of the most ornamental out there. When it blossoms, the leaves achieve a grayish color that attracts pollinators. Interestingly, this one only has flowers in the summer, contrasting with most thymes that bloom in spring. Its taste is slightly citric.
Peter Davis (Thymus nitidus)
Thyme that produces a wide mat or bush-like cover is an excellent choice as ornamental. While the plant doesn’t grow longer than 10 inches, its leaves look even greener than grass. And with its pink flowers, it makes any garden look fantastic. The taste is typically mild but has a spicy scent.
What Does Time Need to Thrive?
Most perennial herbs are sturdy, capable of withstanding all kinds of environments without shedding a single leaf. Thyme, as a perennial herb, has this capacity. You can grow it with little to no attention, and it will thrive. As long as it has proper sun exposure and it’s free of pests, it should prosper.
Here are some extra factors to consider:
Space & Pot
Depending on the exact type of thyme you’re planting, you may need anywhere from 12 to 30 inches of total space. Once the thyme gets large enough, it starts to cover ground. Luckily, it doesn’t always grow this way, especially in pots.
Generally, we recommend planting it on large 12-inch pots if possible. Otherwise, get it right onto garden soil with at least 24 inches of space between other plants.
Soil & Fertilizer
As long as it is neutral pH soil (6 to 8 pH), the plant should grow with no problems. Even then, it is highly recommended to plant it with some fertilizer.
A mix of mild fertilizer may add extra nutrients to the plant, precisely what it needs to grow fast and large. If you’re developing on a pot, this could help at the moment of planting and occasionally when it’s growing. Otherwise, you can always use mulch and compost to make its soil richer.
Water & Humidity
There’s no need to water thyme consistently. In fact, it is a drought-resistant plant. You can leave it without water for several weeks, and it should still grow naturally.
Having said that, it prefers slightly humid places. Not necessarily tropical, but somewhere with occasional rain and morning mist should get it growing faster.
If you still want to water it from time to time, only do it when the soil is dry. If the soil, either on a pot or garden, still looks humid, then don’t.
Light & Air
The only requirement to grow a thyme plant is light. If you can ensure proper sun exposure, the plant will thrive with no drawback. Generally, this means leaving it under the sun for at least 6 hours a day. If you can ensure up to 10 hours, that would be even better.
While low-light environments won’t necessarily kill it, the plant may eventually grow thin and weak. This could also affect its fragrance and taste, making it mild.
If you want to ensure a green, pungent, and flavorful thyme, then leave it under the sun as much as you can. It doesn’t have special air needs, though.
Temperature & Environment
As for temperature, you would be surprised how well this plant can handle heat. You can grow it in places as hot as 90 degrees Fahrenheit without problems. And for cold areas, you can leave it alone in temps as low as 55 degrees.
For better results, we recommend a mildly fresh environment. This usually means anywhere from 65 to 86 degrees would be perfect for it.
This also means that it may not survive frosty winters. In cold seasons, keep it indoors, in the warmest places possible. If you leave it out, it may die. In case temperatures stay at about 45 degrees, the plant may just go dormant and sprout once again in spring.
Starting from Seeds or from Cuttings?
Like many other herbs, thyme can grow from cuttings and seeds. It’s up to you to choose the right option.
But how do you know which one to go for? Well, we can tell you more about each method:
It’s safe to say that thyme is one of the most problematic herbs to grow from seeds. Just like mint, it has a hard time germinating. What’s even worse, it requires north of 28 days to germinate.
Apart from that, you should keep it away from rain (too much moisture) and excess heat. It germinates better in temperatures between 60 and 70-degrees Fahrenheit. But even if you ensure all these factors, the seeds may not germinate. That’s how tricky it is.
You can improve the process by seeding a large area. But you’ll have to buy many seeds from that (which could feel a bit expensive).
With cuttings, it may not take that much. You should start seeing results between the first two weeks. And in some cases, it may not take more than 6 months to begin flourishing (if you plant at the right moment).
But that doesn’t mean it is a piece of cake. Thyme still needs some care even if you plant it from cuttings. Generally, it needs about 6 weeks to root on new soil. You’ll have to water it properly (only when necessary) and keep it away from pests.
Overall, however, this is a way easier method than growing from seeds.
How to Plant Thyme in 3 Steps
After reading how difficult it can be to plant thyme, you may feel like it’s way too hard. But that’s not true. If you follow our advice, you can get it growing with no problem, whether you start from seeds or cuttings.
Follow these steps:
1. Choose the Right Season
Fire and foremost, make sure you’re starting at the right season. If you’re starting from seeds, then you should plant before the last frost. That often means the last few weeks of winter or starting spring.
But if you’re starting from cuttings, then you should plant once frosts have passed. Preferably when temperatures are already above 60 degrees.
2. Prepare the Soil
Once you have the seeds or cuttings ready in the right season, you can start preparing the soil. Remember, thyme needs well-drained soil with a bit of fertilizer to thrive.
That’s why we recommend mixing standard potting soil with a mild fertilizer. We recommend mulch and compost as the best mix. This should improve the nutrients for the plant to produce its roots faster.
Now you can pour the soil on the pot(s). Otherwise, just spread it around the garden as necessary. Make sure it is well-pressed so the soil doesn’t loosen up after planting.
3. Plant the Thyme
Planting shouldn’t take long either. You generally need to place cuttings at about 0.5 inches from the surface. The top of the leaves or stem should surface out so it can grab enough sun.
Whether from cuttings or seeds, we recommend starting indoors. Plant them in a pot and leave them to grow for about 4 weeks (cuttings) and 8 weeks (seeds). When they’re large enough, you can transplant them outside.
If you’re planting from seeds, you should spread the seeds in an area of about 12 inches. Generally, you should leave one seed every 5 or so inches. As for cuttings, we recommend planting them with no less than 12 inches of distance from other plants.
Once you have them in the pots or garden, then you can let them grow.
How to Grow Thyme – Tips to Consider
With the thyme planted, it’s a matter of time for it to grow. This shouldn’t take more than 1 month from cuttings and about 2 months for seeds. Here’s how to ensure that:
While the plant doesn’t typically need water, you need to water it when it’s growing. Here, we recommend watering once a week when the soil looks entirely dry.
Avoid watering more than that. If the soil looks humid for one reason or another, then don’t water. This could cause the thyme to get soggy and don’t grow as needed, typically because its roots get damaged.
Protect from Cold
If you started from seeds or cuttings and temperatures are below 55 degrees, then we recommend keeping it indoors in warm places.
It is encouraged to add some mulch to the topsoil of the garden or pot. This should prevent any unwanted moisture from damaging the plant in cold environments. Also, it keeps the ground warm.
The thyme won’t necessarily need much fertilizer. But we still recommend applying every 2 weeks while the plant grows. Whether from seeds or cuttings, a bit of liquid fertilizer should keep the soil prosperous for the plant to grow faster.
Prevent Disease & Pests
One of the worst enemies of thyme is the spider mite. You can keep these insects away by planting other herbs or flowers around as companions.
Also, keep the plant free of diseases by preventing moisture. For that, make sure the plant is an aerated place with well-draining soil.
When the plant starts growing its second year, you should prune it. Pruning should promote further healthy growth.
But don’t do this the first year, especially if the plant didn’t blossom. We recommend pruning at the start of spring. But you can do so in late summer as well. Just be careful not to overcut. You can use these leaves in your cooking.
How to Harvest Thyme
Learning to harvest thyme without killing it or causing damage could be the difference between a lifelong garden herb or one that only grew one year. To make sure you get a positive outcome, follow these quick tips:
- Always harvest before the thyme blossoms. If the plant is blossoming, you’ve lost your chance. We recommend doing it in early spring.
- When cutting leaves and stems, try to not leave less than 5 inches of the plant back. If you leave less than that, the plant may not grow.
- Keep trimming the plant as the year advances. Instead of harvesting, you may want to keep it compact before spring arrives.
- You can use the cuttings for cooking if necessary. But we typically recommend transplanting these cuttings to prevent any waste. Give them away if possible.
- For storage, we recommend the refrigerator in a plastic bag or container. You can also dry them up by hanging them. And if you want the herb to last over 6 months, then freeze it.
Remember, harvesting thyme can be a fantastic experience for its scent and taste. Either way, you should do it right. Follow our advice to ensure that.
As you can see, thyme is not a difficult plant to plant, grow, or harvest. But as a perennial herb, it still needs a bit of care that could make it thrive exactly how you want.
What are you waiting for, then? Now that you learned how to harvest thyme, it’s time to put your hands to work. Your garden and kitchen will appreciate the effort!