If you love the smell of fresh herbs and want an easy-care plant in your garden, creeping thyme may be the perfect choice. Creeping thyme (Thymus praecox arcticus), also known as Mother Thyme, is a tough, durable ground cover that can withstand moderate foot traffic.
For this, it is often planted between steps where its fragrance is released when stepped on. Also perfect for hillsides and rock gardens, this grass can grow up to 3 feet wide and tall. In the spring, they bloom in shades of pink and lavender. The easiest ways to propagate pink creeping thyme are through division, from seed, and by cuttings.
Origin of creeping thyme
Creeping thyme is native to the palearctic zone of Europe and Asia. It is a thin-soil plant and can be found growing on heathland with sandy soils, rocky outcrops, hills, banks, roadsides and riverside sandbars.
Description of creeping thyme
Creeping thyme is a creeping dwarf perennial shrub with woody stems and a taproot. It forms mat-like plants that originate from the nodes of the loose, square stems. Leaves are in opposite pairs, almost stalkless, with round-tipped linear elliptic leaves and toothed margins.
The plant sends out erect flower buds in summer. The fruit is a dry four-chambered schizocarp.
- Type – creeping plant, hedge plant
- Height – 1 ½ feet (15 cm)
- Exposure – full sun
- Soil – light, well drained
- Foliage – evergreen
- Flowering – summer
- Its pink flowers and evergreen foliage are part of its year-round appeal.
Creeping Thyme Botany
Thymus serpyllum, known by the common names Breckland thyme, wild Breckland thyme, wild thyme, creeping thyme, or elfin thyme, is a species of flowering plant in the mint family Lamiaceae.
Creeping Thyme Varieties
Different varieties of creeping thyme have different growth habits. Some send up flower stalks, others form mats, and others cascade down. Some varieties form an almost flat mat. In general, however, thyme is generally low-growing, spreading, and 6 to 10 inches tall.
Most thyme varieties are best left alone; the more you care about the plant, the less resistant it will be. Give your thyme a spot in full sun; handles hot, dry conditions better than cold, wet soil. The ideal soil drains well and has a pH of about 7.0 or slightly alkaline.
Creeping Thyme Varieties to Try:
- Common thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is an undemanding and hardy plant. It is excellent as part of an herb garden, used to soften path edges, planted on top of raised beds to spill over borders, or in rock gardens.
- Lemon-scented thyme (T. citriodorus) is less hardy than common thyme: mine didn’t even survive the winter in a greenhouse, and it wasn’t a particularly cold winter. If your climate is warm or you are prepared to face the colder months, it is ideal for tall containers or hanging baskets, at a practical height to enjoy the divine aroma of lemon sorbet.
- Thymus serpyllum, or creeping thyme, is perfect for a low-growing, flourishing lawn, which will be teeming with bees. It is also excellent for placing in spaces between paving slabs, where walking on it will crush leaves and release scent, or on green roofs.
Types of creeping thyme
- lemon thyme
- Thymus citriodorus
- Thyme herb-baron
- Precocious thymus
- Thymus pseudolanuginosus
- Thyme broom
- Common thyme
It is a low, usually prostrate bush growing to 2 cm (1 in) tall with creeping stems up to 10 cm (4 in) long. The oval evergreen leaves are 3–8 mm long.
The strongly scented flowers are lilac, purple-pink, magenta, or rare white.
How creeping thyme is grown
Growing creeping thyme is a simple process due to its compatibility in a variety of soils and light exposures. Although this ground cover prefers well-drained, light-textured soil, it will grow quite well in less than desirable medium and will thrive in full sun to light shade environments.
The soil should be kept moist but not wet, as the growing creeping thyme plant is susceptible to root drowning and edema. Soil pH for growing creeping thyme plants should be neutral to slightly alkaline. Creeping thyme ground cover can be propagated via cuttings or stem divisions and can of course be purchased from the local nursery as plantings or established seeds.
Cuttings from the creeping thyme plant should be taken in early summer. Start seeds when growing creeping thyme indoors or they can be sown in the spring after danger of frost has passed. Plant creeping thyme 8 to 12 inches apart to allow its habitat to spread. Prune creeping thyme ground cover in the spring to maintain a compact appearance and again after the small white flowers are spent, if additional shaping is preferred.
In a garden
- Dig up or lift a small patch of creeping thyme in the spring, making sure it has healthy roots and green growth. This patch can be as small as a stem with a few roots attached and is known as a slip. Plant the patch or slide to the same depth as before. Plant multiple patches or slips 12 to 24 inches apart. Grow thyme in a well-drained, sunny area.
- Sprinkle creeping thyme seeds, which are available at nurseries or collected from dried seed heads, over the top of moist, well-draining soil. Do this in the spring after the last frost. Water often to maintain moist soil conditions. After the seedlings grow, pull out the weaker stems so a vigorous plant stands every 6 to 12 inches.
- Cut 4 to 6 inches off the top of a thriving creeping thyme in the spring. Cuts through a set of leaves or leaf node. Remove the leaves from the bottom half of the thyme cut. Insert the cutting into a small pot filled with coarse, moist sand, or a good quality potting mix.
- Insert two or three sticks or pencils around the cut and cover it with a plastic bag. Move the pot to a warm area, but not in direct sunlight. Keep the medium moist for a month or two. Once roots have formed, it can be planted outdoors.
Plant individual creeping thyme plants in a pot 6 to 8 inches in diameter, or plant several plants 6 inches apart in a larger pot. Use pots that have holes in the bottom to facilitate good drainage. Use a light, well-draining potting mix. Plant the creeping thyme seedlings the same depth in the container as they were in the nursery pot. Leave 1/2 inch between the rim of the pot and the soil line to allow room for watering and fertilizer.
Creeping Thyme Care
- Water deeply only when the soil is completely dry.
- Prune plants in the spring and summer to contain growth.
- If you have cold winters, remember to lightly cover the plants after the ground freezes.
- Plants three to four years old should be divided or replaced because older plants are woody and the leaves less palatable.
- You can also take some cuttings and plant them indoors in pots.
- How to take a cutting: Make a three-inch cut from the tip of a stem, apply rooting hormone to the exposed portion of the stem, and plant in sterile sand or vermiculite. Roots will emerge in about six weeks. Transfer to a small pot, allow the root ball to form, then transfer to a large pot or directly into your garden.
Creeping Thyme Harvest
- Harvest creeping thyme just before the plant flowers by cutting off the first five to six inches of growth. Leave the hard, woody parts.
- It is best to harvest creeping thyme in the morning after the dew has dried. Clean leaves should not be washed as it removes some of the essential oils.
- Two or more crops can be harvested during the season. Or, if you keep cutting your thyme plant, it will continue to grow (and also maintain a compact shape). But always leave at least five inches of growth for the plant to continue to thrive.
- Trim the thyme when it gets leggy.
- Fresh creeping thyme should be stored refrigerated and lightly wrapped in plastic; It should last a week or two.
- To dry thyme, hang the sprigs in a dark, well-ventilated, warm area. You can also simply dry the leaves by placing them on a tray. Once dry, store them in an airtight container. Crush just before use. Under good conditions, herbs will retain maximum flavor for two years.
- Freezing is another storage method.
Growing from seed is the most obvious method of propagating thyme, but it is also the most difficult. Germination is slow and unreliable, so I don’t recommend it unless you are very patient or stubborn. Taking softwood cuttings, layering and dividing are much easier methods.
Thyme softwood cuttings:
- Softwood cuttings can be successfully taken from spring through summer. Prepare your containers first: a 50:50 mix of potting compost and sand works well. Next, select the shoots you want to take cuttings from. They should look healthy and not bloom.
- Use a sharp knife to cut about 2-4 inches (5-10 cm) long just below a node (the point where the leaves sprout from the stem). Peel the leaves from the bottom half of each cutting. Now make a hole in your growing medium with a pointer or pencil and open the cut so that the half with the leaves remains above the surface.
- Put the cuttings in a propagator. A heated propagator is ideal, but an unheated one will work – cuttings will take longer to root. If you don’t have a propagator, simply place a clear plastic bag over the pot to create a moist environment. You can use a rubber band to keep it in place. Remove the cover daily to let in fresh air.
- Place your cuttings somewhere out of direct sunlight and keep the potting soil moist. Roots will take several weeks to form. When you can see new growth starting, place the cuttings in their own containers.
Creeping thyme will bloom with many small purple flowers that will attract pollinators to your balcony container garden. Other varieties may display pink flowers.
Properties and benefits of creeping thyme
Creeping thyme is believed to have antibacterial, insecticidal, and possibly antifungal properties. People used thyme throughout history for embalming and warding off the Black Death. Thyme forms include fresh and dried herbs and essential oil.
- By contract, thyme is also used medicinally, with the most common types being Spanish thyme, common thyme, and creeping thyme.
- The dried or fresh leaves of the thyme plant along with the flowers can be used in stews, soups, stir-fried or baked vegetables, custards, and casseroles. The herb gives food a spicy, warm flavor, similar to camphor, and can retain its strong flavor even after cooking. It can also be used in marinades and fillings.
Creeping thyme is an herb. The flowering parts of the plant are used to make medicine. People take creeping thyme for respiratory problems, such as coughs, bronchitis, and inflamed airways. They also take it for kidney and bladder disorders, to improve blood circulation, to lower bad cholesterol, and to treat intestinal gas and colic.
They also use it to improve sleep, boost the immune system, and treat infections. Some people apply creeping thyme directly to the skin to kill germs and treat arthritis, eczema, wounds, and sprains.
How does it work?
There isn’t enough information available to know how creeping thyme might work.
Creeping thyme curiosities
For thousands of years, creeping thyme has been a herb garden superstar. As an antidote to poison, a preventive of the plague, a symbol of bravery in battle, and a stalwart companion from the grave, thyme has a much more storied past than you might think if you were walking into the supermarket today.
Creeping thyme’s reputation as a healer and protector dates back thousands of years. In Roman times, it was widely held that eating thyme before or during a meal would protect you from poison. For obvious reasons, this made the herb a particular favorite of emperors. It was even said that a bath in warm water generously dosed with thyme could stop the effects of the poison after its inadvertent consumption.
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