Thyme

Learn about this popular Mediterranean herb.

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Plant type: Herbaceous perennial
Hardiness: USDA Zones (4)5 to 9

Thyme is perfect for low maintenance in the landscape and culinary use in the kitchen. It prefers dry conditions, not requiring much supplemental water. Comes in two different forms: prostrate or upright. Best known for its aromatic foliage that comes in green, golden, silver and variegated colors. Semi-evergreen to evergreen in warmer climates. Spikes of tiny, delicate flowers come in pink, white and purple. Plant size ranges from four to 12 inches tall and as wide, depending on cultivar or species.

How to use it: In masses, along a border or in containers. Use in a sunny, mixed perennial border, herb garden, kitchen garden or rock garden. Some prostrate selections make an excellent groundcover or filler between stepping stones. Combine with other Mediterranean herbs, including lavender and rosemary, or plants that tolerate dry conditions. Also use in cooking or making potpourri and sachets.

Culture: Performs best in well-drained soil and full sun. This plant is sensitive to wet feet and won't survive unless it's in a site with good drainage. To help thyme overwinter, add a layer of winter mulch during a period of consistently cold temperatures. (May be hardy to USDA Zone 4 with added winter protection.) Prefers heavy pruning in early spring to encourage growth; don't prune in late summer or fall as this will encourage new growth that will be nipped by frost. Older plants tend to be woody. If you don't like this look, either prune back every year early in the season or replace with new plants when the older ones get woody. Propagated through seed, cuttings or division. No major problems with pests or disease, but will rot in wet soils.

Special notes: Attracts bees and butterflies. Drought tolerant.

Selected species and cultivars

  • English thyme (Thymus vulgaris). Green foliage with delicate pink or white flowers on spikes. Great for use in cooking. Has upright growth habit. USDA Zones 5 to 9.

  • Lemon thyme (Thymus x citriodorus). Popular selection with a lemon fragrance. Has an upright habit and pink flowers. Plant size is eight to 12 inches tall and as wide. Cultivars offer yellow, cream or silver variegated foliage, including 'Aureus' (golden-green variegation), 'Argenteus' (silver-green variegation) and 'Silver Queen' (cream-silver-green variegation). USDA Zones 5 to 9.

  • Woolly thyme (Thymus pseudolanuginosus). Named for its hairy (pubescent) stems. Has prostrate habit and light pink flowers. USDA Zones 5 to 9.

  • Creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum). Has a creeping, prostrate habit that makes it an excellent groundcover. Tolerates light foot traffic and is fragrant when walked upon. Not generally used for cooking purposes. Plant size is four to six inches tall and about 12 inches wide. USDA Zones 5 to 9.

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