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There are 350 species of thyme. Historically, thyme has been associated with courage, strength, happiness, and well-being. Most are frost hardy, small, aromatic evergreen perennials that flower late spring to mid summer. Creeping or mat forming types generally are used as groundcovers, while the small shrub forms are used for culinary purposes.
Thymes do best in sunny locations with well-drained soil. It is a good idea to pinch off old flowers to encourage new bushy growth. All species are drought tolerant (once established) and flower colors vary from white to pink and mauve. Blooms are also attractive to bees and butterflies.
Thymus pseudolanuginosus (Wooly Thyme) – Evergreen 1-3 feet tall, and 3 feet wide, forms low-spreading mat of wooly leaves, sparse scented pink flowers bloom in early summer. This variety is often planted between rocks.
Thymus praecox 'Album' (White Thyme) – light green leaves and white flowers in summer.
Thymus serpyllum'Elfin' (Elfin Thyme) – 2 feet tall, 5 feet wide, with rounded dark green leaves and lavender flowers in a summer.
Thymus serpyllum 'Pink Chintz' – 1 foot tall, 1.5 foot wide, salmon pink flowers.
Thymes are delightful evergreen plants that can add color, flavor and yaer-round interest in the garden or containers. Optimal conditions for successfully growing thymes are full sun, minimal water and good soil drainage. With these requirements in place, thymes can create a beautiful ground covering carpet, charming boarder or subtle evergreen accent in containers.
Creeping, ornamental thymes are commonly used for ground covers which withstand moderate foot traffic, and are drought tolerant. Several varieties such as 'Pink Chintz', 'Elfin' and 'White' grow only 1-3" tall and are great for paths, hillsides and as a bark replacement in garden beds. Groundcover thymes mix well with Herniaria 'Green Carpet', Sedum and Scleranthus 'Gnarled Cushion'.
Wooly thyme offers a distinctive fuzzy, grey texture and color to the landscape. It looks fabulous in large areas, and almost mimics the look of water as it tumbles down gentle slopes. 'Highland Cream' and Golden creeping thymes are brightly colored and are fabulous trailing accents in containers.
Some of the colorful upright thymes such as 'Silver Posie' and 'Lemon Varietaed' also add lovely, fragrant tufts to mixed planters or a low growing boarder to garden beds. A combination of thyme and sunroses (Helianthemum) is delightful edging a sunny rock wall.
Some of our newer favorite varieties are Thymus camphorates and Thymus neicefii 'Juniper' because of their unique foliage, tight growing habid and stunning clusters of mauve flowers in the summer.
In the herb garden, thyme is easy to grow. The hardest part is growing enough since thyme mixes well in so many culinary dishes and is a good medicinal too! English thyme is the typical variety grown for cooking, but there are several other varieties such as winter thyme and French thyme that are almost indistinguishable in flavor.
For unique thyme flavors try Caraway (strong caraway), Doone Valley (strong lemon), Lime (mild citrus), Oregano (oregano & thyme blend), and Spicy Orange. Culinary thymes can grow sufficiently with four hours of direct sun. They often get leggy after three years when they can be sheered back and rejuvenated, or replaced. Most culinary thymes grow 6-12" tall and combine very well with other culinary herbs such as parsley, sage, rosemary and lavender.
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Origin: Found in Europe, temperate Asia and northwest Africa. Highest concentration of species is found around the Mediterranean and the Middle East.
Common Name: Thyme
Culture: Tolerates low fertility and sandy, dry soil.
Maintenance: The tips of the plants are often damaged over the winter. Shear off dead branches to generate new growth in the early spring. The larger varieties of thyme may get leggy and woody with age.
Shear down to about 6 inches above the ground and shape in the spring every 3 years or so to rejuvenate. Heavy pruning should be completed by late August so that plants have time to harden for the winter.
Diseases: Rot is possible if the soil is not well-drained.
Propagation: From seed or by taking cuttings; dividing by ripping apart the patch into small pieces, in spring or early fall.