Tips for Growing Creeping Thyme Plants

Tips for growing creeping thyme-flowering thyme plants growing in a rock garden
My Garden Life
May 1, 2023
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Does your garden feel like it’s missing something? You might have some weedy areas alongside your pathways. Perhaps you have plenty of vertical features but no ground-level texture. Maybe there’s a lack of color or fragrance.

Creeping thyme is a delightful herb that addresses all of these areas of need and requires minimal care.

Close up of creeping thyme with flowers trailing over a rock.

With a low-growing habit and fragrant flowers, creeping thyme is an excellent choice for ground cover around flower beds or pathways. Bees and other beneficial insects love thyme flowers so it’s a great addition to a pollinator garden. Creeping thyme also makes a useful filler in a rock garden and between the pavers, bricks, or flagstones of a lightly travelled garden path. The foliage releases a burst of fragrance when the leaves are crushed or brushed by passersby.

Growing creeping thyme plants between concrete rectangular pavers next to a lawn and sidewalk.

A hardy perennial, creeping thyme will thrive in nearly any hardiness zone, and return for years to come if cared for properly. With so many varieties of this versatile herb to choose from, it’s easy to find one perfect for your space. Best of all, planting and caring for thyme couldn’t be simpler!

Types of Creeping Thyme

There are many species of thyme with various ornamental or edible qualities. Creeping thyme are those thyme species that have a low, spreading habit. They produce a dense mass of tiny foliage that transforms into a carpet of color when in flower.

Types of creeping thyme include purple, white, and woolly varieties. Plants create a carpet of foliage and flowers.

There are many creeping thyme varieties to choose from, including Thymus praecox ‘Coccineus’ with its pink flowers and Thymus praecox ‘Albus’ with its snow-white blooms. Other popular selections include Thymus citriodorus ‘Variegata’, which boasts variegated, lemon-scented leaves, and Thymus pulegioides ‘Foxley’, with green and white variegated foliage that also has great flavor. For those looking for a compact variety to grow in a container, Thymus vulgaris ‘Miniature’ is a dainty variety that looks beautiful cascading over the side of a pot, and it’s also sized right for use in a teacup or fairy garden.

Wherever you have a sunny spot that requires a low-profile perennial plant, creeping thyme is a good option to consider.

Growing Creeping Thyme

Creeping thyme is easy to grow. Here are the basic facts on planting and caring for creeping thyme.

When to Plant Creeping Thyme

Creeping thyme can be planted in early spring or fall, depending on where you live. In areas with mild winter conditions, creeping thyme can be planted in the fall, as long as temperatures remain above freezing. In areas with more severe winters, wait until spring to plant creeping thyme. For best results, wait until the soil has warmed up and the last frost has passed before planting creeping thyme seeds or seedlings outdoors.

Mass planting of purple creeping time in full bloom.

How to Plant Creeping Thyme

Choose a well-draining planting site and amend the soil with compost or aged manure to add nutrients. To transplant creeping thyme seedlings, dig holes about four inches (10cm) deep, with 12 to 18 inches (30-60cm) between holes. If your goal is to create a groundcover, use the closer spacing so the plants fill in faster. To direct sow creeping thyme seeds, dig a shallow furrow and sow two or three seeds at a time, 12 inches (30cm) apart. Water the seeds or transplants thoroughly after planting and keep the beds moist until the seeds germinate or the seedlings are established, which may take about four weeks.

You can also grow thyme from cuttings by snipping off a two-inch (5 cm) length of stem from an existing plant, placing the cutting in water until root growth emerges, then transplanting it into soil.

Water the seeds or young plants thoroughly after planting and keep the beds moist until the plants have established roots. Once the plants are established, they’ll be drought tolerant.

Sun, Soil, and Water Requirements

Creeping thyme is an evergreen, low-growing herb that thrives in sunny locations with well-drained soil. It can tolerate some shade, but for the fullest and longest-lasting blooms, strive to give your plants at least six hours of direct sunlight per day.

Thyme plants aren’t super-picky about soil, but they do prefer a well-drained location. Soil that is constantly moist can lead to root rot. Creeping thyme prefers a slightly alkaline soil pH and they grow very well in sandy loam or gravelly soils. Clay soils often drain poorly so thyme may not grow well unless the soil is amended first to improve drainage.

Butterflies visiting the purple flowers of a thyme plant growing in a rocky landscape.

Creeping thyme is an evergreen plant that will spread over time, so it’s important to give it a location where it has room to grow. Situate plants at the front of the garden where they can get plenty of sun. If you’re using thyme to edge a flower border or walkway, space it far enough from the edge that it won’t quickly grow into the lawn or over pavement.

You can plant creeping thyme in window boxes, raised beds, shallow pots, or directly in the ground. When used for ground cover, creeping thyme forms a dense mat that blocks weed growth and provides an attractive landscaping feature.

Thyme plants growing with a variegated sage in a rectangular planter make an edible and beautiful display on a wooden deck.

Creeping thyme can tolerate some shade, but it grows most vigorously in full sun. Shady spaces are often too moist and humid for creeping thyme, which prefers low humidity and good air circulation. In fact, creeping thyme has very few problems with insect pests or diseases, other than its potential to develop root rot if grown in a location with soil that stays too wet.  

Water newly planted creeping thyme several times per week during the first few months of growth, until a strong root system is established. For mature plants, allow the soil to dry between waterings. Depending on weather conditions, mature plants in the ground may need watering around once per week or less. Potted plants should be watered more frequently.

Growing Zone

Creeping thyme is a hardy perennial that grows best in USDA Hardiness Zones 4-9. It can also be grown successfully in warmer climates (zones 10+) if extra care is taken to ensure adequate watering and protection from intense heat and direct sunlight during peak hours of the day. This is a case where you could plant thyme in a location that gets some shade during the hottest part of the day.

Creeping thyme can usually survive winter temperatures as low as -30°F (-34°C) but for extra protection you can apply an inch or two of mulch in early fall. This will help keep the shallow roots safe from potential damage caused by cycles of freezing and thawing throughout the winter.

In regions with especially frigid winters, you can simply grow thyme an annual, or dig up your plants at the end of the growing season, pot them up, and overwinter them indoors.

Potting thyme plants and bringing them indoors is a good way to grow thyme in winter. Close up of newly potted thyme on a potting bench.

Check local gardening guides and pay attention to the instructions on the plant tag before purchasing plants or seeds, since different varieties have different requirements regarding temperature tolerance and water needs.

Bloom Time

Creeping thyme typically begins blooming in late spring or early summer. Depending on the variety, plants will produce small flowers in shades of pink, purple, white, or red. The peak bloom period lasts about a month but a sprinkle of new flowers may continue in following weeks.

Deadheading the spent blooms by shearing back the plant may encourage a small second flush of flowers later in the season, as well as keep your plants looking tidy! To keep your thyme plant healthy year after year, prune back stems in early spring to prepare for the growing season, then prune again in late summer after flower growth has stopped.

Woman using scissors to remove flowers from a thyme plant (also known as deadheading).

Using Creeping Thyme in the Kitchen

Creeping thyme is edible, although some other varieties may be more palatable. If flavor is what you’re looking for here are a few varieties to consider:

Orange thyme (Thymus fragantissimus), commonly called orange thyme because of its mild, orange flavor.

Lemon thyme (Thymus citriodorus), has a lovely lemon fragrance and adds a citrusy zest to any dish.

English thyme (Thymus vulgaris), is the species most familiar for its traditional flavor and culinary use.

Creeping thyme has been used in medicinal and culinary applications since ancient times and remains popular today. It doesn’t match common thyme in terms of flavor, but is still an underrated herb. Try it in any recipe that calls for thyme. Classic uses include roasted potatoes, stews, soups, and marinades.

The leaves and flowers of thyme can be preserved for later use either by drying or freezing, and although the petite blooms have a milder flavor than the leaves, they make beautiful garnishes when sprinkled over salads or other dishes. The flavor is best if leaves are harvested before flowering begins.

Fresh and dried thyme plant in a rustic spoon on a rough wooden table.

Pros and Cons of Growing Creeping Thyme

Creeping thyme is a low-maintenance groundcover that requires minimal care. This hardy perennial produces beautiful flowers in the summer months, adding color and drawing pollinators to the garden. The plant also has a pleasant scent when stepped on or brushed against, making it an ideal choice for pathways and rock gardens.

Creeping thyme plant overgrowing a concrete sidewalk.

One word of caution: creeping thyme may become invasive in small space gardens if not controlled properly, as it spreads quickly through underground runners. These shallow runner roots also make the plant vulnerable to drought stress during hot summers and cold winters, so additional watering or application of mulch may be necessary in extreme temperatures.

Is Creeping Thyme Difficult to Grow?

No, creeping thyme is not difficult to grow. It’s easy to grow from seed or cuttings. With minimal care, creeping thyme can quickly spread to create a beautiful low-growing groundcover with fragrant foliage and pretty flowers during the summer months.

Creeping thyme comes in many varieties and colors, and the plant’s hardiness allows it to thrive in a wide range of climates and hardiness zones. Proper care and adequate sun exposure will ensure successful growth and encourage beautiful blooms throughout the flowering season.

Using an edible variety of thyme for ground cover is a great way to develop a useful and interesting landscape design. For more ideas on incorporating edible plants among your garden ornamentals, check out our guide on edible landscaping.

A carpet of thyme plants create a path through perennial borders of daylily, golden Hakonechloa grass, astilbe and a red Japanese maple.

As interest grows in finding alternatives to the high maintenance and high costs of maintaining a traditional grass lawn, many are turning to creeping thyme as a replacement. If you’re interested in transforming your lawn into an eco-friendlier space, you can get some fresh ideas with our 5 Alternatives to a Traditional Lawn.

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