Plant of the Week – Thyme

Plant of the week – Thyme

plant of the week - thyme

Mention thyme and people immediately think of the dried herb in the bottle in the cabinet.  Thyme is much more than that and, in my opinion, doesn’t get the attention it deserves in the garden and landscape.

Thyme (Thymus spp) is in the family Lamiaceae and is a perennial in most zones in Texas.  This branch of the mint family also includes oregano.  The most popular variety grown for culinary uses is Thymus Vulgaris.

Thyme can be traced back to the ancient Egyptians who used this herb in their embalming processes.  The ancient Greeks burned time as incense offerings.  Thyme has long been used as an aromatic for purification purposes. 

Cultivation

plant of the week - thyme flowering

Thyme prefers a sunny location with well-drained soil.  Thyme is easy to propagate by layering, cuttings or root division.  Direct seeding is also possible although handling the tiny seeds can be frustrating.  If transplanting do so anytime during the growing season.  Start seeds in the early spring.

Thymes will cross-pollinate.  If you plant several varieties and allow them to go to seed, don’t be surprised if you find a new variety popping up in your garden next spring. 

Thymes are easy to propagate.  They can be layers by simply putting a rock on top of a branch that has access to bare soil underneath will almost always form new roots and a new plant to be transplanted elsewhere.  To root from cuttings, select a semi-woody stem and cut just above a branch or bud and place into a good rooting media.  See our article on propagation.

Soil should be healthy and well-drained.  Thyme can be subject to root crown root and fungal diseases in poorly drained soil.

Varieties

There many varieties of thyme available.  Most garden centers will carry them.  A few of the more popular are:

  • Thymus citriodorus  Lemon thymes, lime tymes, and orange thymes
  • Thymus herba-barona – Caraway thyme.
  • Thymus praecox – Mother of thyme or wild thyme.  This variety is considered an ornamental
  • Thymus Serpyllum – Wild Thyme or creeping thyme.  An important nectar source for honeybees.
  • Thymus vulgaris– Common thyme, English thyme, summer thyme.  The most grown culinary thyme.

Habits

Creeping thyme on a wall

Thyme comes in two basic forms, creeping and common.  Common thyme grows to a height of 15 to 18 inches while creeping thyme remains shorter, growing only to 3 to 12 inches.  Creeping thyme will spread up to 36” in width.  Common time will only manage about 18 inches. 

Leaves will range from glossy dark green to wooly silver or even variegated.  Most varieties are hardy to below zero degrees Fahrenheit so they work well in most Texas plant zones. 

Thyme will produce a multitude of tiny star-like flowers that can range in color from crimson to white.

In the kitchen

Use thyme fresh.  Many people use thyme for teas or as a flavoring in foods.  To use thyme in tea, boil it for a few minutes then allow to steep.  The tea will retain vitamins and nutrients.  Allow to steep for 5 to 10 minutes while covered. Infuse thyme in oil or vinegar for dressings.

Landscape

thyme as a pathway accent

Thyme makes a beautiful and aromatic landscape border plant.  It is low growing, so it works well along pathways as well.  Planting the creeping variety yields a subtle accent to the garden.  Stepping on the leaves and stems produce a wonderful fragrance that will follow you through the garden.

If using as a pathway border, locate the plants so that the crowns will not be stepped on as this will damage the plant.

Harvesting and storage

Harvest your thyme anytime during the growing season.  As with most herbs, the best leaves to harvest are the newest and most tender.  Cut entire stems and remove the leaves for cooking.  Boil the stems and leaves for teas or bunch and dry them as aromatics.  Thyme can be dried or frozen for later use. 

Thyme has a place in everyone’s landscape.  It is a versatile addition to your edible landscape and adds an aromatic flair.  Planted close to the front door of your home, thyme will welcome visitors with a delicious and pleasing aroma.  Used as a border plant it can be dramatic and eye-catching.  In the kitchen, the flavorful leaves add zest to many dishes. 

For more information about herb gardens and edible landscapes visit our website at West Texas Organic Gardening