Growing Thyme

Thyme is an easy to grow herb with lots of payoff.

The little leaves of thyme are packed full of flavor.

In the Garden

Plant thyme in your herb garden, at the edge of a walk, along a short garden wall, or in containers. As a special garden treat, put a few along a walkway and between steps, and your footsteps will release its aroma. It even makes a pretty patch of small ground cover. Growing thyme provides an anchor in an herb garden in areas where it is evergreen in winter. Thyme is also perfect for containers, either alone or in combination with plants that won’t shade it out. The flowers open in spring and summer, sprinkling the plant with tiny, two-lipped blossoms attractive to bees.

Soil, Planting, and Care

Try thyme as a groundcover in the landscape.

As a spreading plant, thyme can be used as a groundcover in a site with excellent drainage.

Thyme does best in full sun. Start from young plants set out in spring after the last frost. Plant in well-drained soil with a pH of about 7.0; it prefers slightly alkaline conditions. Add lime to the pot or ground to raise the pH if needed. Also add a slow-release fertilizer to the soil at or before planting and again each spring. Thyme must have excellent drainage. Mulching with limestone gravel or builder’s sand improves drainage and prevents root rot. German thyme is perennial in zones 5 to 9, lemon thyme in zones 7 to 9. Easy to grow, thyme needs little care except for a regular light pruning after the first year. Do this after the last spring frost, so that the plants do not get woody and brittle. Pinching the tips of the stems keeps plants bushy, but stop clipping about a month before the first frost of fall to make sure that new growth is not too tender going into the cool weather. Cut thyme back by one third in spring, always cutting above points where you can see new growth, never below into the leafless woody stem. Lemon thyme is more upright and more vigorous than the other thymes. In the North and cold climates, cover with pine boughs after the soil freezes to help protect from winter damage. In zone 10, thyme is usually an annual, often succumbing to heat and humidity in mid-summer.

Troubleshooting

Spider mites can be a problem in dry weather. Also watch out for root rot and fungus diseases in humid climates. Good drainage, good air circulation, and proper planting as described above will help prevent disease.

Harvest and Storage

Snip thyme’s white blooms or leave them on the plant. Either way is fine.

Thyme’s tiny flowers are pretty and white. Though you can pinch the flowers off to allow the plant to produce more leaves, the flavor of thyme really isn’t compromised by letting the plant bloom.

Harvest leaves as you need them, including through the winter in places where it is evergreen. Although the flavor is most concentrated just before plants bloom, thyme is so aromatic that the leaves have good flavor all the time. Strip the tiny leaves from woody stems before using.

Uses

Use thyme in container plantings to spill over the edges of the pot.

This clever container design uses a cabbage as the tall “thriller,” marigolds as the “filler,” and creeping thyme as the “spiller” flowing over the edge of a small whiskey barrel pot.

Thyme is easily dried, refrigerated, frozen, or preserved in oil or vinegar. The tiny leaves air-dry quickly. Add thyme to butter or mayonnaise to taste. Use thyme in dried beans, meat stews, and strong vegetables such as cabbage. Thyme is also great with any slowly cooked soup, stew, vegetable, meat, or sauce. Use lemon-flavored varieties in teas, on seafood, or in just about any dish calling for a lemony zing.

Download our How to Grow Herbs instructions. They are in .PDF format.

FAQs

My thyme was beautiful a few months ago. Now it has a lot of bare stems with a few leaves. What happened?

Thymes tend to get this dead look from time to time, and they need a trim to get them looking good again. Sometimes this happens due to winter damage, or it may be like this in late summer after steamy, wet weather. Cut plants back lightly, and then water with a solution of soluble fertilizer to help push them back into growth. Then prune lightly throughout the growing season to prevent this from happening again. Also, gravel mulch will help lower humidity around the stems and leaves, reducing the likelihood of rot and foliage diseases.

My thyme doesn’t seem to lie on the ground and root like my neighbor’s. What’s wrong?

Yours is a shrubby thyme as opposed to your neighbor’s creeping thyme. Both taste good. They have different growth habits, but nothing is wrong with either one.

How do I divide my creeping thyme like I do other perennials?

Leave the parent plant and the original roots in place to avoid the risk of a total loss. The safest approach would be to use a sharp-edged trowel or knife to carve out sections of the mat of creeping thyme that has rooted into the soil. Transplant these. If a section of the mat does not have roots, leave it in place and attached to the main plant. In time, it will send roots into the soil. After removing sections to transplant, fill the holes with compost, and water the plant well.

How do I gather thyme for the kitchen?

Gather small clusters of stems and cut them with pruning shears or kitchen scissors. Try not to cut into the leafless portions of stems, as these are not as likely to regrow. When you have enough, rinse and pat dry between towels. Take one stem at a time, holding it by the growing tip. Use the thumb and forefinger of your other hand to grasp the stem lightly near the tip you are holding and slide them toward the cut end. This will strip off the small leaves. Use them whole, or pile them up on a cutting board and chop them into smaller pieces.

31 Comments

Abby

I live in Denver CO and I grew a common thyme plant from seed and it is very very leggy. I’m afraid of hardening off and transplanting outside in case it’s too leggy! It has its true leaves and I’ve transplanted it from its original peat pot but it looks so frail! I’m quite new at this so I need some advice! I’m attached as well because it’s the only one that survived!

Danielle Carroll

Hello Abby,
Odds are the seeling does not have enough light which has made it leggy. I would wait until you have a small plant before hardening off and planting outside. Here are some tips on starting your herbs from seeds. Some are tricky, and it is often better to start with transplants. – Danielle, Bonnie Plants

Sharon

I live in CT and my silver and lemon thymes are all woody with no new leaves coming. The common thyme looks half green and half woody. Should I pull out the all woody plants and buy new ones and start over? They sat under snow for a long time this winter so I’m thinking there’s no saving them. :(

Danielle Carroll

Hi Sharon,
You can certainly try and rejuvenate them! Cut the plants back lightly and then water using a soluble fertilizer to help push them back into growth. Just do not prune back into the leafless woody tissue. Thyme plants that all are woody with no new green growth may need to be replaced. Try covering them during the winter with a 3 -4 inch mulch layer for insulation. Good Luck! Danielle, Bonnie Plants

John Lefcourte

I have just the opposite problem. I’m trying to get rid of it. I live in Reno, NV and have soil that is mostly clay. I started Thyme in a wine barrel container and it has taken over everything, including the decomposed granite yard. We get next to no rain in the Spring and Summer and a little sporadic rain in the Fall and Winter and it is thriving without any water provided my me, choking out the other herbs in the container and other plants on the ground. We’re trying to get rid of it. It certainly makes an effective ground cover with very deep roots but it is like mint and will take over everything.

Patricia

I am new to herb gardening so I ordered a couple of english thyme plants online and planted them in small pots positioned in a sunny area on my back porch. It has only been about two weeks but the leaves on both plants have turned brown and wilted. Have I just killed my first attempts or should I contine to water and wait. By the way, I live in Texas and I planted the thyme in clay pots. Any help would be most appreciated.

Danielle Carroll

Hi Patricia,
I am not sure what type of packing the plants were in when you received them. If the plant turned brown and wilted, it sounds like a water issue. You certainly can continue to water and wait, I do not want to discourage you. Were they packed in peat pots or anything similar when you recieved them? I am just making sure if they were, that the packing (peat pot) was removed prior to planting. Just as important as watering is, over watering is responsible for the failure of many plants. Thyme requires a soil with good drainage, grown in compacted soil (or water logged soils), the roots will slowly start to wither. – Danielle, Bonnie plants

Tina

I just had a very similar experience. I planted mine in the ground, gave it plenty of water, but it does drain well. I put out ten plants, and all but one looked brown and dead within two days. I also live in Texas, but we’ve actually had rain this week!

Karen M. Guth

I have some thyme in a pot in my plant room. It has purple flowers. Do I need to trim them off?
They look really pretty, but I don’t know if I should leave them or not.
Thanks. God bless!
Karen

Danielle Carroll

Hi Karen,
Leave them and enjoy them! – Danielle, Bonnie Plants

kris

Im in the northeast and brought my thyme container plants in my basement for the winter. How much should I trim in the spring? Any other tips? thanks

Mary Beth

Hi Kris,
Read all of the tabs within this page for the full story, including FAQs and Harvesting. Snipping back one third of the growth after you replant them in spring will encourage more branching and robust new growth. Enjoy! ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

charette

Im in the top western corner of Louisiana, and in the summer time it is HOT and humid, should my potted thyme come indoors to a sunny window, or a shady spot outside, or does it still want full sun and maybe a little extra water during those hot times?

Mary Beth

Hi Charette,
We recommend thyme as an annual (to be replaced yearly) in the warmest zone — zone 10. Thyme may die out in patchy spots if it is terribly hot and humid where you are. Cut plants back lightly after spring growth and then water with a solution of soluble fertilizer to help push them back into growth. Then prune lightly throughout the growing season to prevent this from happening again. Also, gravel mulch will help lower humidity around the stems and leaves, reducing the likelihood of rot and foliage diseases. I find in my hot summer climate that thyme does better with this type of mulch and prevents that gunky black rot away from stalks and lower leaves. You don’t have to bring it indoors but the fun of gardening is trying many ways to figure out what works best. Hope this helps. ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

Kevin

I have a problem with my woody thyme plant. While training it to be a bonsai it appears to have picked up a fungus. The leaves get a dark color and sometimes there’s a white coating on them. Otherwise the plant is healthy. Now, come spring before the fungus becomes active what can I do to protect the plant?

Mary Beth

Hi Kevin,
Your bonsai efforts sound really neat. You should share pics on our Facebook page. As for this white coating on thyme leaves, it could be powdery mildew. This link from the University of Minnesota Extension Service that discusses this fungus. There are cultural and chemical controls listed in this link to help you treat powdery mildew. Follow all label instructions on anything you may use. ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

Cindy

I planted lemon tyme in the corners of two garden boxes that have various flowers. The lemon tyme grew and was very fragrant. I notice about a month ago that I have these tiny brownish mushroons growing in clumps around the lemon tyme. Is this common. I have been scooping the mushrooms out but they keep growing. Is there something I can do to get rid of them?

Mary Beth

Hi Cindy,
Mushrooms will grow where the soil is moist and kept damp in shady spots. It sounds like your soil might also have remnants of mushroom compost, the medium in which mushrooms are commercially grown and then bagged as compost. (It’s great for soil amendments). You might try ensuring the pots have great drainage and perhaps mulch with a tiny pea gravel or small rocks, as herbs benefit from this. It’s also great for culinary use, as less soil splashes up on the tiny leaves and they are not as hard to wash before cooking. ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

Darrell

I feel like it is so late since the last post. An elderly friend just gave me some thyme today. She has several pots of it growing in her back yard. All of it is rather sickly looking and I begged upon one because I love the way it smells and how it is doing this cascading thing. I have no idea what to do to it. It’s all tangled up and is sort of like matted hair. Should I cut it back now. I’m in Arkansas by the way! Any help would be awesome. Thanks!

Mary Beth

Hi Darrell,
Repot your newly acquired thyme in a pot or in the ground. Plant in the ground as a perennial if you are in Zones 5-9, or in a pot that you can bring into the garage or windowsill for the winter in colder areas. As you can read above, in Zone 10, it will get too hot and humid and often blacken and die back, so treat it as an annual. As the article states, you can prune it back in spring and mid-summer for it to flush out new tender growth. However, if you do this now, the newest growth will most likely be hit by an upcoming fall frost and not survive. It will flush out new growth after a “haircut” next spring. ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

Charlene

I just planted my thyme from seed late this spring, should I still cut it back? Can I use it this year or do I need to wait until next season to prune and use? It is in a container and it about 5-6 inches tall. Looks good, I guess. It is pretty and green and in full sun. Planted in miracle grow potting soil that feeds for 6 months. can I bring it in during the winter, I am right on the line of zones 7 and 8?

Kelly Smith Trimble

Hi Charlene, You shouldn’t have to bring your pot of thyme in over the winter, unless you just want to. Since you started from soon, you don’t need to prune this year either. Just let it grow and wait to cut back until next year if needed. You should be able to snip some to use this year but don’t cut too much as it sounds like your plant is still fairly young and small. Happy growing! Kelly, Bonnie Plants

April

A friend gave me a few sprigs of lemon thyme to grow for myself. I have cooked with all but one sprig. Why isn’t my thyme growing more?

Mary Beth

Hi April,
Is your thyme in full sun? Does it have good drainage? The soil should not retain moisture, and it’s even a good idea to mulch with pea gravel or sand to prevent the sensitive roots from rotting. If those conditions are met, it’s usually pretty happy. Give us a few more clues if these conditions are already satisfactory. ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

sharon finafrock

This is the second year for my thyme plants and they are looking sick, I have about 3 inches of green leaves at the end but the rest is black and looking dead. Should I pull them out or can they be saved?

Kelly Smith Trimble

Hi Sharon,

Thyme is a tricky plant that needs really good drainage and air circulation to grow well and to avoid problems such as mites and fungus. Remember that thyme doesn’t like humidity or too much water, so be sure not to overwater. Mulching with pebbles will help keep plants drier and improve drainage. Also, did you prune your plants last year? If not, it might be time. Pruning, watching the water, and mulching…these would be the best ways to try and save the plant! I hope this helps!

Kelly, Bonnie Plants

Molly

My german thyme plant is suffering. i got it this spring, put it in a southern window, water it regulary, and even take it outside when its nice out. It has grown into a clumpy mess with stems on the bottom of this clump dying. how do i save it?

Kelly Smith Trimble

Hi Molly,

Thyme needs really good drainage and not a lot of water. Does your pot have good drainage, including drainage holes? You might try cutting down on watering and see if that helps. You can also mulch your plant with pebbles to help with drainage. Taking the plant outside often is a good idea, too, as thyme likes full sun. I hope this helps!

Kelly, Bonnie Plants

Irene

My thyme is not looking like this either. Ater reading the above, I think I may be watering it too much and not giving it enough direct sun. The weather has been so hot, 100* + that I moved the pot out of the direct sun.

Brenda

My stem don’t look like the picture,mine look like little sticks. Should I do something diffrent?

Kelly Smith Trimble

Hi Brenda,

Has your thyme been growing more than a year? It might be time to prune it. Thyme can get woody if not pruned. Read above in the “Soil, Planting, and Care” tab for more info on pruning thyme. I hope this helps!

Kelly, Bonnie Plants

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