As an evergreen perennial accented with masses of tiny flowers, thyme is a welcome addition to an ornamental garden as a shrub or groundcover, but its scented leaves make it indispensable in a collection of culinary herbs. In any location, only a few requirements are needed for thyme to thrive.
Selecting a Variety
- Common thyme ( vulgaris), sometimes called English or garden thyme, grows 1-2 ft. high and wide. Its robust flavor makes it one of the most popular types of thyme for culinary use.
- vulgaris ‘French,’ said to be slightly sweeter and milder than the plain species, and T. vulgaris ‘Argenteus’, known as silver thyme, are both often preferred over common garden thyme.
- For specific flavors, select among other varieties such as herba-barona, caraway-scented thyme; T. vulgaris ‘Orange Balsam’; T. x. citriodorus, lemon thyme; and T. camphoratus, camphor thyme.
- Characteristics of additional varieties and young plants can be found at nurseries or in seed catalogs. All types are attractive to bees and are deer-resistant.
- Non-culinary varieties can be used as groundcovers or small shrubs to attract pollinators.
- Use a purchased soil mix to grow thyme in pots, but plant in any soil type in a garden bed as long as it is well-drained.
- Plant in spring in a sunny location. Most varieties grow at a moderate pace and require 1-2 ft. of space to develop a pleasing shape.
- Young thyme plants accept regular water but, once established, very little is needed. Over-watering causes fungal disease and rot. No fertilizing is needed.
- While thyme is best cultivated in a hot, sunny location, it also thrives in partial shade where drought is more easily tolerated.
- No protection is needed in winter in any Sonoma County microclimate.
- Mature plants require shearing to remain compact. Regular shearing or harvesting is essential to stimulate continued leafy growth; otherwise, woody stems proliferate.
- Thyme can be propagated by seed, but it takes several years before shrubs are mature enough for harvest.
- Propagation from cuttings taken from fresh growth in early summer is faster, rooting in 3-4 weeks, but patience is required before ample stems develop for harvesting.
- After established plants develop multiple stems and sufficient root mass, they can be propagated by division. Carefully dig up the entire rootball, divide into 2-3 sections, and replant.