Q&A: Overwintering Thyme

Learn how to help thyme survive the winter months.

Q: Why do my thyme plants get woody and die out? How can I protect them over the winter?
— Ken W., northwest Ohio

Thyme 'Creeping'

Thyme 'Creeping'

A short-lived perennial herb, 'Creeping' thyme, is relatively easy to overwinter indoors. Grow it as a houseplant in a sunny window. Outdoors in hardiness zones 5 to 9, it fills in between stepping stones and makes an aromatic groundcover.

Photo by: W. Atlee Burpee & Co.

W. Atlee Burpee & Co.

A: The hardiness of thyme depends on which cultivar you use in your garden. Most selections of thyme (Thymus sp.) are hardy to USDA Zones 5 to 9 and marginally hardy to Zone 4 with added winter protection.

In areas with cold winters, thyme is considered semi-evergreen, meaning that the plant will retain some of its foliage during winter but not all. Since thyme is a Mediterranean herb, it prefers full sun and well-draining soil. The keys to successful overwintering are good drainage and winter mulch. If thyme has been struggling all season long in a poorly draining soil and hasn't died yet, it will surely not make it through the winter with the added cold stresses. Plant in a raised bed or improve drainage with organic soil amendments such as compost.

Add a two- to three-inch layer of mulch to help protect plants through winter. Don't apply mulch before the onset of cold temperatures as it can cause the soil to heat up and actually make plants less winter hardy. Instead, apply mulch during an extended period of cold temperatures. This will prevents fluctuating soil temperatures that cause plant upheaval during periods of freeze and thaw.

You can help your plants out by providing them with adequate water throughout the summer and early fall. A plant that hasn't been thirsty for moisture will go into the winter months healthier and more tolerable of cold conditions.

Also avoid severe pruning from late summer to fall. This kind of pruning will encourage new growth on plants, only to be nipped by the frost. It's still fine to harvest clippings for cooking, but save the heavy pruning for early spring.

Thyme does become woody with age. If you don't want woody plants, replace them by purchasing new plants, growing them from seed, or starting new ones from cuttings.

If you still don't have great luck with overwintering thyme, you may want to treat it as annual and replant each year.

Next Up

Q&A: Overwintering Bananas

Tips for growing banana plants in cold weather.

Q&A: Pruning Coreopsis and Marguerite Daisies

Tips for taking care of these lovely blooms in the winter.

Hellebores: Winter's Delight

Richly colored flowers, beautiful evergreen foliage and a tough nature has made the Lenten rose a favorite.

Winter Houseplant Care

Winter is the perfect time to give your houseplants a little extra attention.

Frost Heave

Exactly what causes heaving, and can it be prevented?

How to Plant a Kitchen Herb Garden

Have some extra space in your yard or garden? Plant a fresh and simple herb garden only steps away from the kitchen.

How to Get Rosemary to Thrive in Winter

Overwintering your plant is a great way to save rosemary topiary.

Late Winter and Early Spring Pruning Guide

Get ready for late winter and early spring pruning chores.

Lavender Flowers: How to Grow and Use this Versatile Herb

Discover the beauty and usefulness of lavender flowers and learn to grow your own. Lavender plants, once established, will bloom year after year, attracting pollinators to your garden and producing a useful material for crafts, cooking and more.

How to Winterize Your Roses

Check out these tips to get your roses through the winter unscathed.

Go Shopping

Spruce up your outdoor space with products handpicked by HGTV editors.

What's New in Outdoors

On TV

Home Town

6am | 5c

Home Town

7am | 6c

Home Town

8am | 7c

Home Town

9am | 8c

Home Town

10am | 9c

Hot Mess House

11am | 10c

Hot Mess House

11:30am | 10:30c

Hot Mess House

12pm | 11c

Hot Mess House

12:30pm | 11:30c

Good Bones

1pm | 12c

Good Bones

2pm | 1c

Good Bones

3pm | 2c

Good Bones

4pm | 3c

Good Bones

5pm | 4c

Good Bones

6pm | 5c

Good Bones

7pm | 6c
On Tonight
On Tonight

Good Bones

8pm | 7c

Good Bones

9pm | 8c

House Hunters

10pm | 9c

House Hunters

11pm | 10c

Good Bones

12am | 11c

House Hunters

1am | 12c

Good Bones

3am | 2c

Good Bones

4am | 3c

Good Bones

5am | 4c

Follow Us Everywhere

Join the party! Don't miss HGTV in your favorite social media feeds.