Thyme is a must for all home cooks. Use thyme with meat, fish as well as vegetarian dishes or as a base in your spice mixes. It’s also an easy and hardy herb to grow and look after.
Even better, as a perennial your thyme plant will come back every year as long as you give the plant some love and care.
In this article we will show you how to grow thyme from seed, cuttings or division and how to succeed in growing and cultivating your own thyme plants.
Thyme Varieties, Aroma And Color
Thyme is a part of a large family of herbs including varieties like English, French, Silver, Lemon and then of course the most popular – common thyme or Thymus Vulgaris.
And if you are looking to grow thyme for the first time I recommend you start with common thyme.
Thyme is a low growing perennial bush-like plant with long stems covered with small, oval green to gray-green leaves. When thyme flowers the plant produces small delicate white, pink or even red flowers that are favourites among pollinators like bees.
The branches grow hard and wooden as the plant matures. Mature thyme plants benefit from being harvested continuously throughout the growing season.
Thyme is a very aromatic herb and low growing creeping varieties are known to be planted in between paving stones in English gardens. The leaves emit a wonderful scent should they occasionally be stepped on.
Thyme is best added to your dishes early in the cooking process and provides a rich and earthy flavor with floral undertones.
It takes a bit of patience to grow thyme from seed. You will be able to harvest the plant the first year but the yield will be much richer in year 2 and onwards.
You can also grow thyme from cuttings or division to speed up the process.
If you grow from seed you start by propagating indoors in starter pots in early spring.
How to grow thyme in 15 easy-to-follow steps
1. The first step is to buy quality seeds and potting soil from your local garden center.
2. Choose the plastic starter pots or a propagation tray you want to use. Wash them carefully if you are reusing pots or containers from other gardening projects. Make sure the containers have rain holes to provide good drainage.
3. Fill the chosen pot with your potting soil. The seed itself contains all the energy needed to germinate why no fertilizer is needed. Water the soil and let all excess water drain out.
Watering thoroughly before we plant the seeds will help remove any air pockets in the soil and prevent the seeds being flooded and gathering in lumps.
4. Sprinkle the seeds sparingly on top of the soil and try to leave some space between each seed. Remember, one seed equals one potential plant.
5. Cover the seeds with a thin layer of soil and press gently with your fingers to ensure solid contact between soil and seeds. Spray the soil with water and cover the container with a plastic film (or lid).
6. Place the container in a warm – not hot – place and keep moist. If you see condensation forming you need to make some holes in the plastic film to to provide better air circulation.
7. Thyme seeds can be slow to germinate but after approximately 21 days or so you should start seeing the first leaves forming. Remove the plastic film and make sure you continue to keep the soil moist. Keep the container in a warm place with plenty of sunlight.
At this stage you want a warm environment of 18-22 degrees Celsius (64-70 degrees Fahrenheit) with plenty of sunlight (at least 6 hours per day). But do not place the pots in direct sunlight as you risk scorching the seedlings.
8. When the seedlings have grown at least two sets of true leaves it is time to transplant the seedling into larger pots or containers. Fill the new pots with a nutrient-rich potting soil.
9. Lift the seedlings gently taking great care not to damage the root system and plant them to the same depth as before. Leave approximately 10 cm (4 inches) between seedlings as you plant them. If you use a nutrient-rich soil you do not have to add any fertilizer.
9. As the seedlings grow you can increase the exposure to sunlight. Mature thyme plants will thrive in full sun with good air circulation.
10. When there is no longer any risk of frost you can replant the thyme plants in your herb garden or simply place the posts outdoors. You should always harden your plants for 1-2 weeks by incrementally increasing the amount of time they spend outdoors.
11. As the thyme plant grows you should harvest continually by pitching of twigs 3-6 cm (1-2 inches) above ground level. Continually harvesting your plant will create new growth and result in a busier and healthier plant.
12. If you are harvesting your whole plant for storage you should wait for the plant to start setting flowers. Cut it back leaving 3-6 cm (1-2 inches) and watch the plant grow back. Use a standard herb fertilizer at half the recommended dosage to give your plant a boost.
13. Thyme is a hardy plant and the most common problem you may encounter is root rot due to overwatering or poorly drained and compact soil with no air. Thyme actually prefers a mild dry out between waterings to being watered too much or too frequently.
The more common pests include aphids and red spider mites. Early detection and treatment with Neem Oil will help save your plant.
14. To help your plant stay healthy over winter you need to ensure good drainage and apply a cover of mulch around the bottom of the plant as the weather gets cold. Do not apply the mulch too early in the fall as you may overheat the root system.
15. After a few seasons your thyme plant may develop woody branches. Cutting the plant back hard in the spring leaving only 3 cm (1 inch) or so can help rejuvenate your plant.
Grow thyme plants from cuttings
To grow thyme plants from cutting you simply need access to an established and mature plant.
Look for a branch with fresh growth and cut a sprig measuring about 15 cm (6 inches).
Next, strip off the leaves from the bottom part of the sprig (5 cm/2 inches).
Place the sprig in a glass of water and place the glass in a warm but not hot place.
Replace the water every 2 days or so or when the water gets dark or murky.
In 1-2 weeks you will see fresh while roots forming and the cutting will be ready to plant into a pot with rich well drained potting soil.
Grow thyme plants by division
Growing a new thyme plant from division is a very straightforward process.
You start with a mature and established plant and simply lift it from the ground or pot.
Next grab the plant by the root and gently but firmly divind the plant into two or more separate plants.
When the plants are divided you plant each division in a separate pot or place, leaving a space of around 20 cm (8 inches) between the plants. Press to firm up the soil around the plant but avoid pressing right on top of the root systems. Finally, water the plants thoroughly.
Harvesting thyme is as simple as cutting off sprigs or branches as you need them.
You can of course also harvest the entire plant to preserve herbs for future use.
There are several ways to dry your thyme after harvest.
You can tie branches of thyme together and place them in a brown paper bag. Hand the bag upside down in a cool and dark place with good ventilation.
Depending on external factors like temperature and humidity it can take several weeks for the branches to dry.
When dry, simply remove the leaves from the branches using your fingers and store in an airtight container.
You can of course also use a food dehydrator should you have one. Depending on the model it can take anything from 1-20 hours to dry your thyme in a food dehydrator.
You can freeze entire sprigs of thyme or remove and freeze the leaves in a plastic bag or container.
Cut the amount of thyme you intend to freeze. It is optional to rinse and wash the thyme. If you do wash your thyme you should leave it on the branch while washing and drying the herb.
It is very important that the thyme is dry before you freeze it.
You can remove the dry leaves from the branch or freeze the entire branch with leaves and all.
Place the thyme in a plastic bag or container and remove as much air as possible.
Seal the bag or container and place it in your freezer for storage.
Summary and conclusion
Thyme is one of those herbs that can be used for almost any type of cooking. You can use it with meat, fish as well as vegetarian cooking.
Thyme can be grown from seeds, cuttings or by division from an established plant. You can of course also start by buying a small plant from your local garden store if you prefer.
Thyme is a perennial and propagating a healthy plant is the start of a long and very fruitful relationship.
Thyme is very hardy and will tolerate the occasional mild dry out and even poor soil. But thyme will not tolerate overwatering or compact and poorly drained soil.
Helpful sources: University of Illinois Extension Planttalk Colorado™ sponsored by Colorado State University Extension, Denver Botanic gardens, and the Green Industries of Colorado