By: Amy Grant
Creeping thyme, also known commonly as ‘Mother of Thyme,’ is an easily grown, spreading thyme variety. It is excellent planted as a lawn substitute or among stepping stones or pavers to create a living patio. Let’s learn more about creeping thyme plant care.
Thymus praecox is a low growing perennial hardy in USDA hardiness zones 4-9 with fairly minimal requirements. An evergreen with lightly haired foliage, this tiny-growing creeping thyme varietal — rarely over 3 inches or 7.6 cm. — will appear in low, dense mats, which sprawl randomly and quickly fill in areas as a ground cover. T. serpyllum is another creeping thyme variety.
Just like other thyme varieties, creeping thyme is edible with a flavor and aroma akin to mint when crushed or steeped for teas or tinctures. To harvest creeping thyme ground cover, either remove the leaves from the stems or dry by snipping from the plant and hanging upside down in a dark, well aerated area. Harvest creeping thyme in the morning when the essential oils of the plant are at their peak.
Another creeping thyme fact is despite its enticing odor, growing creeping thyme ground cover is deer resistant, making it an ideal landscape candidate in areas frequented by them. Creeping thyme is also capable of withstanding tromping upon by rambunctious kids (making it kid resistant as well!), which makes it an exceptional planting choice anywhere that has frequent foot traffic.
Flowering creeping thyme is very attractive to bees and is a nice addition to a garden focused on honeybees. In fact, the pollen from the blooming thyme will flavor the resulting honey.
As mentioned, growing creeping thyme is a simple process due to its compatibility in a variety of soils and light exposures. Although this ground cover prefers well-drained lightly textured soils, it will grow quite well in less than desirable medium and thrive from sun to light shade environments.
Soil should be kept moist but not wet, as the growing creeping thyme plant is susceptible to root drowning and edema. The soil pH for growing creeping thyme plants should be neutral to slightly alkaline.
Creeping thyme ground cover can be propagated via stem cuttings or divisions and, of course, can be purchased from the local nursery as either established plantings or seeds. Cuttings from the creeping thyme plant should be taken in the early summer. Start seeds when growing creeping thyme indoors or they may be sown in the spring after the danger of frost has passed.
Plant creeping thyme 8 to 12 inches (20-30 cm.) apart to allow for its spreading habitat.
Prune creeping thyme ground cover in the spring to maintain a compact appearance and again after the small white flowers are spent if additional shaping is preferred.
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We can go on and on about how creeping thyme is a wonder plant but don't just take it from us: We're always encouraging our customers to share their gardening ideas, and we've had some great feedback about how you've used it in your own gardens.
Elise in Tennessee uses copious amounts of creeping thyme to "gentle" the aesthetics of her boulder-strewn rock garden. Creeping thyme doesn't need a deep soil bed, and is the perfect choice for rock gardens. "I hate having a lack of transition between taller plants and rocks, or between one rock and another," she wrote. "Creeping thyme and alyssum have a blending effect, especially when they cascade over the sides of retaining walls and take hold in crags and crevices between individual rocks."
Creeping thyme doesn't need a lot of topsoil to thrive, as long as it's central roots have a spot to take hold. It's cascading habit makes it a great container plant, as well.
We're withholding the name of this Ohio customer upon his request, but we can't hold back on his brilliant blending of our two favorite species to create a very specific desired effect.
"Everyone knows that the dirt on top of a grave caves in after a while, but if you mound up the soil, it looks kinda obvious," said. well, we'll just call him Joe. "I figured out that you can plant mother-of-thyme in the middle , and wild creeping thyme around the edges if you gotta disguise the hump. Or the opposite if the dirt's already sunk in. The two sizes of creeping thyme kinda blend it all together."
Mother-of-thyme only grows about 3-6 inches tall, while wild creeping thyme grows up to a foot in height. We typically think of combined mass plantings as a way to add topographical interest to a garden, but hey. Some people use the combination like dirt Bondo . And that's okay. If it's legal.
"I hate to be Captain Obvious," wrote Mark, a landscape designer in upstate New York, "but creeping thyme is the go-to plant for flagstone and paver pathways." He uses a variety of creeping thyme species to add a romantic feel to meandering garden walkways, citing the groundcover's ability to keep weeds from taking hold and soil in place. "When you step on creeping thyme during its flowering period, it really has a great smell, and it's easy to trim back and keep in line."
Creeping thyme spreads outward from a central root system, covering far more ground than it needs to nourish itself. The same characteristic that makes it a great choice for rock gardens is the reason it's valued as a filler and edging plant. Grow it along the edges of patios, concrete paths, and driveways.
Max called us from Florida to share how he uses creeping thyme in his Bonsai projects. "The small, round leaves and woody stems work well when you're trying to emulate shrubs and trees," he said. "I've really become enthralled with the art and discipline of Bonsai gardening, and find creeping thyme to be an amazing asset to the ancient practice."
This is about the time when Sophie got on the line. "It's not a Bonsai garden. It's a fairy garden. But it really is beautiful."
Max: "It is a Bonsai garden, Sophie."
Sophie: "Show me a legit Bonsai garden that has ceramic elves and saddled dragonflies, and I'll show you. "
This is where we got disconnected, but we got the message loud and clear creeping thyme is an obvious choice for miniature gardens, no matter the theme.
The sprawling herb requires at least four hours of sunlight a day, so it's not an option for deep shade. Anywhere else, it's an adaptable solution to gardening headaches. Take advantage of creeping thyme's dense network of branches and leaves and use it as a living mulch around other plants, reducing moisture loss and erosion while decreasing your weeding chores.
Growing creeping thyme from seed as a substitute for turfgrass is a great filler in those hard-to-mow spaces. In well-lit settings, try growing it under lawn trees, and let it cascade over the rims of large patio garden containers. Creeping thyme tolerates light foot traffic, so it's well-suited as a living carpet between your veggie rows, too!
Thyme has only two critical growing requirements: at least six hours of sunlight each day and well-drained soil. It grows well in rich garden beds alongside other herbs and vegetables. An herb that originated in the dry, rocky hillsides of Southern Europe, however, thyme is well-adapted to growing in marginal conditions. Stick thyme ground-cover plugs wherever you find a crack or crevice for the plant's roots to anchor -- between stepping stones, tiny niches in an old stone wall or among the boulders in a rock garden. The plant's fragrance and flavor only intensify in scant soil conditions.
Native to Mediterranean regions, creeping thymes prefer dry, well-drained locations with average soil and five or more hours of daily sun. Although they tolerate drought, rocky soils, air pollution and even deer, they don't handle humidity or overwatering well. Too much water or heavy, poorly draining soils lead to root rot, and failure to thrive and spread at normal rates. Dryness actually improves this plant's vigor, and nonfertile soils increase aromatic oils. Regardless of variety, the shallow roots stay near the surface. To restrain them, pull them out, but select the proper type upfront instead so you can spend time enjoying its beauty instead of preventing it from spreading where you never intended it to go.
The creeping thyme is a very amazing plant. It gives us a lot of benefits from it. That is very helpful for all of us. We can grow in our house to give our house an aesthetic and unique look.
Gardeners often spend a fortune on nursery flats containing creeping thyme plugs, and we think that's silly. These plants are easily (and economically) cultivated from seed. Here are a few tips to add a lot of impact with minimal investment.
Seed Treatment: None required.
Germination Time & Temperature: 7 to 21 days at 65°F to 70°F.
Planting Outdoors: Prepare your seed beds by raking out all the clumps and either scattering your creeping thyme seeds (we like to mix them with sand and distribute them from a shaker) or planting 2 to 3 seeds 12" to 18" apart in offset rows. Feel free to plant them more densely you can always thin and transplant seedlings elsewhere. (Read on for transplanting tips.)
Planting Indoors: You can get a head start on your creeping thyme at least six weeks before your last spring frost. Create your own "plugs" by planting 2 to 3 seeds in each nursery tray cell. Cover with a thin layer of soil, and grow them under fluorescent grow lights. A grow mat set at 70°F will help keep the soil consistently warm. Use a misting bottle to keep the surface damp and capillary watering via a bottom tray to encourage root growth. Don't let your starts get soggy!
Seed Depth: No deeper than 1/16". Surface scatter for outdoor planting or cover with a thin layer of fine soil for indoor starts.
Transplanting Tips: Place your starts, dirt and all, into a damp hole that's the same size as your nursery cell or pot. Fill in the gaps and firmly tamp down the surrounding soil. Gently water the area, and move on to your next planting spot.
Denser plantings look great in the short term but can cause leggy plants if they're too crowded. When you're transplanting healthy starts, place them 18" to 24" apart and they'll be more vigorous when they spread out and cover the gaps. In the meantime, take Max's lead and fill the open spaces with fantasy figurines, Storm Trooper action figures, and garden gnomes .
Unlike grass that needs mowing and comes with a bunch of problems of its own, elfin thyme plants are hardy, drought-resistant, and have better landscaping qualities. So how do you make sure your creeping thyme grows successfully year after year?
The elfin thyme plant grows in any soil from the rocky to the sandy and even loamy one. As long as it’s well-drained, the sensitive roots of the thyme won’t have a problem spreading. It’s only an issue if you try to grow it in clay. The packed soil retains water for longer than the thyme likes. This leads to root rot. So dig up the clay and mix a generous portion of sand, small pebbles of gravel or perlite to improve drainage.
You won’t have to fertilize your elfin thyme creeping plant. It subsists on what little nutrition it finds in the soil and still blooms brightly every summer. However, if you want to speed up its growth to cover that barren corner in your garden or lawn, you can use a general-purpose fertilizer. Use it sparingly in the early summer just before the bloom cycle begins.
In most cases, you won’t have to worry about propagating the elfin thyme plant. That’s because it does that on its own. As the plant grows, it sends out stems into the ground to claim more garden real estate and spread its domain. You can dig out these stems along with the roots that grow out of them and plant them somewhere else in your garden or in a container. You can also propagate it using a cutting.
The continuous success of your elfin thyme year after year depends on the kind of weather you get in the winter months. A cold winter could mean the creeping thyme would lose its leaves or some of its stems. This shouldn’t be any cause for alarm. By the next spring, all these gray-green leaves will grow back and soon flowers will bloom as well.
Many horticulturalists like to cover the elfin thyme with sand or gravel. This protects it against the ravages of the cold winter. When the weather warms up, you should remove that thick protective layer and allow the plant to breathe and grow again. If that doesn’t work and the freezing temperature kills your thyme, you can still treat it as an annual. This means you’ll have to replant it every spring right after the last frost. This might be too much work, but the elfin thyme is well worth the trouble.