Growing Thyme Plants: Ornamental and Edible Herbs

Thyme plant isn't just a fragrant and edible herb. It is a versatile plant that adds beauty in many areas of the garden.

(Thymus praecox 'Doretta Klaber)
(Thymus praecox ‘Doretta Klaber)

How to Use Thyme Plants

If you look in the pantry of any kitchen, you will probably find a container filled with this aromatic herb.  Thyme plants are often used to flavor soups, gravy, meat and vegetable dishes.  I like to use it make herb butter.  It also tastes great with fish and in lemon-flavored foods such as flavored ice tea or even cookies. While thyme is a popular kitchen herb, did you know that thyme is also highly prized as an ornamental herb in the garden?

Thymus pulegioides 'Kermesinus'
Thymus pulegioides ‘Kermesinus’

How to Grow Thyme Plants

Thyme is a fragrant, low-growing ground cover that produces tiny pink, purple or white flowers, depending on the variety.  In warmer climates, it can be grown as a perennial. Harvest throughout the entire year.  For gardeners in cooler climates, grow thyme as an annual.  Its flowers add beauty to the garden in spring and summer. Thyme plants also serve as a pollinator plant for bees.

Easy to grow, thyme does have a few important requirements. It must have full sun and well-drained soil.  Unlike some herbs that grow easily from seed, thyme does best when planted from transplants in spring once the danger of frost has passed.  Regular pruning of thyme is important. Otherwise it can become woody, producing few leaves and becoming unattractive.  Begin pruning in spring and repeat in summer as needed.  A good guideline is to remove 1/3 or less of the thyme plant each time.  Finish pruning at least a month before the first frost or new growth can become severely damaged when cold temperatures hit.

Lime Thyme
Lime Thyme

Where to Plant Thyme

Thyme is quite a versatile plant in the garden.  It is often seen growing in rock gardens or along a stone or brick border where its fragrant foliage can drape down.

Different varieties of thyme planted as a ground cover.
Different varieties of thyme planted as a ground cover.

When planted along a walkway, thyme releases its aromatic fragrance when you walk on it.  However, thyme will not survive in areas with high foot traffic. So it’s best used in an area such as a side yard that doesn’t get too much use.  This is a great way to plant many different varieties of thyme in one area.

Thyme and parsley grown indoors.
Thyme and parsley grown indoors

If your garden is too cold for thyme to survive in winter, then plant it indoors.  Thyme is one of many herbs that does very well when grown in front of a sunny, south-facing window. Use a planting mix and add a slow-release fertilizer every 3 months for best results.  I planted the thyme plant (above) in September. It lasted throughout the winter and spring growing on my kitchen windowsill.

White Flowered Creeping Thyme

When to Harvest Thyme

Harvest thyme throughout the year in mild climates and in spring and summer in cooler zones. Like most herbs, the flavor is most intense just before flowering. Although the leaves will still taste delicious even if harvested when flowering.

Strip leaves from the stems and add them to your favorite dish.  Thyme can also be easily preserved by drying or freezing into ice cubes.

Noelle Johnson
Noelle Johnson is a horticulturist and certified arborist who lives and gardens in the desert Southwest. When she is not writing or helping other people with their gardens, you can find her growing fruits and vegetables, and planting flowering shrubs and maybe a cactus or two.