How to grow and care for thyme

Thyme is a kitchen garden staple that’s easy to grow, virtually maintenance free, and makes an ideal drought-tolerant edible ground cover. Grow in pots or garden beds, and use it to add a savoury touch to stuffings, casseroles, sauces and slow-cooked meals.

What you need to know about thyme

Name: thyme, French thyme, lemon thyme, variegated thyme, Thymus vulgaris, Thymus citriodorus, Thymus sp.

Height: depending on the variety, can be ground covers to 10cm or small perennials to 25cm

Foliage: evergreen perennial.

Climate: thyme grows well in all climates and areas.

Soil: a free-draining garden soil enriched with compost and decomposed manure.

Position: full sun.

Flowering and fruiting: small white or pink flowers are produced in spring or early summer.

Feeding: not required.

Watering: drought-tolerant once established, water only when required.

Close up of healthy thyme

Appearance and characteristics of thyme

Thyme is available in many different leaf shapes, colours, sizes and flavours, but it always has the same characteristic savoury flavour, and all varieties are equally easy to grow.It is a hardy, drought-tolerant herb for gardens or pots.

Variegated thyme has yellow and green foliage, lemon thyme has a hint of lemon aroma and flavour, while French thyme looks a little like rosemary! Commonly paired with chicken, thyme is a versatile culinary herb and an essential component in a bouquet garni.

There are also ornamental thymes, which have little to no aroma or flavour. These are usually planted as drought-hardy ground covers.

Uses for thyme

Thyme can be grown in dry or difficult areas of the garden as a ground cover to inhibit weed growth. It can also be grown in the herb and kitchen garden as a fresh ingredient for your pantry, or grown in pots in small gardens or on balconies for ease of harvest.

In the kitchen thyme has many uses, and is suited to a range of cuisines, from Italian to French dishes. A culinary staple, thyme is a must-have for the home cook or kitchen gardener.

How to plant and grow thyme

Thyme can be grown in pots or in full sun in a garden bed. Make sure you leave it a little room to grow, as must culinary thymes are spreading.

  1. As thyme is very hardy and not fussy about soil, pH or water, simply add some organic matter such as compost or decomposed manure to the soil at planting.

  2. Dig a hole a little larger than the pot, then backfill the hole so that the thyme is planted just a fraction deeper than it was in the pot.

  3. Firm down the soil and give it a water.

  4. Water during establishment, and whenever the soil is dry.

Caring for thyme

Thyme is almost maintenance free, and the best flavour comes from plants grown with a little tough love. Water thyme only when the soil is dry or during establishment. Thyme does not usually require any supplementary fertiliser but, as with most herbs, the occasional application of a liquid fertiliser or seaweed solution in spring or after flowering will be beneficial to overall plant health.

How and when to prune thyme

Prune thyme in autumn to maintain a compact growth habit and to contain its spread. Use these cuttings for propagation, or dry them to use in cooking.

Diseases and pests

Thyme attracts beneficial insects and pollinators to the garden, so is virtually pest-free. Avoid overwatering, which leads to root rot and fungal problems.

How to propagate thyme

Layering thyme

Thyme readily self-propagates by naturally layering in the garden. Look for areas where the spreading branches touch the soil. These will generate roots and form additional plants, which can be removed from the parent plant and potted up or planted elsewhere in the garden.

Growing thyme from cuttings

You can also try propagating thyme through cuttings:

  1. Take an 8cm cutting from the tip of the plant.

  2. Strip the leaves from the lower half of the cutting.

  3. Dip the cut end in rooting gel or cutting powder.

  4. Insert into a pot or tray filled with propagating mix.

  5. Water every couple of days.

Depending on the time of year, roots will develop in 4–6 weeks. 

If you like this then try

Sage: another drought-tolerant herb perfect for the home cook.

Oregano: a spreading herb that grows similarly to thyme.

Rosemary: a hardy herb, perfect with lamb and roast potatoes.

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