Thyme

Thyme

Thyme deserves a place in all gardens. Its foliage is attractive, the long-lasting flowers are very pretty and it is a compact easy-care plant.

On top of that it is one of the most useful herbs for the kitchen. Thyme reaches a height of 30 cm (12in) and is best suited either to the rock garden or the front of a border. Sometimes it is grown between paving stones; it is highly aromatic and when trodden on its scent is intensified. 

A native of Southern Europe, thyme is now grown the world over from Africa to Russia - it proves it's versatility and it certainly deserves a place in your garden.

Where To Grow Thyme
Thyme likes a well-drained light soil, it should not be too rich in nutrients which will only make the plant 'leggy' and loose its compact shape. Being a native of the Mediterranean it needs a place in full sun.

Propagation of Thyme

Thyme can be propagated in a variety of ways - seed, root division and from cuttings. The best way if you have no existing plants is to grow from seed. This will however take about a year. The best way for speed is to grow from root division. Cuttings are not really recommended.

Roots should be divided in April using plants three or four years old. Dig up the plant, clear away as much soil as possible from the roots and gently tear the the plant into three or four pieces. The pieces (each should have a portion of root and foliage) can then simply be planted in the ground and left to grow. They should be ready for moderate harvesting in early July time.

Seed should be sown in March time in normal potting compost. Because the seeds are so fine, only cover them very lightly with the compost. Place them in a warm place, 16C (60F), and the seedlings will emerge in week or so. When the plants are about 10cm (4in high) and the danger of all frost has passed, they can be moved outside to their final position (harden them off first). They have a spread of about 30cm (12in) and should be spaced at this distance apart. Harvest only very, very lightly (if at all) in the first year.

Care of Thyme
Thyme requires very little attention - water only in very dry conditions and feed sparingly. A good mulch with organic matter in October time will help protect them from severe frost and will also provide most of their feeding needs. If organic matter is not available, a handful of bonemeal per plant in mid-May and July will meet their needs.

Thyme will start to become woody and produce fewer leaves after three or four years, and at this stage, the plant should be separated (as described in propagation above) and replanted. 

Harvesting can occur all year round, although the best flavour is in the months of mid-June and mid-July. In winter the plants stop growing, so harvest only lightly. The thyme sprigs can be frozen or dried - both methods retain the original flavour.

Thyme is virtually free of pests and disease, although they are occasionally attacked by greenfly. 

Container Growing Thyme
Thyme is an excellent plant for growing in containers and requires no particular attention. Water to keep the compost moist, and feed with liquid plant food every two weeks from April to August. 

Bloom Time & Color - Thymus species plants usually have tiny, fragrant flowers that appear in late spring through summer and the flowers are usually white, pink or purple.

Foliage - Thyme leaves are highly aromatic and are the source of the essential oils once used for medicinal purposes. Now thyme foliage is the part of the herb used for cooking. Thyme leaves are small and usually green or gray-green except some bush species which have variegated foliage.

Growth Habit - Thyme grows primarily in two different forms; “Creeping Thyme” which is a spreading form of thyme and “Bush Thyme” which grows into a more upright, shrubby plant.

Dimensions - Creeping thymes grow 2-8” tall and 12” wide while bush thymes grow about 1’ tall and wide.

Preferred Conditions - Thyme prefers full sun to part shade and well-drained soil. In fact, one expert has recommended a thick layer of gravel mulch to keep the roots of the thyme from sitting in overly wet soil, especially during rainy seasons.

Maintenance - Thyme should be mulched during the winter months to prevent frost heaving so the gravel mulch would be suitable for use all year. As thyme spreads and grows the inner stems can become woody and die back a bit, especially in the center. After the thyme is about four years old, or as needed, gently cut out any woody dead parts and replant the rooted outside parts of the plant.

Pests or Diseases - Thyme has no major pests or diseases.

Propagating Thyme and Using it in the Garden

Propagation Methods - Root cuttings or division is the easiest way to propagate thyme although you can plant seed directly in early spring. All but the variegated thymes will self-sow or spread gently, never invasively. Variegated thyme plants are generally sterile and would need to be propagated through division.

Companion Plants - Plant thyme in around your vegetables and ornamental flowers and you may find that the thyme serves to repel harmful insects from the other plants. Otherwise consider other herbs or spring flowering plants such as lavender, dill, garden phlox, roses, chamomile or coreopsis.

Seasons of Interest - Year round interest is provided in the garden when you plant thyme! First thyme has bright, aromatic foliage all year, as well as tiny flowers spring through summer.

Uses in the Garden - Thyme is great in a wide variety of garden situations. Its small size makes it easy to plant a few varieties of thyme as a ground cover around other plants in a mixed bed or border. Creeping thyme works great for rock gardens, small spaces, containers, raised beds and between stepping stone paves. Bush thyme works equally well for mixed borders, vegetable plots or herb gardens. Heirloom thyme was also commonly used in cottage gardens.

Other Uses - The herb is used medicinally for immune boosting and thyme has also been used in cleaning products for its antibacterial and antiviral properties. In fact, I use a cleaning produce certified for use in day cares, restaurants and hospitals that has thyme as the base of the cleaning effect but is also less toxic for use around my kids and pets.


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