I love growing all the popular culinary herbs, but one of my favorites is the thyme plant. It not only makes a pretty ground cover in the garden, it has lots of other practical uses as well, since its aromatic scent works to season foods.
To top it off, thyme is also a perennial, which is my kind of plant! You only need to buy it once and it keeps coming back year after year. And it not only comes back, it comes back bigger and stronger than before. Of course since thyme comes in a variety of ‘flavors’ including mint, lemon, lime, and even coconut and caraway, you’ll likely find yourself buying new plants each spring anyway!
Thyme can be planted from seed, seedlings or by splitting an established plant. If you are starting your thyme from seed and growing herbs outside, direct sow them into the ground in late spring after the last frost. The seeds should just barely be covered with soil and lightly watered. If you start them indoors, cover them with plastic wrap until they sprout, which can take two to four weeks. Once your seedlings are about four inches tall, they can be transplanted outdoors.
The thyme plant likes full to partial sun in well-drained soil, but other than that, like most other herbs, it’s not terribly picky about the type of soil or other conditions. It actually seems to thrive when left alone. Pruning back about one-third of your thyme plants in the early spring can help them to grow bushier instead of leggy. And resist the urge to fertilize, because that can lead to leggy plants as well.
Growing herbs outdoors is a great way to fill empty spaces in your vegetable or flower garden. The thyme herb does well in containers, window boxes or pots, and loves to trail over rock walls or in between the stones in a path. A member of the mint family, it does like to spread but isn’t nearly as invasive as mint can be.
In the fall, the thyme plant will bloom. Bees love thyme flowers, so while you will want to trim back your thyme plants again in the fall, give the pollinators time to suck the sweet nectar out of the blossoms first. While thyme will grow and thrive in planting zones 5-9, it is one of the winter herbs that will benefit from being mulched with pine needles, dried leaves or straw before the cold weather really sets in.
After several years, you can divide your thyme plants and either share them with friends and neighbors or start a new thyme patch for yourself. Since thyme tends to grow out rather than up, it can fill up quite a large space in your garden fairly quickly. Thyme can be planted alongside other herbs, or use it as a natural insect repellent by planting it in your vegetable garden with your cabbage or tomatoes to help repel cabbage loopers and maggots, whiteflies and tomato hornworms.
Harvesting the Thyme Plant
When you prune your thyme plant, you can use the leaves in cooking (thyme pairs very well with eggs), or air-dry the leaves or sprigs and then use them dried through the winter. The leaves will have their best flavor if harvested before the thyme plant blooms. Snip the sprigs or leaves in the early morning before the sun is its strongest, but after the dew has dried from the leaves. You can snip the leaves throughout the entire growing season. Pruning will help the plants grow into more bushy shapes.
Uses for the Thyme Plant
Of course, the most popular use for the thyme herb is to flavor cooking. Everything from sauces to seafood to eggs, benefit from a burst of thyme. Popular in roasted vegetable or meat recipes, soups and stews, thyme is one of the more common culinary herbs. Thyme can also be used to flavor oil, vinegar, butter or homemade cheeses. But the benefits of growing thyme go far beyond the kitchen. Thyme can be used as an insect repellent in the chicken coop. Hanging fresh thyme sprigs in your chicken coop or sprinkling thyme, fresh or dried, in your chicken nesting boxes can help repel flies and mosquitoes. Thyme also has numerous health benefits for humans and animals alike including soothing coughs and acting as an antibacterial. So why not plant some thyme in your garden this spring?
Do you grow the thyme plant in your garden? If so, let us know your favorite varieties in the comments below.