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The Easy Ways to Grow Thyme Indoors or Outdoors

  • Bob Styer
  • Herbs
Growing Thyme In Pots

Want to add a wonderful fragrance to your home?  Try growing thyme indoors in pots.  The types of thyme give you different aromas and flavors. You can choose from lemon, caraway, and other versions of good old regular thyme.  Growing thyme from cuttings is the easiest way to grow it in pots. Try growing thyme from seeds if you’re up for a little challenge.  Whatever your preference, thyme is always a welcome addition to the home or garden.  Your garden will also appreciate thyme as a companion plant.  Let’s get started with this ancient herb…

Lemon Thyme, showing the yellow edge on the leaves
Lemon Thyme, showing the yellow edge on the leaves

What is Thyme?

Thyme is an evergreen herb from the Mediterranean with a pleasant fragrance.  People have known thyme’s medicinal and culinary benefits since ancient times.  In fact, researchers have verified many of thyme’s medicinal qualities.

Thyme’s earthy, lemony, minty taste pairs well with roasted meats, fish, and veggies.  Other uses include soups, broths, marinades, tomato sauces, and teas.

Thyme needs very little care while it’s growing and is very hardy.  It prefers occasional watering, plenty of sunshine, and rare feeding.

Would you like to learn about other herbs? Check out our post “The Complete Guides to Growing Culinary Herbs” for links to those articles.

Types of Thyme Plants

There are over 300 thyme varieties, but many find use as decorative plants or ground cover.  All thyme plants are edible, but some have a more desirable flavor.  That makes them useful as fresh culinary herbs.

Since this site is about growing your own food, we’ll cover some of those flavorful thyme varieties.  All these varieties can grow as perennials in Zones 5 – 9.

  • Common Thyme (Thymus vulgaris).  Also known as English or garden thyme, it’s the variety used most often.  The flowers are white or pale lilac with a plant height of 8 – 12 inches.
  • French Thyme (Thymus vulgaris French).  This is a close relative of common thyme and is also known as summer thyme.  It has a sweeter, milder flavor than common thyme and is less hardy.  The mature height is 12 inches.
  • German Thyme (Thymus vulgaris German).  Since it’s more cold hardy than common thyme, it also gets the name winter thyme.  It doesn’t have the red stem of common or French thyme, and its leaves are more rounded.  Its flavor is milder than common thyme but stronger than French thyme.
  • Lemon Thyme (Thymus citriodorus).   This type looks like common thyme but has a unique lemon scent.  That lemon scent makes this type popular as a decorative plant or culinary herb.  It grows 6 – 12 inches tall with pink flowers.
  • Golden Lemon Thyme (Thymus citriodorus aureus).  This hardy variety has golden rather than green leaves and a lemon scent.  It’s as delicious and aromatic as lemon thyme, and its color makes it a popular decorative plant.
  • Silver Thyme (Thymus citriodorus argenteus).  This type has variegated leaves with white and green effects.  It produces pink flowers and grows 12 inches tall.  Silver thyme is another variety that’s as well known in the living room as in the kitchen.
  • Italian Oregano Thyme (Thymus vulgaris Oregano).  This type grows 12 inches tall and has pink flowers.  It has a flavor that goes well with Italian dishes.
  • Caraway Thyme (Thymus herba-barona).  Only 4 – 6 inches tall, this variety serves as a ground cover or a substitute for caraway.  The flowers are light pink.
  • Pennsylvania Dutch Tea Thyme (Thymus pulegioides).  This variety can substitute for common thyme; its dried leaves make an excellent tea.  It grows 12 inches tall and has pink flowers.
  • Juniper Thyme (Thymus leucotrichus).  This little variety only grows six inches tall.  Its leaves are silvery, stiff, and more like juniper needles.  Juniper thyme produces pink flowers and can’t tolerate sweltering hot summers.  Give it partial shade to help it along.

Preparing the Soil

Well-drained soil with a pH of 6.5 – 8.5 and full or partial sun will make thyme happy.

When you plant thyme, the soil shouldn’t be devoid of nutrients.  Use a weak fertilizer with low nitrogen at the start of the growing season.

Too much fertilizer causes thyme to put more energy into growth instead of flavor.  When the plants are growing well, a light monthly application of plant food would be OK.

It helps to improve drainage by having the soil somewhat sandy.  This is more important if you live in colder zones.  The sandy soil helps prevent the thyme from embedding in ice during winter.  The ice surrounding the roots will kill the plant.

Thyme Seeds and Plants to Help You Get Started

Thyme Seeds for Planting Home Garden Herbs - Non-GMO, Heirloom, Untreated, and USA Grown Variety - Individual Pack of 200+ Heirloom Seeds, Suitable for Outdoors, Indoors, and Hydroponics
Thyme Seeds for Planting Home Garden Herbs - Non-GMO, Heirloom, Untreated, and USA Grown Variety - Individual Pack of 200+ Heirloom Seeds, Suitable for Outdoors, Indoors, and Hydroponics
$5.99
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2024-07-18
Bonnie Plants Lemon Thyme Live Herb Plants - 4 Pack, Perennial In Zones 7 to 9, Full Sun to Part Shade
Bonnie Plants Lemon Thyme Live Herb Plants - 4 Pack, Perennial In Zones 7 to 9, Full Sun to Part Shade
$25.96
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2024-07-18
Gardeners Basics, Italian Herb Seeds for Planting 5 Variety Herbs Seed Packets Including Italian Flat Leaf Parsley, Sage, Oregano, Thyme, Basil - Great for Kitchen Herb Garden, Hydroponics Heirloom
Gardeners Basics, Italian Herb Seeds for Planting 5 Variety Herbs Seed Packets Including Italian Flat Leaf Parsley, Sage, Oregano, Thyme, Basil - Great for Kitchen Herb Garden, Hydroponics Heirloom
$9.95
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2024-07-18
French Thyme Seeds (20+ Seeds) | Non GMO | Vegetable Fruit Herb Flower Seeds for Planting | Home Garden Greenhouse Pack
French Thyme Seeds (20+ Seeds) | Non GMO | Vegetable Fruit Herb Flower Seeds for Planting | Home Garden Greenhouse Pack
$3.39
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2024-07-18
VAACNEE 200 Lemon Thyme Thymus Citriodorus Herb Flower Seeds
VAACNEE 200 Lemon Thyme Thymus Citriodorus Herb Flower Seeds
$7.99
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2024-07-18
German Winter Thyme Seed - Culinary,Medicinal Herb-winter hardy (1000 seeds)
German Winter Thyme Seed - Culinary,Medicinal Herb-winter hardy (1000 seeds)
$7.44
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2024-07-18

Growing Thyme From Seeds

Growing thyme from seed might cause some problems because germination can be erratic.  Because of this, you should sow five times more seeds than the total number of plants you want to grow.

Thyme seeds also take up to a month to germinate, so starting them early is a good idea.

Starting Seeds Early

  • Start the seeds indoors six weeks before the last spring frost.
  • Fill peat pots or trays with potting mix.
  • Spread several seeds in each pot or tray cell and lightly cover them with potting mix.
  • Mist the seeds and keep them moist until they germinate.
  • Keep the seeds warm and exposed to sunlight or grow lights.  Use fluorescent lights as a second-best substitute for grow lights.
  • Remember, germination can take up to a month.
  • When the seedlings have four true leaves, move them outside for a week to harden to the weather.  Start hardening in partial shade and gradually introduce more sunlight.
  • After hardening, they’re ready to transplant to pots or the garden.  The seedlings will be about four inches tall at that time.
  • Space the seedlings 12 – 24 inches apart.

Sow seeds in the garden about two weeks before the last frost.  Place them on the surface or cover them lightly with soil.  Keep them misted with a spray bottle or hose spray set for misting.  Mature thyme is 6 – 18 inches tall, depending on the variety.

Growing Thyme from Cuttings

Due to the problems with germinating thyme seeds, it’s easier to grow thyme from cuttings.  You can get cuttings by purchasing a live plant or getting them from a friend or relative.

Cuttings should be about 3 inches long and taken from the tips of the stems.  Remove the leaves on the lower third of the cutting and put rooting hormone on the exposed end.

Plant the treated cutting in sterile sand mixed with 1/3 vermiculite and potting soil.  Keep the soil moist but not soggy during the rooting process.

Rooting hormone makes rooting faster, but it isn’t necessary.  Roots will also form by placing the cut end in water.  Replace the water every few days to keep it clean.

Regardless of how you root your cuttings, roots will form in 4 – 6 weeks.  Then move the cuttings to small pots filled with potting mix.  Once the root ball forms, you can move the plant to a larger pot or the garden.

Common thyme with flowers
Common Thyme with Flowers

Growing Thyme by Layering

This is a way to propagate thyme from an established plant.

  • Choose a healthy branch that will bend to the ground.
  • Strip all the leaves from this branch except for the top few inches.
  • Dig a shallow trench about six inches long.
  • Bend the stripped branch, so a few inches are in the trench.  The top of the branch with the leaves should be above the ground.
  • Anchor the branch with a forked stick or stiff bent wire.  The anchor should be about four inches from the top of the branch.
  • Cover the trench with soil, ensuring the leaves at the tip of the branch are still exposed.

Roots will form in about four weeks.  After that, cut the branch to the original plant and remove the anchor.  The new plant can stay where it is or get transplanted.

Growing Thyme in Pots

Pots should be 10 – 12 inches deep.  Clay or terra cotta pots are good for thyme because they help with drainage.  This is necessary because mature thyme prefers drier conditions than many other herbs.

All containers for growing plants should have drainage holes.  Fabric grow bags are another good container for growing thyme, and they don’t need drainage holes.

Fill the containers with three parts of potting soil mixed with one part of organic matter.  Compost is always a good choice when you need organic matter.  Add one part of perlite or vermiculite to improve drainage.  Potting soil by itself will get too dense and stop draining well.

Determine how many plants you want and sow five times that many seeds.  Sow the seeds on the surface or cover them with a light layer of soil.  Keep the seeds moist by misting them until they germinate.  If you get lucky and sprout many seedlings, thin them so the pot isn’t crowded.

More information about growing potted plants indoors is available at “Growing Vegetables in Containers.”

A variety of colorful thyme flowers in pots..
A variety of colorful thyme flowers in pots

Caring for Thyme Plants During the Growing Season

Thyme has drought resistance, so it doesn’t have high water demands.  Give it a deep watering only when the soil gets dry.  If the soil stays dry for too long, the roots could die.

You wouldn’t know this immediately because the plant will still look healthy. Soon after, the leaves start to turn yellow.  Regardless, thyme is resilient; many growers think it thrives on neglect.

Pruning Thyme

To keep the plants bushy, start harvesting leaves when the plants are 4 – 6 inches tall.  Pinch off the tips of the stems, but stop pinching a few weeks before the first fall frost.  This will ensure that the new growth has aged enough to handle the cooler weather.

Don’t remove more than 1/3 of the leaves at any time, or it will damage the plant.  Pruning is beneficial because it encourages new growth.

Replace or divide plants that are 3 – 4 years old since older plants turn woody and have less flavor.  Cut the plants back by 1/3 in the spring if you’re growing thyme as a perennial.  Always cut above the area where you can see new growth but never cut into the woody stem.

Harvesting Thyme

Harvest leaves whenever you need them, even in the winter if you live in an area where it remains evergreen.  The flavor is best before the plants bloom.  But thyme is one of those friendly plants that are always flavorful and aromatic.

Harvest by cutting off the top 5 – 6 inches of growth, but don’t take the tough woody parts.  The best time to harvest is in the morning after the dew has dried.  Don’t rinse the leaves because rinsing removes some essential oils.

To harvest an entire plant, cut it two inches from the ground.  The remaining stem will sprout new growth but don’t take any of those leaves until next year.  This new growth keeps the plant hardy over the winter.

Thyme will produce tiny flowers that will be white, pink, or magenta, depending on the variety.  If the flowers go to seed, the seeds that fall to the ground will sprout next spring.

Collect the seeds by removing the seed heads once they’ve turned brown.  Put the seed heads in a paper bag and wait until the seed heads break open.  Once they break open, shake the seeds into the bag.

Overwintering Thyme

Depending on your zone, the plants could go dormant during the winter.  Have no fear because they’ll return in the spring.  Thyme will stay evergreen during winter in the warmer zones.

Protect thyme with a mulch of straw, grass clippings, shredded leaves, or pine boughs in colder climates.  Lay out the mulch after the first frost.  Of course, there’s always the option of growing thyme in pots and keeping it indoors if you have bad winters.  With mild winters, you can keep the pots outside.

Storing Fresh Thyme

Refrigerating Thyme

You can store fresh thyme in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.  Wrap the sprigs in a damp paper towel and seal them in a plastic bag.  You could also strip the leaves and store them the same way.

Another option is to store fresh thyme with olive oil in sealed jars.

Freezing Thyme

If you don’t want to remove the leaves, seal fresh sprigs in a freezer bag.  Remove the frozen sprigs from the bag as needed for cooking.

If you want to freeze stripped leaves, put them in ice cube trays and top off the trays with water.  After the cubes freeze, remove them from the trays and seal them in freezer bags.  Add the cubes to cooking food as needed.

Frozen thyme will last 1 – 2 years.

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Wirsh Coffee Grinder-Electric Coffee Grinder with Stainless Steel Blades, Coffee and Spice Grinder with Powerful Motor and 4.2oz. Large Capacity for Coffee Beans,Herbs,Spices, Peanuts,Grains and More
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How to Dry Thyme

Dried herbs will last up to 3 years.  Well-dried herbs don’t go bad; they lose their flavor until they’re tasteless.  Herbs that aren’t dried correctly (not brittle and crunchy) can develop mold or mildew.  This happens when “dried” herbs are still moist.  After drying, store the herbs in airtight containers or jars.

Unless the thyme is dirty, rinsing isn’t recommended.  Rinsing could remove some of the flavorful and aromatic oils.  That could lower the quality of the dried thyme.

Air Drying Thyme

  • Tie sprigs together and hang them in a cool, dry, well-ventilated area.  Please don’t hang them in direct sunlight.
  • You could also put paper bags over the sprigs to keep out dust and catch any dried leaves that fall off.  Poke a few holes in the sides of each bag for airflow.
  • The leaves will be dry and brittle in 3 days to 2 weeks.
  • Strip the dried leaves from the stems and store them in airtight containers.

Oven Drying Thyme

  • Set the oven to the lowest temperature.  This can vary depending on the model of the oven.
  • Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • Place the thyme sprigs on the tray in a single layer.  Stacking the sprigs won’t let them dry enough.
  • Check the sprigs every 15 minutes to ensure they don’t scorch.  It helps to keep the oven door cracked open.
  • Depending on the oven temperature and the quantity of thyme, it should be dry within four hours.  If the lowest temperature on your oven is toward the high end, it could take an hour.
  • Strip the dried leaves and store them in airtight containers.

Drying Thyme in a Microwave

  • Cover a microwave-safe plate or tray with paper towels.
  • Lay the thyme sprigs on the towels in a single layer.
  • Cover the sprigs with another paper towel.
  • Microwave on high for 1-1/2 minutes.
  • Check the sprigs for dryness.  Continue microwaving in 15-second intervals until completely dry.
  • Strip off the dried leaves and store them in airtight containers or jars.

Drying Thyme in a Dehydrator

  • Use either whole sprigs or strip the leaves.
  • Lay the thyme on the dehydrator trays in a single layer.
  • Set the dehydrator to 105o F for 2 – 5 hours.
  • Remove the thyme when it’s brittle and crumbly.
  • Store the dried thyme in airtight jars or containers.

Companion Plants for Thyme

  • Strawberries get along well with thyme since thyme repels worms.
  • Thyme can repel flea beetles, cabbage loopers, cabbage moths, cabbage worms, and aphids which makes it a great companion for cole crops (cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, collard greens, kale, and kohlrabi).
  • The ability to repel moths makes thyme a good companion for eggplant.
  • Thyme helps tomatoes by repelling tomato hornworms and whiteflies.  It also enhances the flavor of tomatoes.
  • Thyme will attract parasitic wasps that attack Colorado potato beetles.
  • Herbs that match thyme well include oregano, sage, rosemary, bay laurel, and marjoram.
  • Cilantro, parsley, basil, chives, and tarragon prefer moister soil.  Don’t plant them next to thyme.

Find more information about companion plants with our Companion Planting Chart.

Pests and Diseases of Thyme

Thyme is rarely bothered by insects.  Spider mites and aphids give it trouble sometimes when the weather gets dry.  Remove either pest with a strong spray of water.

You can also kill these pests by spraying with organic insecticidal soap.  Neem oil isn’t recommended for thyme because it might burn the leaves.  Test it on a small section and see what happens.  If the leaves are OK, use the neem oil with caution.

Excessive humidity or overwatering can cause fungal diseases or root rot.  Remove infected areas with clean shears or a knife.

Final Thoughts

Growing thyme can be a great way to start growing fresh herbs since it’s forgiving and easy to care for.  It provides pleasant aromas and flavors to food and has excellent nutritional value.  The essential oils in thyme also have proven antibacterial qualities.

Frequently Asked Questions About Growing Thyme

  1. Can you grow thyme indoors?

    Yes, thyme is easy to grow indoors.  Pick pots 10 – 12 inches deep made of clay or terra cotta.  Fabric grow bags are good too.  Fill the containers with three parts of potting soil mixed with one part each of compost and perlite.

    This improves the drainage and fertility of the potting soil.  Sow the seeds on the surface or cover them with a light layer of soil.  Keep the seeds moist by misting them occasionally until they germinate.

  2. Does thyme come back?

    Thyme can grow as a perennial in Zones 5 – 9, but growth slows during winter.  In areas where thyme stays green during the winter, cut back the oldest woodiest stems in late summer.  Cut back these stems by 2/3 to promote new growth.

    During cold winters, thyme will go dormant but regrow in the spring.  Cover the ground with a mulch of shredded leaves, straw, grass clippings, or pine boughs.  This will protect the roots over the winter.

  3. How long does thyme take to grow?

    Thyme takes a long time to germinate compared to most other herbs.  The seeds take about a month to sprout, and it’s normal to have many unsprouted thyme seeds.  Starting from seeds, it takes 70 – 90 days for thyme to mature.

  4. How tall does thyme grow?

    Depending on whether it’s a bushy or ground-cover variety, thyme grows 5 – 18 inches tall.

  5. What grows well with thyme?

    First of all, herbs having the same growing conditions as thyme.  They would include oregano, rosemary, sage, or marjoram — all these herbs like drier soil than other herbs.  Thyme repels pests or improves the flavor of strawberries, cole crops, eggplants, potatoes, blueberries, and tomatoes.

  6. What is a sprig of thyme?

    A sprig isn’t an exact measurement.  You can think of it as a cut branch of thyme that has leaves and is about five inches long.  When used in cooking, the leaves fall off, and the stem is removed.

  7. When is thyme ready to harvest?

    You can harvest thyme leaves when the plants reach four inches tall.  Be careful not to take more than 1/3 of the leaves, or it will damage the plant.  It takes 70 – 90 days for thyme to mature.

  8. Can I freeze fresh thyme?

    Herbs like thyme and rosemary are easy to freeze by sealing the sprigs in a freezer bag.  There’s no need to strip the leaves with this method.  Add a frozen sprig or two to cooking foods when needed.

    Another method is to strip off the leaves and put them in ice cube trays.  Top off the trays with water and freeze them.  Then remove the cubes and put them in freezer bags.  Add the frozen cubes to cooking food like “flavor bombs.”

    Frozen thyme will last 1 – 2 years.

Last update on 2024-07-18 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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Bob Styer

As a child, I hated gardening. That was mainly because Dad expected us to work in the garden every so often even though we thought play was more important. Over the years, though, I've developed a real appreciation for growing things. Whether you're growing plants for food or to enjoy their beauty, gardening can make your life better. Seize the moment!

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