Those who want to grow thyme need to know there are about 300 different varieties of thyme which are used for culinary and decorative uses. Thyme also has medicinal properties because of thymol (a chemical compound) which is used in sanitizers, medications and mouthwash. Thyme is beneficial for chickens.
Cooks love this herb and often use in conjunction with other herbs such as oregano and parsley. It can go with so many dishes including soups, salad dressings, marinades, sauces and rubs. It smells wonderful, not only enhancing your meals, but also your kitchen. Since it is slow to release oils, it is best to add it early in the cooking process.
Many people burn thyme at home to clear and clean a home from spirits. See my article on herbs to burn to cleanse your home.
How to Grow Thyme from Seed
Thyme seeds are difficult to germinate, so many people prefer to buy established plants or propagate from cuttings. However, it is possible to grow thyme from seed. The good news is that thyme seed packages are cheap and they plenty of seed and they retain their germination powers for three years, which is longer than most herbs.
You can also collect seeds from your own plants when they mature. Gently shake the plant after noon and later in the afternoon for seeds to fall into a sheet or a bag. Do not do this when the plant is wet, otherwise the seeds will stick to the plant instead of falling where you want. Keep seeds in a warm and airy room for them to dry.
Scatter these tiny seeds on the soil of the container you plan on using, then gently scatter a fine layer of soil over the seeds and water. Cover with a plastic wrap (or not) if they will be exposed and place them in a warm spot. Thyme seeds will germinate in 1 to 12 weeks (such a broad time frame!).
Once they are about 4 inches (10 centimeters) tall, you can replant them in your garden or in a pot.
How to Grow Thyme from Cuttings or Divisions
To grow thyme from a cutting you need to take a piece of the plant that is between 3-6 inches in length. Make sure it is not flowering. You can also use used thyme bunches bought from the farmers market. Remove the bottom two inches of leaves from the stem and cut the tip at a 45 degree angle. You can apply rooting hormone (or not since you will be eating from this plant) to the wounded part of the cutting. If you use rooting hormone you have to wait a year before consuming. Plant it in vermiculite, sterile sand or high quality soil.
Roots can take about six weeks to emerge, so be patient! When this happens you can transfer it to a larger pot or plant it in the garden when the weather is warm, at least 60-70 F (15-21 C). If the leaves turn yellow (due to transplant shock), simply trim them off.
The easiest way to grow thyme is from divisions, since this plant is so easy to divide once it is mature. All you need to do is use a spade to lift the clump of thyme from the ground. Separate a piece from the main plant, making sure the root ball is intact. Replant the mother and plant the division separately. Try to divide the plant before it gets old and woody.
How to Take Care of Thyme?
Learning how to take care of thyme is not very hard. This pungent and woody perennial herb is native to the Mediterranean. Which means it prefers a dry and warm climate with low humidity. This is a good thing, since this plant is super tolerant and won’t mind neglect. Thyme is drought-resistant, so wait for the soil to dry out before you water it again. It is hardy in USDA zones 5 to 9, although some species can live in other zones.
Unlike other herbs, thyme will not bolt. Flowers will come and the plant will continue to thrive. Just trim them back to promote new growth. Thyme flowers can be used in a tea or dried for a sachet. Bees love the flowers and make delicious thyme honey from it.
It is possible to grow thyme in very poor soil with a pH between 6.0–8.0 (slightly acidic to slightly alkaline). Soil mixture needs to be dry and well-drained as thyme suffers from root rotting problems if over-watered. Sandy mixtures work best and you can always add gravel beneath so the water moves quickly.
Thyme actually prefers soil with little nutrients, so there is no need to fertilize or if you want to do so, use an organic liquid fertilizer (like diluted fish emulsion or liquid seaweed) once in the growing season. For this same reason, it is best not to grow thyme next to other herbs or plants which need more nutrients.
You can grow thyme in your garden and patio, it is a great landscaping plant that can be planted near rocks. Many thyme varieties have a habit of spreading, while others grow upright. Thyme can be left outside during the winter, when it will become dormant and bloom again in the spring. Stop pruning when the weather gets cold and put some mulch to provide protection.
You can grow thyme next to rosemary, since their needs are quite similar. Plant 12-24 inches apart from rosemary or other thyme plants since it is a vigorous grower.
Grow Thyme Indoors
If you were to grow thyme indoors, make sure the plant receives constant light. Pick a bright windowsill that gets around eight hours of sunlight per day. Those who live in colder climates can always buy fluorescent growth lights. It is also possible to bring in potted plants for the winter and leave them out for the summer.
When picking a pot to grow thyme, make sure to get one with a lot of drainage. Clay or terracotta help remove extra moisture from the soil. Use a soil mixture with sand or another gritty material including peat moss or perlite.
Potted thyme plants become woody after three or four years, so it is best to remove the plant and divide it to replant it into smaller pieces in separate pots. Or simply discard the old woody thyme. Cutting frequently helps prevent woody thyme which can’t be used.
Thyme Pest Problems
Thyme is a plant that is not susceptible to that many pests or diseases. When leaves remain soaked from water they can get gray mold which are fuzzy spores. Cut the part of the plant and stems that are infected before it spreads and you need to discard the whole plant. It is also susceptible to root rot, so avoid planting too close to other plants.
Use neem oil to treat whiteflies and mealybugs, which are more of an indoor problem. Insecticidal soap can also help control pests.
How to Harvest and Store Thyme
Thyme can be harvested at any time after being established. However, the best time to cut it is before it flowers. Clip whenever you want to use it, but also do mass clippings periodically since the more you trim, the more you grow thyme. Leave at least five inches of growth, so the plant flourishes. Pruning incentives a round shape.
Strip thyme leaves from the stem before storing. This herb can be dried or frozen. Hang leaves upside down from a screen and they will dry in less than a week. Keep it in a sealed container in a cool area for the best flavor. Fresh leaves should be wrapped in a damp paper towel cover with plastic and will keep for one or two weeks.