If you’re someone like me who absolutely loves using herbs and spices, I suggest you start growing thyme now. This herb is very low maintenance and can grow generously even in a container. Thyme plants have been cultivated widely for centuries and they surely maintain their value in the culinary world.
Planting thyme is very easy and low maintenance. Following is a quick summary of the information you need to know about this aromatic herb:
- Scientific Name Thymus vulgaris
- AKA Common Thyme, English Thyme
- Similar to Oregano
- Native to Europe and Asia
- Shape Spreading, rounded
- Maximum Size 6 to 12 inches tall
- Watering Requirements Low
- Light Requirements Bright, full sun
- Preferred Humidity Low to moderate
- Preferred Temperature 16°C (60.8°F)
- Soil or Potting Medium Well-draining, fertile sandy loam
- Fertilizer Low
- Propagation Method Cuttings, air layering, root division, seeds
- Toxicity Non-toxic
- Vulnerable to Alternaria blight and root rot
Overview Thyme Plant Care
Thyme is one of the popularly grown and used herbs across the globe. But originally, this plant is a native of Mediterranean Europe and Asia. It’s a perennial, evergreen crop that’s low growing and can serve as a groundcover in the outside landscape.
Thyme plants can grow to around 6 to 12 inches tall. It also has a spreading habit. Their small, almost hairy-like leaves are very aromatic making them very effective in enhancing the flavors of a dish. They also produce flowers in colors of white, pink, or lilac which are very attractive to bees.
Beyond the culinary value, the thyme herb is also a good ornamental plant. That’s why you would see a lot of potted thymes being sold in a garden center. It’s no surprise that there are a lot of people planting thyme in their own homes.
Thyme plants prefer a bright light condition like that of full sun. In an indoor setting, it will do well in a sunny window that receives ample light. This will keep the thyme foliage lush and green.
It’s best to bring the thyme out from time to time to allow it to receive natural sunlight. Do this especially when you notice the leaves to be turning pale green or yellow. In very low light conditions, provide artificial sources of light at least 12 inches apart from your thyme plant.
The thyme that’s not receiving enough light will grow tall, weak, and spindly.
Water is not much of a demand for a thyme plant. This herb requires low watering and can even tolerate drought conditions. In fact, you can easily over-water and kill your thyme if you’re not careful.
To avoid root rot, make sure that your pot has good drainage. Allow the soil to dry out completely in between waterings. Use well-drained soil so the medium won’t remain soggy after watering.
During winter, water your thyme only once a month to just keep the soil moist throughout the cold season. In summer, more frequent watering is needed because the soil easily dries out when it’s hot.
Humidity & Temperature Preferences
The good thing about thyme plants is that they can tolerate both high and low temperatures of around 4 and 28°C (39.2–82.4°F). It can also survive even the freezing temperatures of -16°C (3.2°F). Nevertheless, the best temperature for optimum growth is 16°C (60.8°F).
As for humidity, this herb prefers having dry surroundings. There’s no need to regularly mist on your thyme during times of low humidity. Doing so will encourage the growth of fungi and other disease-causing pathogens.
Plant Food and Potting Media
Aside from being a tough plant in your herb garden, thyme plants have very low fertilizer requirements. You can grow thyme for months without even adding in fertilizers provided that the soil is fertile. Less to no fertilizer is ideal for the thyme because it will prevent the plant from growing tall and spindly.
During its growing season, you may add diluted balanced fertilizer once a month or only as needed. We suggest that you use organic fertilizers such as fish emulsion.
To keep the plant healthy, make sure to pot it in a well-draining, fertile sandy loam or sand. Amend the soil with organic matter. It’s best to grow thyme in a previously sterile potting mix to avoid acquiring soil-borne fungal diseases.
Aside from the basic growing requirements, there is also some additional care you have to give to your thyme plant. These are the important things you need to do to keep your thyme happy.
Pruning is a regular thing you’ll be doing with your thyme especially if you’re using the leaves on your dishes. You can just pinch back the mature leaves from time to time. Regular pinching will encourage branching off which is the desired shape for a potted thyme plant.
Aside from the regular trimming, you would need to cut the thyme plants back year after year or once you notice that it has grown woody. Cutting back will encourage the thyme plant to produce new growth with young and tender stems. This process of pruning is a way to renew the entire plant.
You should repot newly bought thyme plants to provide a more suitable container. Plants bought from garden centers would normally have smaller and disposable pots. Plant thyme in a bigger and sturdier pot and add extra potting soil.
The next repotting would depend on how big your thyme plants have gotten. Transfer your thyme herb to a larger container when it starts outgrowing its pot. Take this chance to replace the old potting soil with a new one.
There are different ways to propagate thyme. You can start with thyme seeds if you want to. You may also use cuttings, do air layering or divide the root ball to multiply single thyme into more plants.
Using thyme seeds for propagation will require longer periods of waiting time unlike using cuttings. If your thyme plant is already bulky, you can do division because it’s the easiest method. Air layering, on the other hand, will require some skill to ensure that the layered branch will develop roots.
Pests and Diseases
The flowers of the thyme plants are very attractive to bees. Don’t be surprised when you see these creatures roaming around your plants during the flowering season in summer. Although they’re harmless, their presence would make the harvest process difficult especially if you have lots of thyme.
Thyme plants are also susceptible to Alternaria blight which is caused by a fungus known as Alternaria brassicicola. The common symptom of this disease is the appearance of small spots that vary in color from yellow to brown to black. The spots become holes and leave lesions on the leaf surfaces.
Remove infected leaves immediately once the symptoms appear. Allow enough spacing in between your plants to provide good air circulation. Keep the foliage of your thyme dry as much as possible to prevent the occurrence of fungal diseases.
The best time to harvest thyme leaves is during summer before they start blooming. This is ideal because the leaves’ aroma is at its peak. To harvest thyme, you have to cut the branches leaving only 3 to 4 inches of the stems below.
You can use the fresh leaves directly on your dishes. If there is plenty, you may dry them, place them in a sealed container and keep it for future use. You may even share these preserved thyme leaves with your herb-loving friends!
If you’re a newbie in growing thyme, you’d probably be asking which variety is best to plant. That’s a good question because there are a lot of varieties of thyme to choose from. To make the list short, I have enumerated here only the most popular:
- French or English Thyme (T. vulgaris) – this variety is the most popular among culinary thyme plants.
- Lemon Thyme (T. x citriodorus) – this variety has that strong lemon scent and taste.
- Creeping Thyme (T. praecox) – primarily used as an ornamental groundcover in the outside landscape.
To make the most of your gardening, you have to consider first the intended purpose of why you plant thyme in the first place. From there, you can choose which variety suits your purpose whether the English thyme, lemon thyme, or creeping thyme. Although, it would be great to have more varieties planted in your herb garden so you’ll have options.
Thyme is completely edible both for humans and for pets. You won’t need to worry about the health of your dogs and cats with this plant around. Although, I cannot promise that they won’t be attracted to this herb plant especially with its inviting aroma.
Growing thyme at home is a very nice idea. It offers a lot of benefits from serving a culinary purpose to lifting your mood with its very nice aroma. Not to mention the attraction of the flowers when they are in bloom.
With the very little amount of effort required to care for and maintain this plant at the comforts of your home, there’s no doubt that you will enjoy a pot or two of thyme plants just within your reach.
What are the benefits of the thyme plant?
Like any other herbs, thyme is best used in enhancing the flavor of your cooked dishes. The aroma that it releases improves the taste of your chicken or fish.
Aside from that, the thyme plant is also utilized for its essential oil named thymol. This oil has commercial value in the cosmetics and food industry. It is known to have anti-inflammatory and antifungal properties.
The creeping thyme is also used as an ornamental plant, as a groundcover in landscapes. The flowers it produces are very attractive.
How to care for a potted thyme plant?
The basic things you need to remember when caring for a thyme plant are full sun and less water. It needs a lot of sunlight to thrive well. If kept indoors, find a location that is well-lit preferably a sunny window.
It’s best to keep your thyme on the dry side rather than giving excess water. Thyme can tolerate drought and overwatering is a threat. Make sure that it’s growing in well-draining soil to avoid waterlogging that can lead to root rot.
How long does a thyme plant last?
A potted thyme plant can last for years as long as you provide the optimum growing requirements. This plant is not easy to kill unless you overwater. A faithful grower will surely enjoy the fragrance of the planted thyme for a long time.
To keep the plant’s life long, make sure to renew the plant every year by cutting it back. This way, new growth is encouraged. Also, don’t forget to repot overgrown plants. Divide the roots and plant thyme in individual pots.