Thyme is one of the easiest herbs to grow in the herb garden, and its dainty little flowers will attract every bee and butterfly around. This is one of those great plants where neither the amount of gardening experience or size of garden you have matters—you can expect lots of fresh leaves from even the smallest of spaces with minimal tending.
In the kitchen, thyme is a staple in French, Greek, and Lebanese dishes, appearing in both bouquet garni and herbes de Provence.
Follow these tips to grow your own organic supply of thyme year after year.
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THE BEST THYME VARIETIES TO GROW
There are lots of fun varieties of thyme to explore. I recommend grabbing whichever varieties you can find at your local nursery and doing a little taste test to find your favorite. Some of the best varieties of thyme for culinary use include:
- Common Thyme – This popular variety, sometimes called English thyme, produces white or pale purple flowers and grows to be about 8″ to 12″ tall. Common thyme is fairly winter hardy. This is typically the type you’ll find seeds for at stores.
- Caraway Thyme – This low-growing thyme produces light pink flowers and has traditionally been used to season roasts and lamb.
- French Thyme – This variety is a little less hardy than common thyme but is popular amongst chefs. The plant is compact, and the flavor is a bit sweeter.
- Lemon Thyme – As the name suggests, this type boasts a strong citrus flavor and is great for adding flavor to fish and chicken dishes. It has pink flowers and stays between 6″ and 12″ tall.
Of course, there’s also creeping thyme, which grows no taller than 3″ and is thus often used as hardy little ground cover that can handle foot traffic. Looks great hanging over the edge of a raised bed garden or provides useful ground cover between pavers and flagstones.
WHEN TO PLANT THYME
I typically recommend buying slow-growing perennial herbs like thyme from a local nursery instead of trying to grow them from seed. That way, you get a harvest sooner rather than later.
If you’re set on growing thyme from seed, you’ll want to start in the middle of winter to give this herb plenty of time to mature to the point where it can be transplanted outdoors after your last frost.
The best time to plant a thyme plant in warmer climates like Texas is in the spring or fall. Planting in the spring gives thyme time to establish its roots before the heat of summer hits.
Planting in the fall before mid-October or so similarly gives thyme time to settle in before winter. If your area doesn’t experience hard frost or snow, your thyme plant might stay evergreen over winter.
Thyme is fairly winter hardy, but it’s still a good idea to give it some frost protection if you’re expecting a deep freeze. Depending on your zone and the thyme variety, your plant might die back and then pop back up in the spring.
Is thyme a perennial?
Most thyme varieties are perennial in zones 5 through 9. Common thyme, or English thyme, is a hardier variety that does well in cold climates. It will die back in the winter but return from its roots in the spring. Thyme’s prime growing season will be over the summer months.
WHERE TO GROW THYME
Thyme can be grown in a container or a raised bed. You could, of course, grow thyme in the ground. If you have a heavy clay soil that holds a lot of water, mix some coarse sand and compost into the top 6 or so inches of the planting area to help improve the soil drainage before planting.
Thyme can handle partial shade to full sun. For best growth, give your herb at least 6 hours of sun per day.
Growing thyme in containers
This is a great option if you plan to move your thyme indoors over winter in a cooler climate. Set your thyme in a sunny windowsill and move it outdoors when the weather’s warm to speed up its growth.
You also have the option to grow thyme year round under LED grow lights left on for 12 hours a day. Just know that your herbs won’t grow as fast this way as they would during the warm months outdoors.
To pot up thyme, grab a clay pot or container that’s at least 6 inches deep and just as wide as the foliage of your herb. You could instead grab a larger container and plant thyme with your other favorite perennial herbs, like sage, oregano, and rosemary.
Make sure the pot or container you choose has good drainage holes at the bottom. I like natural materials like terra cotta since it absorbs extra water, which can prevent overwatering (the number one way to kill thyme).
Growing thyme in raised beds
Thyme loves the good drainage that a raised bed provides. It grows really well alongside other plants and looks particularly nice draped over the side of a raised bed.
What’s the best soil for thyme?
Thyme soil requirements are simple: a well-drained soil with organic matter. The soil that’s in your raised beds is probably ideal for growing your favorite herbs. If you’re planting in a container, grab a bag of organic potting mix and stir in some coarse sand (or vermiculite) and compost to improve drain-ability and add nutrients to the soil.
HOW TO PLANT THYME SEEDS
Growing thyme from seeds is a pretty slow process. If you’re only looking to grow one or two thyme plants, you’re better off buying a healthy plant from the store.
I recommend starting thyme from seed indoors as early as 10 to 12 weeks before your final frost date. For those of us in Central Texas, that would mean starting seeds around New Year’s so that they’re finally ready to plant outside after mid-March.
Planting thyme seeds in 3 easy steps
2. Mix the seed starting mix with water to rehydrate it. Fill up your seed tray.
3. Sow seeds. Thyme seeds are pretty small, so I recommend wetting your finger to help you pick up 1 to 2 seeds at a time and drop them into each cell. If more than one seed per cell germinates, you’ll need to pluck out all but one later.
Thyme seeds like to feel a little light as they sprout, so you don’t need to cover them with more soil. Just press them down with your fingertips to ensure good soil contact.
Due to their slow germination time, thyme seeds can be started alongside equally slow herbs like sage, chives, rosemary, and oregano. I wouldn’t start perennial herbs in the same tray as faster-growing annual herbs like basil, cilantro, or dill.
With any luck, thyme seeds should germinate in about 10 to 15 days.
Check out our indoor seed starting guide for more information on supplies and tips to tend growing thyme seedlings.
HOW TO GROW THYME FROM CUTTINGS
Propagating thyme is pretty simple—and a great way to get free plants! To start off, buy organic sprigs of thyme from the grocery store or take a couple cuttings from a mature parent plant. (Most gardeners are happy to give cuttings if you ask!)
If you’re taking cuttings, look for soft wood on the tips of branches (you should be able to bend these sections without breaking them). Take cuttings that are about 4″ to 6″ long.
Follow these steps to root your thyme cuttings.
Propagating thyme in 3 easy steps
1. Prepare thyme cuttings. Using a clean pair of scissors, cut the bottom of each stem at a 45° angle. Strip the lower leaves off the cutting so that the bottom couple of inches are bare. If you have rooting hormone on hand, dip the tips of each cutting to encourage root formation.
2. Add cuttings to water. Place these cuttings in a glass of water narrow enough to hold all the cuttings upright. The leaves should never touch the water.
3. Care for cuttings. Move the glass to a place that gets indirect light. Change out the water every couple of days. Your cuttings should produce roots within a couple of weeks.
Once the roots on your cuttings are a couple inches long, transfer these new plants to a pot filled with potting soil. Use a chopstick or dibber to make holes in the soil large enough to accommodate the fragile roots, and handle each little cutting gently for best results.
Move these young plants to a spot that receives a couple more hours of sunlight. If it’s warm outside, move them outside for a few hours each day to get them used to the great outdoors before they make it their home sweet home. Expect to wait a couple more weeks for your rooted cuttings to actually produce new growth.
What herbs grow well with thyme?
Thyme grows great alongside other herbs like basil, sage, oregano, rosemary, marjoram, and tarragon. It also mixes well with flowering herbs like marigolds, chamomile, echinacea, and calendula.
HOW TO TEND THYME HERBS
Thyme is the ultimate low-maintenance plant. In fact, the easiest way to kill this drought-resistant plant is to give it too much attention (read: water). Give the soil time to dry out a bit in between waterings to avoid drowning your thyme. Only water when it feels dry down to your knuckle when you stick your finger in the soil. In a container, this will be about every week. In a raised bed or in-ground garden, this will be every 10 to 14 days.
Once thyme is established, harvest frequently to maintain good air circulation. Thyme doesn’t require fertilization if it’s being grown under its ideal conditions (good drainage, moderate water), but you could add compost or an organic all-purpose fertilizer each spring to give your plant a nutritional boost.
You don’t need to worry about pinching off thyme flowers before they bloom. Flowering doesn’t compromise the flavor of the leaves, and besides, pollinators really love these pretty little flowers.
WHEN SHOULD THYME BE PRUNED
You will want to give your thyme plant a prune or, a “haircut” I like to call it, after it has finished flowering. This helps the plant from becoming too woody and helps it have fresh new growth through fall. You can also prune thyme anytime to keep it the shape desired. Don’t be shy in pruning!
HOW TO HARVEST THYME
Thyme that you’ve grown from seed or cuttings is typically ready to harvest about a month after being moved outdoors, though these first harvests should be very small to avoid shocking the plant. Just take a couple leaves for dinner.
Once your thyme is well established, harvest often to encourage new growth.
Are thyme flowers edible?
The leaves, soft stems, and flowers of this herb are all edible. You can use the flowers the same way you’d use the leaves. They also make a pretty little garnish.
HOW TO STORE FRESH THYME
It’s so nice to have fresh thyme on hand. Wash and dry thyme after harvest before saving it for later use or chopping it up for fresh use. You can store thyme stems in the fridge in jar with a tiny bit of water at the bottom (remove any lower leaves that might touch the water first). You could instead wrap thyme sprigs in a damp paper towel and then tuck them in a Ziplock bag inside the fridge. Sprigs should stay fresh for a couple of weeks this way.
For longer storage, place your sprigs on a baking sheet and put them in the freezer for a couple hours. Once they’re frozen, toss them into a freezer-safe plastic bag and put them back in the freezer.
You can, of course, dry thyme leaves by stripping the lower leaves from the stems, tying several stems together, and hanging them upside down somewhere dark and dry for at least two weeks. Thyme is dried when the leaves are brittle and fall off easily. Separate the tiny leaves from the stems before storing in a jar. If you have a dehydrator, you can dry your leaves in a matter of hours.
This culinary herb with its woody flavor is a great addition to dishes with beef or fish. It mixes really well with other herbs, so get creative. If you suffer from headaches or indigestion, try steeping some leaves in hot water to make your own thyme tea. What’s your favorite way to use thyme?