Wild thyme is perhaps the most common form of this strongly aromatic herb, although there are many other varieties of this native Mediterranean herb. It is commonly grown in the herb garden, and its leaves are commonly used in salads as garnishes and as flavoring for poultry, fish, beef, lamb, soups, herb butters, vinegars, beans, and vegetables. Thyme is usually blended with other herbs when used in meat dishes, poultry, stuffing (parsley and thyme is a nice combination), and soups. It adds a nice flavor to clam chowder and is often used along with a bay leaf to give a delicate lift to a white sauce or a cheese soufflé. There are many different species and varieties that vary in shape, color, and aroma. Many of them grow fairly thick, which makes for an aromatic groundcover.
Where to Grow Thyme
Thyme prefers a mild climate but can survive temperatures below freezing. It tolerates cold better in well-drained soil. Plant Thyme from seed anywhere in the United States two to three weeks before your average date of last frost. It likes sandy loam soil and full sun to partial shade.
Soil for Growing Thyme
Thyme likes well-drained soil, preferably low in fertility; rich soil will produce large but less fragrant plants. The first year, work a low-nitrogen (5-10-10) fertilizer into the soil before planting at the rate of about a half-pound per 100 square feet. This is generous of you because in adverse soil conditions, thyme, like many herbs, will have better flavor. Whatever the soil’s like, it’s important to give thyme a place in the sun.
Seeds should be sown indoors at 70°F for optimum germination, then transplanted to permanent location. Plant seeds in early spring, two to three weeks before your average last frost date.
|Germination||60 - 70 F|
|Soil and Water|
|pH||4.5 - 8.0|
|Space between plants|
|space between rows||16 - 24"|
|Incompatibles||Onion family, weeds during first 6 weeks of growth.|
|Cut both the leaves and flowers of thyme as you need them. Don't worry about taking too much at a time, an established plant will keep coming back.|
Plant the seeds 1/4″ deep in rows 16 to 24 inches apart, and when the seedlings are two to three inches tall thin them about a foot apart. You can also plant thyme cuttings or root divisions. Plant them at the same time, and space them a foot apart.
Thyme seldom needs watering; it does best on the dry side. Like many other herbs, it does not require fertilizer during the growing season. Some herbs, like mints, grow like weeds, whatever the competition. Thyme can’t handle competition, especially from grassy weeds, and needs an orderly environment; cultivate conscientiously. Start new plants every three to four years because thyme gets woody. If you’ve no room in the garden for extra plants, plant them in a hanging basket.
|Store fresh thyme leaves in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Leaves can be finely chopped and mixed with a small amount of olive oil to be frozen. Dry entire branches in a slow oven, a food dehydrator, or hang in a warm, dry and dark place. Store in airtight jars in a dark place for the best flavor retention.|
How Thyme Grows
Thyme is a fragrant, small, hardy, evergreen, perennial shrub. It spreads well and is often used for ground cover. Thyme grows to a maximum height of about 1 foot. Its pungent leaves are gray-green, tiny, and dotted with scent glands on 6-8″ stems spread out over the ground. It’s a mint family member and has square stems with small opposite leaves and mint-like flowers. Small lilac to pink flowers appear at the end of leaf stems in summer. Thyme is a charming, cheerful little plant and will last for years once it’s established. It’s a good plant for a border or rock garden. There are more than 200 species and human-made hybrids, but the most common form is grown for flavoring.
How to Harvest Thyme
Pick thyme as needed. For drying, harvest when the plants begin to bloom. Cut off the tops of the branches with four to five inches of flowering stems. After drying, crumble the thyme and put it into tightly capped jars.
Thyme has no notable pest problems.
Thyme has no notable disease problems.