• Cover Your Tracks with Creeping Thyme

October 09, 2018

Hands down, there's no better miniature groundcover than creeping thyme. Feet down, it handles a little stomping if it's planted between pavers and stepping stones, or as a lawn replacement. Creeping thyme tolerates—if not thrives—most any backyard growing environment, and it's fuss-free, and beyond rewarding with its attractive foliage and densely-blooming flowers.

Inspiration from Our Customers

We can go on and on about how creeping thyme is a wonder plant but don't just take it from us: We're always encouraging our customers to share their gardening ideas, and we've had some great feedback about how you've used it in your own gardens.

Soften a Rock Garden

Elise in Tennessee uses copious amounts of creeping thyme to "gentle" the aesthetics of her boulder-strewn rock garden. Creeping thyme doesn't need a deep soil bed, and is the perfect choice for rock gardens. "I hate having a lack of transition between taller plants and rocks, or between one rock and another," she wrote. "Creeping thyme and alyssum have a blending effect, especially when they cascade over the sides of retaining walls and take hold in crags and crevices between individual rocks."

Creeping thyme doesn't need a lot of topsoil to thrive, as long as it's central roots have a spot to take hold. It's cascading habit makes it a great container plant, as well.

Disguise a Fresh Grave

We're withholding the name of this Ohio customer upon his request, but we can't hold back on his brilliant blending of our two favorite species to create a very specific desired effect.

"Everyone knows that the dirt on top of a grave caves in after a while, but if you mound up the soil, it looks kinda obvious," said... well, we'll just call him Joe. "I figured out that you can plant mother-of-thyme in the middle, and wild creeping thyme around the edges if you gotta disguise the hump. Or the opposite if the dirt's already sunk in. The two sizes of creeping thyme kinda blend it all together."

Mother-of-thyme only grows about 3-6 inches tall, while wild creeping thyme grows up to a foot in height. We typically think of combined mass plantings as a way to add topographical interest to a garden, but hey. Some people use the combination like dirt Bondo. And that's okay. If it's legal.

Fill the Gaps Between Stepping-Stones

"I hate to be Captain Obvious," wrote Mark, a landscape designer in upstate New York, "but creeping thyme is the go-to plant for flagstone and paver pathways." He uses a variety of creeping thyme species to add a romantic feel to meandering garden walkways, citing the groundcover's ability to keep weeds from taking hold and soil in place. "When you step on creeping thyme during its flowering period, it really has a great smell, and it's easy to trim back and keep in line."

Creeping thyme spreads outward from a central root system, covering far more ground than it needs to nourish itself. The same characteristic that makes it a great choice for rock gardens is the reason it's valued as a filler and edging plant. Grow it along the edges of patios, concrete paths, and driveways.

Decorate Miniature Gardens

Max called us from Florida to share how he uses creeping thyme in his Bonsai projects. "The small, round leaves and woody stems work well when you're trying to emulate shrubs and trees," he said. "I've really become enthralled with the art and discipline of Bonsai gardening, and find creeping thyme to be an amazing asset to the ancient practice."

This is about the time when Sophie got on the line. "It's not a Bonsai garden. It's a fairy garden. But it really is beautiful."

Max: "It is a Bonsai garden, Sophie."

Sophie: "Show me a legit Bonsai garden that has ceramic elves and saddled dragonflies, and I'll show you..."

This is where we got disconnected, but we got the message loud and clear; creeping thyme is an obvious choice for miniature gardens, no matter the theme.

More Uses for Creeping Thyme

The sprawling herb requires at least four hours of sunlight a day, so it's not an option for deep shade. Anywhere else, it's an adaptable solution to gardening headaches. Take advantage of creeping thyme's dense network of branches and leaves and use it as a living mulch around other plants, reducing moisture loss and erosion while decreasing your weeding chores.

Growing creeping thyme from seed as a substitute for turfgrass is a great filler in those hard-to-mow spaces. In well-lit settings, try growing it under lawn trees, and let it cascade over the rims of large patio garden containers. Creeping thyme tolerates light foot traffic, so it's well-suited as a living carpet between your veggie rows, too!

Creeping Thyme's Environmental Requirements

Native to the Mediterranean and western Asia, all thyme varieties love warm, dry climates and well-draining, loose soil. There are many varieties of creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum) and we always advise our customers to check their seed packets for specific tips. Nevertheless, these herbaceous perennials all have similar needs and characteristics.

USDA Hardiness Zones: You'll find a species that does well anywhere between or throughout zones 2-9; some remain evergreen in milder climates.

Sunlight Preferences: Creeping thyme is more shade-tolerant than many ground covers, requiring a minimum of 4 hours of sunlight. Full sun is best; the shadier the conditions, the leggier the plants.

Moisture Requirements: Thymus serpyllum is drought tolerant. Water your plants regularly to get them established, then irrigate intermittently and deeply once they're mature. Too much moisture can cause crown rot. We recommend early morning watering so the foliage can thoroughly dry during the day.

Soil Preferences: T. serpyllum prefers fertile, well-drained soil, but it won't create a fuss in average-quality dirt. Compost-amended soil adds nutrients while retaining moisture, and we're always a fan of giving your plants a boost with the good stuff.

pH: Aim for a neutral to slightly alkaline pH; we recommend between 6.5 and 7.5.

Plant Height: 4" to 12", with most falling in the middle of the range.

Plant Width: Depending on the variety and growing conditions, you can expect a spread of 18" to 30".

Growth Habit: Really? Haven't we covered this? *Sigh.* Ok. Creeping, cascading, and spreading branches, with smaller, leaf-covered, flowering branches reaching skyward.

Bloom Period: Mid-spring through mid-summer.

Flowers: Tiny clusters of white, pink, or lavender flowers overwhelm the equally attractive foliage, creating a dense carpet of color. Each fluted, single-layer bloom has four or five rounded petals.

Foliage: When grown in full sun, the round to oval-shaped, bright-to-deep green leaves crowd the plant's woody branches. Some varieties are evergreen in mild climates. The rich, soft mat of leaves makes creeping thyme a worthy ornamental even when the spectacular bloom period's passed.

Some creeping thyme leaves are covered in a thick, silvery "fuzz," while others can have an "eggshell" or shiny finish.

Growth Rate: Creeping thyme is a slow-to-moderate grower in its first year, but once it's established, it quickly regenerates after spring trimmings.

Pests & Diseases: Creeping thyme isn't particularly prone to disease. Like the full-size thyme, it tends to repel many nasty pests while inviting butterflies, bees, and beneficial wasps.

Maintenance: If your plants get too spindly, trim back your creeping thyme to within 2-3 inches of its base in early spring.

Harvesting: While creeping thyme isn't cultivated for its herbal or culinary properties, it can fill in as a weaker substitute for kitchen thyme (Thymus vulgaris).

Growing Creeping Thyme from Seed

Gardeners often spend a fortune on nursery flats containing creeping thyme plugs, and we think that's silly. These plants are easily (and economically) cultivated from seed. Here are a few tips to add a lot of impact with minimal investment.

Seed Treatment: None required.

Germination Time & Temperature: 7 to 21 days at 65°F to 70°F.

Planting Outdoors: Prepare your seed beds by raking out all the clumps and either scattering your creeping thyme seeds (we like to mix them with sand and distribute them from a shaker) or planting 2 to 3 seeds 12" to 18" apart in offset rows. Feel free to plant them more densely; you can always thin and transplant seedlings elsewhere. (Read on for transplanting tips.)

Planting Indoors: You can get a head start on your creeping thyme at least six weeks before your last spring frost. Create your own "plugs" by planting 2 to 3 seeds in each nursery tray cell. Cover with a thin layer of soil, and grow them under fluorescent grow lights. A grow mat set at 70°F will help keep the soil consistently warm. Use a misting bottle to keep the surface damp and capillary watering via a bottom tray to encourage root growth. Don't let your starts get soggy!

Seed Depth: No deeper than 1/16". Surface scatter for outdoor planting or cover with a thin layer of fine soil for indoor starts.

Transplanting Tips: Place your starts, dirt and all, into a damp hole that's the same size as your nursery cell or pot. Fill in the gaps and firmly tamp down the surrounding soil. Gently water the area, and move on to your next planting spot.

Denser plantings look great in the short term but can cause leggy plants if they're too crowded. When you're transplanting healthy starts, place them 18" to 24" apart and they'll be more vigorous when they spread out and cover the gaps. In the meantime, take Max's lead and fill the open spaces with fantasy figurines, Storm Trooper action figures, and garden gnomes.

Source Your Creeping Thyme Seeds with Seed Needs

We admit we might have fudged some of the "customer tips" earlier in this post. We love to get creative when we showcase our plants, but we'll never really lead you astray. Besides, fact can be stranger than fiction, and you'll find that this unusual plant has more uses than we can count.

One thing that always rings true: We love to hear from our customers, whether you want to suggest a new catalog addition, correct an issue with our products, or ask our advice with a gardening challenge. We may offer the freshest, highest-quality seed available, but without the support of our customers, we might as well take a dirt nap under Joe's blanket of creeping thyme.

We're always here for you, and we're grateful you've been here for us!




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