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Creeping Thyme: Planting, Growing, and Caring for Creeping Thyme Ground Cover | Almanac.com

How to Grow Creeping Thyme: The Complete Guide

Creeping Thyme
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Thymus serpyllum
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Planting, Growing, and Caring for Creeping Thyme

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Fragrant, colorful, low-maintenance, and pollinator-friendly, a patch of creeping thyme is more than a boring groundcover. Learn how to plant, grow, and care for creeping thyme.

About Creeping Thyme

If you haven’t heard about creeping thyme, you may have been living under a rock—where this plant thrives. 

Several members of the genus Thymus are called creeping thyme, but they are all perennials with a low, spreading form and make excellent groundcovers. The traditional creeping thyme for rock gardens, planting in between pavers, and the like is Thymus serpyllum.

An evergreen Mediterranean native, creeping thyme likes it warm and sunny and doesn’t mind gravelly, sandy soil. In fact, it seems to prefer it for the excellent drainage. Planted close together, creeping thyme will spread to form a mat that is covered like a blanket with tiny tube-shaped blooms of pink and purple in midsummer, carrying on to early fall. Like many perennials, initial growth is slow but picks up in the second and third years.

While creeping thyme can withstand light foot traffic, it isn’t turf grass and won’t do well under heavier foot traffic. If you are replacing some grass with creeping thyme, choose lightly traveled areas. These plants are fantastic in rock gardens, between pavers, and sprawling over perennial beds. 

Brushing a creeping thyme carpet releases a pleasing, lemony scent, and the drone of little happy pollinators adds peace and contentment to your yard and garden. If you lived in the Shire, your garden paths would likely be lined with creeping thyme.

Creeping thyme (thymus serpyllum) in a rock garden. Credit: Flower_Garden
Planting

Most creeping thyme varieties are hardy in USDA zones 4-9 but check the tag to be sure. If you plan on replacing a section of lawn with creeping thyme, you’ll need a lot of plants, so check with wholesalers to see if you can buy plugs. When planning, you’ll want at least one per square foot, likely more. The closer they’re planted, the quicker they’ll close the gaps. 

Creeping thymes are not picky about soil and thrive in drier locations and less fertile conditions. Like many plants in the Thymus genus, they do well on thin soil, xeriscapes, and rocky areas where others struggle. A neutral to slightly alkaline pH is perfect. 

When to Plant Creeping Thyme

Transplant creeping thyme in spring, shortly after your last frost date. While it enjoys warm, sunny weather, it will establish quicker in the cooler spring temps.

If you start thyme seeds indoors, do so 8-10 weeks before your last frost date. Creeping thyme can also be directly seeded in the garden once the soil has warmed to about 60 degrees. 

How to Plant Creeping Thyme

Creeping thyme is generally purchased in small, four-inch pots or smaller plugs from a garden center or nursery. Transplanting them is easy and fast.

  • Water the plugs or pots of creeping thyme several hours before you transplant to reduce plant stress.
  • Remove all sod or grasses and weeds from the planting area, and loosen the soil. 
  • Work in an inch-thick layer of compost to help with drainage and soil structure.
  • Gently remove the thyme plants from their containers and set them out where they’ll be planted, spacing them 6-12 inches apart. Once you have your layout and spacing, planting will be a snap. You’ll also avoid accidentally leaving gaps.
  • Use a hand trowel and dig a small hole, as deep as the plug and a bit wider. 
  • Set the thyme plant or plug in the hole, check the depth, and refill the hole, firming the soil around the roots as you go. 
  • Once all the creeping thyme is planted, grab the hose and sprinkler and give them a good soaking. 
  • Mulch the area with organic material, such as straw, shredded leaves, pine straw, or compost, to keep weeds down.

If you have a large area to plant, use a wide board as a walkway to spread out your weight and avoid overly compacting the soil. 

Growing

Creeping thyme plants are tough and drought-resistant, but they’ll need water while getting established. Once they’ve rooted in well and begun to grow, take it easy on the watering. Well-established creeping thyme shouldn’t need supplemental watering unless you experience a prolonged dry spell combined with hot, sunny weather. The compost you dug in during planting will help to mitigate that as well.

Fertilizer is not needed except in the most nutrient-poor soils. Thyme is native to the stony, gravelly soils of the Mediterranean and will do fine fending for itself. Pruning is unnecessary, but a general haircut in the spring will encourage new growth and keep creeping thyme from getting woody and sparse. 

As your creeping thyme plants mature, you can divide them to expand your groundcover. Just take your trowel, dig up a piece with roots and stems, and replant it in a new location. 

A thyme lawn. Credit: High Country Gardens.
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Wit and Wisdom
  • Creeping thyme, and all thymes really, are deer and rabbit-resistant. Foil those critters with this fragrant ground cover!
  • While creeping thyme is edible, it isn’t the thyme we typically use in the kitchen, which is Thymus vulgaris or sometimes Thymus x. citriodorus–lemon thyme.
  • If the wholesaler’s plug packages are in quantities too large for you to use, try splitting it up with your local garden club. Folks are always interested in planting a few of these lovely ground covers.
Pests/Diseases
  • Root rot from poor drainage
     
About The Author

Andy Wilcox

Andy Wilcox is a flower farmer and master gardener with a passion for soil health, small producers, forestry, and horticulture. Read More from Andy Wilcox

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