Thyme is a fragrant and versatile herb used for centuries for culinary and medicinal purposes. It’s small leaves and delicate purple or pink flowers make it a beautiful addition to any garden, and its strong aroma and flavor can add depth to various dishes.
However, planting and harvesting thyme can be tricky, as it requires specific growing conditions and careful attention to ensure a healthy crop. This complete guide will explore everything you need to know about planting and harvesting thyme, from selecting the right variety to caring for your plants and harvesting your crop.
Whether you’re a seasoned gardener or a beginner, this guide will provide you with all the information you need to successfully grow and enjoy this wonderful herb.
The genus thyme includes various aromatic and medicinal plants, most from the Mediterranean region. Some species are also distributed in Asia and North and West Africa. In the Middle Ages, Benedictine monks brought common thyme (Thymus vulgaris) to their monastery gardens, from where it found its way into local herb gardens and kitchens. Before that, it was widespread among Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks. The name of the herb is also derived from the Greek: “Thymos,” which means “strength” or “courage.”
Like all thyme varieties, common thyme belongs to the mint family (Lamiaceae). Today it exudes its spicy scent in gardens and balconies in this country, and it is hard to imagine the kitchen without it.
What does thyme look like?
The common thyme (Thyme vulgaris) is botanically an evergreen shrub. It reaches a height of 10 cm to 40 cm. You can calculate with the same dimensions in width. The older the subshrub gets, the more it branches out. Over the years, its shoots lignify inside.
Thymus has grey-green leaves that are linear to narrowly elliptical. These are slightly hairy on their underside. They grow decussate on the shoots of the subshrub. When you rub them between your fingers, they give off their typical aroma.
True thyme blooms all summer long from May to October. The plant develops tiny little-lipped flowers ranging from pink to purple. These are arranged in dummy whorls. Thyme attracts bees, in particular with its blossoms. But butterflies also use thyme as a food source. After flowering, thyme forms small, inconspicuous nuts. These contain the seed.
Note: The plant tends to self-seed. To avoid this, cut off the inflorescences before they form fruit.
In addition to common thyme, lemon thyme (Thymus x citriodorus), with its yellow-green mottled leaves and characteristic lemon taste and smell, is particularly well known. Wild thyme is winter hardy, also known as wild thyme (Thymus pulegioides). Its smooth leaves are less aromatic.
Choose the right location.
Thyme prefers a location with full sun and well-draining soil. When selecting a location to plant thyme, choose an area that receives at least six hours of direct sunlight daily. Thyme can tolerate some shade but will grow best in full sun.
Thyme also requires soil that drains well, as it is susceptible to root rot in too-wet soil. If your soil is heavy or clay-like, you should amend it with compost or sand to improve drainage. If you are planting thyme in a container, be sure to use a potting mix that is formulated for good drainage.
In addition to sunlight and well-draining soil, thyme prefers a location with good air circulation. Planting thyme in a location with good airflow will help prevent fungal diseases from developing on the leaves and stems.
Thyme varieties for different climates and soil types
Thyme is a hardy herb that can grow in various climates and soil types. Here are some thyme varieties that are well-suited for different conditions:
English Thyme (Thymus vulgaris): This variety of thyme is native to the Mediterranean region and is commonly grown in temperate climates worldwide, including the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, and Australia. It prefers well-draining soil and full sun.
Lemon Thyme (Thymus citriodorus): This variety of thyme has a citrusy flavor and is commonly grown in Mediterranean countries like Italy, Greece, and Spain, as well as in hotter regions of the United States and Australia. It prefers well-draining soil and full sun.
Woolly Thyme (Thymus pseudolanuginosus): This variety of thyme has a fuzzy texture and is well-suited to growing in rocky or sandy soil. It is native to Europe and is commonly grown in countries like France, Italy, and Spain. It prefers full sun and can tolerate drought conditions.
Creeping Thyme (Thymus serpyllum): This low-growing variety of thyme is ideal for ground cover and can grow in various soil types. It is native to Europe and is commonly grown in countries like the United Kingdom, France, and Italy. It prefers full sun and can tolerate dry conditions.
Caraway Thyme (Thymus herba-barona): This variety of thyme has a unique caraway-like flavor and is well-suited to growing in cool and moist climates. It is native to Europe and is commonly grown in countries like France and Germany. It prefers well-draining soil and full sun.
French Thyme (Thymus vulgaris var. ‘French’): This variety of thyme has a slightly sweeter flavor than English thyme and is well-suited to growing in Mediterranean climates. It is native to France and commonly grown in Italy, Spain, and Greece. It prefers well-draining soil and full sun.
Planting thyme is a relatively easy process that can be done in just a few steps. Here’s how to plant thyme:
Choose the right location: Thyme prefers well-draining soil and full sun, so choose a location that gets at least six hours of direct sunlight per day and has soil that drains well. If your soil is heavy or clay-like, you should amend it with compost or sand to improve drainage.
Prepare the soil: Use a garden fork or tiller to loosen the soil to a depth of about 12 inches. Remove any weeds or debris from the area.
Plant the thyme: You can either plant thyme from seed or young plants purchased from a nursery. If planting from seed, sprinkle the seeds on the soil surface and lightly cover them with a thin layer of soil. If planting from young plants, dig a hole that is slightly larger than the plant’s root ball and place the plant in the hole. Backfill with soil and press down firmly to remove any air pockets.
Water the thyme: Water the thyme immediately after planting to help settle the soil around the roots. After that, water the thyme regularly, keeping the soil evenly moist but not soggy. Thyme is fairly drought-tolerant once established, so be careful not to overwater.
Mulch the thyme: Adding a layer of organic mulch around the thyme plants can help retain moisture in the soil and suppress weeds. Use a layer of straw, wood chips, or compost, making sure to keep the mulch a few inches away from the stems of the plants.
Thyme can be planted in the spring or fall, depending on your climate. With proper care, thyme will grow well and provide a flavorful and aromatic addition to your garden and culinary creations.
Tip: Before you put the young plants in their final place, get them used to the sun step by step.
Tips for caring for thyme
Because of its Mediterranean homeland, thyme is used to drought and poor soil. That’s why it doesn’t need much care.
You support it if you fertilize with some compost when planting in the bed. But that doesn’t have to be every year. Well-established plants do not usually need to be watered because they can survive periods of drought. If the summer is particularly hot and dry, it helps to water it occasionally. If you are cultivating thymus in a pot, sparing watering is sufficient.
In spring, cut back the thyme shoots by about a third. Then it doesn’t grow old and drives out vigorously every year. Every three years, you should divide the thymus.
Despite their preference for warmth, most species do not need winter protection: they are frost hardy. With a fleece, however, you can prevent leaf shedding in winter. Find out what species it is in advance to avoid frost damage.
Companion plants with thyme
Companion planting is a practice that involves growing different plants together in a way that benefits each other. Several companion plants can help improve crop health and pest management regarding thyme. Here are some of the best companion plants to grow with thyme:
Rosemary: Rosemary is a natural companion plant for thyme. They both prefer similar growing conditions and have similar pest and disease problems. Growing rosemary alongside thyme can help deter pests like cabbage moths and carrot flies.
Lavender: Lavender is another herb that makes a great companion plant for thyme. Lavender’s strong scent can help deter pests like aphids and whiteflies. Plus, the two herbs together make a beautiful and fragrant combination.
Sage: Sage is a hardy herb that can tolerate the same growing conditions as thyme. Planting sage alongside thyme can help deter pests like slugs and snails.
Chives: Chives are a great companion plant for thyme because they can help repel pests like Japanese beetles and aphids. Plus, chives are an edible herb that can be used in cooking.
Marigolds: Marigolds are a popular companion plant for many vegetables and herbs, including thyme. Marigolds have natural insect-repelling properties and can help deter pests like nematodes and whiteflies.
Companion planting with thyme can help improve crop health and pest management by attracting beneficial insects, repelling pests, and providing natural pest control. Plus, it can make your garden look and smell beautiful!
You can harvest thyme throughout the season. It is best used fresh. If you want to dry it, cut off the shoots with clean pruning shears before flowering, preferably at noon. Then hang them upside down to dry.
Thyme is extremely versatile in the kitchen. You can use it to refine soups, salads, vegetables, meat, and fish dishes. Similar to lavender, you can also use it in potpourris and scented sachets. Both plants repel moths with their aroma.
Drying thyme for long-term use
Drying thyme is a great way to preserve the herb for long-term use. Here are some tips for drying thyme:
Harvest the thyme: The best time to harvest thyme is when the plant is in full bloom. Cut off the top few inches of the plant with a sharp pair of scissors or pruning shears.
Clean the thyme: Remove dead or damaged leaves from the thyme sprigs and gently wash them in cold water to remove dirt or debris.
Dry the thyme: There are several methods for drying thyme. One option is to tie the thyme sprigs together in small bundles and hang them upside down in a warm, dry, and well-ventilated area.
Another option is to spread the thyme sprigs on a clean, dry surface, like a baking sheet or a mesh drying rack. Place the thyme in a warm, dry, and well-ventilated area and allow it to air dry for several days, turning the sprigs occasionally to ensure even drying.
Store the dried thyme: Once the thyme is completely dry, remove the leaves from the stems and store them in an airtight container, like a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. Store the dried thyme in a cool, dark, dry place, like a pantry or cupboard.
Dried thyme can be used in various dishes, including soups, stews, sauces, and marinades. It also makes a delicious and aromatic addition to teas and other herbal infusions. By following these simple steps, you can enjoy the flavor and benefits of thyme all year round.
Thyme health benefits
True thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is a medicinal plant used for centuries. All parts of the plant have a strong, spicy scent that goes back to the essential oils they contain. Leaves, flowers, and stems also contain tannins and bitter substances.
You can dry the spice and infuse it as tea. In the case of coughs, bronchitis, and other respiratory diseases such as asthma, a solution of thyme for inhalation can provide relief because the essential oils have an expectorant and antispasmodic effect. When used internally, thyme is also considered to promote digestion and is said to counteract flatulence, among other things.
In medicine, its antiseptic effect was also valued in the past. As a gargling solution, for example, it should support the healing process of gingivitis. Many cosmetic products, such as toothpaste, mouthwash, lotions, and bath additives, still contain thyme.
A tincture of thyme can be used topically for gout and sprains. An ointment with thyme is sometimes used for arthritic complaints such as rheumatism. Thyme essential oils are said to help relieve pain in aromatherapy. They are also used in states of exhaustion and depression.
The headed thyme (Thymbra capitata) is also used as a medicine. The plant is related to thyme. From a botanical point of view, however, it belongs to the genus Thymbra.
Note: Pregnant women should consume natural thyme sparingly. It is better to seek medical advice beforehand. The plant can cause allergic reactions and skin irritation in people with sensitive skin.
Thyme can only be propagated in two ways: by cuttings or by dividing the rootstock.
For cuttings, cut off approximately 10 cm long, woody shoots in early summer. Once you have removed the tips of the shoots, place the cuttings in sandy, humus-rich soil. A cover with a plastic hood ensures the right climate.
By dividing, you not only get several new thyme plants, but you also rejuvenate the mother plant. Sharing, therefore, makes sense about every three years; This prevents you from aging and keeps the plant healthy and flowering.
Thyme often self-seeds or can be grown from seed. From April, the seeds are planted in sandy potting soil. Lightly covered with soil, the thinly sown seeds germinate after about ten days. In May, you separate the seedlings to be 20 cm apart.
Alternatively, sow thyme directly outdoors with a row spacing of 20 cm. However, the result is usually not true to the variety. The resulting plants can differ greatly from the mother plant in appearance and aroma.
Diseases and pests
Thyme is quite robust against diseases and pests. Beetles, caterpillars, and snails usually leave thyme alone. They don’t like its essential oils. Very rarely, cicadas or aphids attack the thyme.
However, they can usually be rinsed off and driven away by a vigorous shower with a garden hose. If mildew attacks your thyme, you should spray it with horsetail decoction.
Growing thyme in containers
Growing thyme in containers can be a great option for those with limited garden space or who want to keep their herbs easily accessible. Here are some tips for successfully growing thyme in containers:
Please choose the right container: Thyme prefers well-draining soil, so choosing a container with drainage holes at the bottom is important to prevent waterlogging. A pot with a diameter of at least 6 inches is ideal.
Select the right soil: Use a well-draining potting mix specifically formulated for container gardening. Avoid heavy soils that may retain too much moisture and lead to root rot.
Position your container: Thyme requires at least 6 hours of direct sunlight daily, so placing your container in a sunny spot, such as a south-facing window or a patio with plenty of sun, is important.
Water properly: Thyme prefers soil that is moist but not soggy. Water your thyme when the top inch of soil feels dry to the touch, and avoid letting the soil dry out completely.
Fertilize sparingly: Thyme doesn’t require a lot of fertilizer, so it’s best to use a slow-release fertilizer or a balanced liquid fertilizer every 4-6 weeks.
Prune regularly: Regular pruning will help to promote bushier growth and prevent the plant from becoming too leggy. Pinch off the tips of the stems regularly, and trim the plant by up to one-third yearly.
How to make thyme oil and other thyme-infused products.
Thyme oil and other thyme-infused products can be made easily at home using fresh or dried thyme. Here are some simple methods for making thyme oil and other thyme-infused products:
Thyme Oil: Thyme oil is a popular essential oil used in aromatherapy and natural remedies. You will need fresh or dried thyme and carrier oil, such as olive or jojoba oil, to make thyme oil. Begin by crushing the thyme leaves to release their oils.
Place the crushed leaves in a glass jar and cover it with carrier oil. Let the mixture steep in a warm, dark place for about 4-6 weeks, shaking the jar occasionally. After 4-6 weeks, strain the oil through a cheesecloth or coffee filter and store it in a dark glass bottle.
Thyme-Infused Vinegar: Thyme-infused vinegar is a flavorful addition to salad dressings and marinades. To make thyme-infused vinegar, fill a glass jar with fresh or dried thyme and cover it with vinegar. Let the mixture steep for 1-2 weeks, shaking the jar occasionally. After 1-2 weeks, strain the vinegar through a cheesecloth or coffee filter and store it in a glass bottle.
Thyme-Infused Honey: Thyme-infused honey is a delicious addition to teas, oatmeal, and toast. To make thyme-infused honey, fill a glass jar with fresh thyme and cover it with honey. Let the mixture steep for about 2-4 weeks, stirring occasionally. After 2-4 weeks, strain the honey through a cheesecloth or coffee filter and store it in a glass jar.
Thyme-Infused Salt: Thyme-infused salt is a simple way to add flavor to your favorite dishes. Mix fresh or dried thyme leaves with coarse sea salt to make thyme-infused salt. Let the mixture sit for about 1-2 weeks, stirring occasionally. After 1-2 weeks, store the thyme-infused salt in an airtight container.
In conclusion, thyme is a wonderful herb that can be used for cooking, medicinal purposes, and natural remedies. By learning how to plant and care for thyme, you can enjoy a steady supply of this versatile herb throughout the year. Additionally, by exploring different methods of using thyme, such as making thyme oil and other thyme-infused products, you can expand your knowledge and experience with this amazing herb.
Finally, by taking advantage of companion planting techniques, you can improve the health and productivity of your garden while enjoying the beauty and aroma of thyme and its companion plants. With some knowledge and effort, anyone can successfully grow and utilize thyme to enhance their daily lives.