Thyme isn't just an herb to grow for adding flavor to food, it can also add plenty of color and texture to your garden. This tough and rugged perennial often forms dense mats of foliage that are topped with attractive blossoms. There are also some wonderful low-growing varieties that can be planted between rocks and paths, where they'll release their delightful fragrance when brushed past. Some varieties can even be used as a lawn substitute. Many cooks plant thyme near the kitchen so they can easily snip a stem or two when cooking, and you can even grow them indoors in a sunny window to enjoy the flavor year-round.
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Blossoms of the thyme plant come in several colors such as white, pink, and even red. Though tiny, the flowers are much loved by honeybees and other beneficial insects, so plant thyme near fruit and vegetable plants to bring these pollinators to the party. The foliage is typically green, but can also come in shades of gold, silver, and gray. There are also some mostly ornamental varieties that are grown for their fuzzy foliage.
Related: Miniature Herb Garden Recipe
Thyme Care Must-Knows
This tough Mediterranean herb is native to areas with rocky, poor soil and needs extremely well-drained soil to thrive because it is prone to rot in soil that is too moist. Once established, thyme is a drought-tolerant plant and will not require much supplemental watering. Because thyme prefers dry conditions, it makes a superb choice for a rock or container garden.
In order to grow the most flavorful thyme, give it full sun. As your thyme grows, some rejuvenating pruning will be needed as the plant becomes woody with age. This pruning can be done after it blooms: Cut it back by about 1/3 to encourage a new flush of fresh growth.
The best time to harvest thyme is in the morning, just after the dew has dried. When using thyme in dishes, it is best to use only the leaves because the stems are generally too woody and tough.
If you are planning on drying thyme for use in winter months, it is best to cut and hang the stems upside down in small bunches. Let thyme dry fully in a cool, dry, and well-ventilated area. Then store it in an airtight container in a dark, cool place.
More Varieties of Thyme
Thymus praecox is a low-growing creeping thyme that resembles wooly thyme with greener foliage. It grows 2-3 inches tall and 8-12 inches wide. It requires full sun and excellent drainage to perform well in the garden. In late spring, it is covered with hot pink blooms that age to soft pink. Zones 4-9.
This variety of Thymus forms a tight mat of fine foliage that tolerates occasional foot traffic, making it a perfect solution for planting between flagstones. It grows just 1-2 inches tall and gradually spreads to 8-12 inches wide. Lilac-purple flowers are produced in early summer. Zones 4-9.
Red creeping thyme
Thymus serpyllum carpets the ground with red blossoms in spring. This ground cover is a natural addition to an alpine or rock garden, or tucked between stepping stones along a garden path. Zones 4-9.
Thymus vulgaris is the classic culinary thyme and it sounds a savory note in dishes. Zone 5-9.
Gold lemon thyme
Gilt-edged leaves serve up bold flavor for Thymus x citriodorus 'Aureus.' Use these lemony leaves to recipes calling for lemon juice, lemon zest, or lemon flavoring. Zones 4-8.
Thymus x citriodorus produces rich, dark green leaves that have an intoxicating lemon fragrance. Like its variegated cousin, lemon thyme looks as good in the herb garden as it does in the ornamental border. A good container plant, lemon thyme can grow 15 inches tall and wide. Zones 5-9.
Varigated lemon thyme
Thymus x citriodorus 'Variegata' is a beautiful edible ornamental. The lemon-scented foliage is versatile in the kitchen and the plant itself makes a striking ground cover for sunny spots. When mature, the plants can grow 16 inches tall and wide. Zones 5-9.
Garden Plans for Thyme
Classic Herb Garden Plan
Ensure your kitchen is always stocked with fresh herbs with this classic herb garden plan, where ten kinds of hers surround a decorative sundial in a 6-foot-diameter bed.
Colorful Herb Garden Plan
Get an herb garden that dazzles with this colorful plan, where a 3x8-foot border features foliage with purple, green, and golden hues—including variegated leaves.