There are two key varieties of thyme that have a low growing habit which is called ‘creeping thyme’: Thymus praecox, which is also known as the mother of thyme, and Thymus serpyllum, which is commonly called wild thyme. No matter what variety of thyme you choose, there will be plenty of it. The thymus genus is a type of mint that is from southern Europe and Asia.
Creeping thyme is a woody perennial that only lives for a few years before it becomes unproductive and spindly. It has a sprawling growth habit, growing to 3-4 inches tall above the ground (7-10 cm) and 6-18 inches (15-46 cm) spread. Although it takes a while for thyme to become established, it will reach its maximum spread within three years.
The leaves are tiny, oval-shaped, and grey-green. They are slightly hairy and have a strong aroma. Stems that are new and tender have the best flavor and strongest aroma. The flowers that butterflies are attracted to are typically small and red or purple, with white flowers at the end of the stems. These types of flowers usually bloom in late spring or mid-summer. The leaves of the plant can be used to add flavor to cooked dishes such as soups and casseroles. The flowers can be used as a decoration on salads to add color and visual appeal. Red creeping thyme (Thymus praecox) is slightly taller than Thymus serpyllum and has deep, rich red/purple flowers. Other thymes have white or bright pink flowers.
Creeping thyme emits a delightful aroma and is a ground cover that propagates through rhizomes growing across the soil surface. This plant grows densely and smothers weeds, making it a good alternative to grass lawns. You can plant it in staggered rows for a fuller look. This product is not poisonous, so it is safe for your whole family to use, including your pets.
Why Plant Ground Covers?
Ground covers can be…
- Used to accent an empty area bordering a yard or property.
- Planted between stones in a pathway to add a colorful accent.
- Used along stone walls or drops and will “spill” over and hang down, creating the effect of a waterfall of flowers.
- Great in borders around tree trunks and can tolerate a wide range of shade or sun.
- More attractive than grass in awkward places and can slow weed growth in the areas they cover.
- Used even in larger container arrangements outdoors to add an interesting bottom layer.
Why Creeping Thyme Is an Optimal Ground Cover
Whichever variety of creeping thyme you choose, it will make for a wonderful ground cover. Here are a few reasons why.
- It grows relatively quickly.
- It can tolerate foot traffic.
- During its peak blooms, it appears to have more flowers than foliage.
- It covers the ground in color and breaks up all of the green.
- It’s perennial, returning every year and requiring much less maintenance than grass.
- It does not grow very tall—only about two to four inches maximum, so it won’t steal the show from other plants or shrubs.
- It has tiny, hair-covered oval leaves with similarly-sized flowers that grow in clumps.
- Although it is not often harvested, creeping thyme, like any thyme variety, is edible and can be made into teas or other herbal remedies.
- It’s ideal for gardeners who are worried about pests, pets, or kids traipsing through their yard and holds up very well if walked on.
- It’s deer and rabbit-resistant.
- Bees are attracted to it—you’ll see bees buzzing about it during summer mornings. (This gives the other plants in your garden the benefit of those extra bee visitors who will facilitate more pollination.)
- All varieties have a nice fragrance.
- Creeping thyme grows in USDA hardiness zones 2 through 9, although some varieties do better in warmer climates.
Planting Creeping Thyme
Growing these thymes is easy. You can start them indoors by planting seeds, and then transplant them outside in late spring or early summer. It can also be divided from a parent plant or grown using shop-bought garden-ready stock. Planting Seeds is the best and most economical option If you want to create a Creeping Thyme Lawn
Many people like to start their plants from seeds indoors in early spring and then plant them outdoors after the last frost has passed. Measure the area you want the creeping thyme to cover, then calculate how many plants you will need based off of the fact that each plant will spread 15-46 cm in each direction. If you want to achieve full coverage more quickly, then space plants more densely. If you want your garden to be full, it’s a good idea to sow seeds for transplants each year.
You can replant large, healthy plants in either spring or fall, in new areas of your garden or by giving them to friends and neighbors. You should plant creeping thyme in a warm, sunny spot that is sheltered from the wind and has well-draining soil. If you are planting in containers, it is recommended that you add horticultural grit or sand to the compost mix to improve drainage by at least 30%. Thyme does not like to have wet feet! To improve the quality of heavy soil, add a lot of organic matter to make it lighter.
Creeping Thyme Planting and Care Tips
You can find creeping thyme plants at most garden stores when it’s time to plant them. It will come as plugs or small potted cuttings.
Grow From Plugs for the Best Results
I have personally found, as well as hearing from other gardeners, that it is difficult to get ground cover to grow from seed. It may be better to purchase plugs. However, some have been able to do it successfully.
Plant It in a Sunny Area
This plant does best in sunny areas. Your succulent should get at least four hours of direct sun light each day.
Make Sure the Soil Conditions Are Right
Creeping time does well in most balanced soil conditions. Transplanting plugs or planting seeds will be easier if the soil is loose and free of weeds, so make sure to loosen and weed the soil before planting. Moisten the soil beforehand as well to make the process easier.
Plant in Late Spring or Early Summer
It’s best to plant this in late spring or early summer, when there is no longer a risk of frost. Planting earlier will ensure that the roots are strong enough and the plant will survive until next spring.
If planting seeds, plant them evenly over the area and cover with a thin layer of soil.
To plant plugs, dig out a space that is exactly the size of the plug and insert it into the ground. To replant your plug, first insert it into the soil. Then, gather the soil around it to make sure the plug is snug. Make sure the soil is touching the roots of the plant—this will allow the plant to take root in its new home more quickly.
Give Your Plants Room to Grow
Plants should be spaced about 18 inches to 2 feet apart in staggered rows. This allows them to have more space to grow evenly, rather than in patches.
This money-saving tip suggests that you can save money on plants by buying fewer plugs and spacing them farther apart. They will eventually cover the area, but it will take longer.
Keep Soil Moist to Help New Plants Thrive
Water thyme plants regularly, especially when they are young, to make sure they do not dry out. During the early weeks, make sure to keep the soil moist but not too wet. You can water them less often after the first year and they will still be okay as long as there is enough rainfall.
Mulch Around Your Thyme
Thyme suppresses weed growth by blocking sunlight, but it doesn’t compete well against weeds. Put mulch around the base of the thyme plugs, three inches away from the stem, to avoid any competition. Reapply mulch yearly as needed.
You don’t need to fertilize creeping thyme. If you are not happy with the performance of your garden, you can try using fish fertilizer or any other type of plant fertilizer.
. The best time to do this is in early summer, before the plant starts to grow.
Most creeping thyme plants can be reproduced by dividing or propagating them. As thyme grows, it sends out more stems into the ground. You can transplant small pieces of it to another location, and it will usually keep growing.
Propagation is growing a new plant from a cutting. Here’s how you do it:
- Take a cutting from a stem during the late spring or early summer when the plant is thriving.
- Remove the leaves from the bottom third of the stem.
- Have a planting tray ready with a growing medium such as seed starting mix or coarse sand.
- Poke a small hole into the medium using a Q-tip or pencil.
- Place the cut end of the stem in rooting hormone powder, and then insert it immediately into the growing medium.
- Make sure to keep the cutting moist. You may cover it with plastic to retain moisture and then place it in a sunny area.
- After a few weeks, you can test the cutting by pulling on it gently. If it resists, it has rooted and is ready to be hardened off and transplanted outdoors.
- To harden off the cutting, place it outdoors for increasing lengths of time each day for several weeks. Then move it to its permanent location.
Harvesting and Storing
While thyme is growing, you can periodically harvest it as you need it. Don’t cut into the woody stems too much or the plant will be exhausted. Cut the fresh growth off with a pair of scissors. To retain as much flavor as possible, gently wash the foliage with cold water.
Freshly picked thyme can last in the fridge for up to 10 days when wrapped in a damp paper towel or stored in a zip-lock bag. To freeze thyme, sprigs should be placed individually on a tray then transferred to a freezer bag once frozen. This will allow you to add flavor to soups and stews.
Lay the stems flat on a mesh tray in a dark room that is both warm and well-ventilated to dry. This can take a few weeks. crumble the herbs and store them in an airtight container once they are completely dried. They will stay fresh this way for up to 18 months.
The main reasons people love creeping thyme are because of the great smell, its resistance to being damaged by people walking on it, and the beautiful early summer flowers. Most people who grow creeping thyme do so for the flowers, but sometimes there are barely any. The reason the flowers haven’t bloomed yet could be because the blooming season hasn’t come yet. This could also be due to the fact that it takes most thyme varieties a couple of years to bloom.
Aphids tend to attack young, new growth on plants like creeping thyme, resulting in distorted leaves and stems. ladybug larvae (cococinella septempunctata) can be used to biologically control aphids by preying on them. Use either a good organic insecticidal soap or neem oil. To reduce the number of aphids, you can squish them with your fingers or give them a quick blast of water.
Spider mites are small arachnids that are reddish brown in color. They live in large colonies on the underside of leaves. Creeping thyme and oregano share similar preferred growing conditions as they both thrive in hot, dry environments. The evidence of a problem with the plants can be seen in the webbing between the stems and the rapid decline in plant health. Use of pesticides is not recommended as these mites have developed a resistance to a large number of products available. The chemicals used to kill pests can also kill the natural predators of those pests, such as lacewings and ladybugs. If the spread of the disease is severe, remove and destroy all affected stems and plants. Spraying water on the plant can help reduce the number of aphids.
Grey mold is an airborne disease that can affect any part of the plant during mild, damp weather. The disease is caused by the fungus Botrytis cinerea. The symptoms of the issue include: drooping stems, brown leaves, and grey or brown fur on both stems and leaves. Remove and destroy affected plants to prevent further spread. To prevent botrytis, handle plants with care, clear away leaves and other debris, water only when necessary, and provide adequate spacing for air circulation.
Root rot, which is also called Rhizoctonia, is a problem that happens when a plant’s roots are exposed to too much water, poor drainage, and high humidity. Root rot is a common problem for plants that experience extended periods of sitting in waterlogged soil. The condition is most prevalent during the cooler months of spring and winter. A new plant is especially susceptible. The early symptoms of the disease are a loss of energy, then limp stems and yellow leaves. If you notice root rot, stop watering and allow the soil to dry out. Remove any mulches that could prevent excess water from evaporating. If a plant is noticeably wilted, dig it up and check the roots for damage. Use a sharp knife to cut away any roots that appear to be mushy or brown, cutting back to a healthy point. If your plant is not doing well, replant it in a new position or pot. Make sure the new position has good drainage or, if it’s a potted plant, use new soil. If a plant’s roots are mostly affected, it is best to destroy the plant. Remove any dirt from pots that contains disease and disinfect these areas using a copper-based fungicide that is organic. Sanitize all tools to keep from infecting other areas of the garden.