Growing herbs in the garden -- or even in containers -- is incredibly popular for a myriad of reasons. They are easy to care for, making them a great starting point if you are just trying your hand at gardening. Some varieties create a beautiful groundcover adding an aesthetic element to the landscape. And obviously, many people grow herbs for their culinary uses and the ability to have fresh herbs available right out their door.
Thyme is grown in many herb gardens because of its popularity in kitchen recipes, and because the delicate blossoms help to attract beneficial honeybees. Plants are easy to grow, requiring little care to flourish.
1. Plant in full sun
Not surprisingly, thyme plants -- like so many other plants grown to eat -- love sunlight. Plant them in a location that will receive at least 6-8 hours of direct, unfiltered sunlight daily to keep them from getting leggy.
2. Soil pH about 7
Having your soil pH as close to neutral as possible will encourage better growth. Most potting soils are close to neutral, so they don't require any amending. Natural garden soil will more than likely be acidic or alkaline depending on your climate, making it necessary to adjust the pH (Dengarden walks you through how to test your soil pH and make the necessary adjustments).
3. Soil temps above 70
Wait to plant until soil temperatures climb above 70 degrees. In most areas this will be right around the time of the last spring frost. Thyme does not do as well when grown from seed, so it's best to buy plants from a garden center or propagate cuttings (learn more at Learning Herbs) to generate new plants.
4. Excellent drainage
Thyme plants are prone to root rot, so they need to be planted in soils that drain well. You can improve the drainage of your soil by adding organic matter or finished compost.
5. Water when soil is completely dry
One of the advantages to growing thyme is its drought tolerance. The plants actually prefer the soil to be dry before getting any water. Use your finger to check the soil moisture to a depth of 1-2"; if it's dry go ahead and water. Thyme is another plant that would prefer to be slightly neglected and under-watered than overwatered.
6. Apply fertilizer in spring
It's only necessary to fertilize your thyme plants once a year. In early spring as they begin to grow, apply a continuous-release fertilizer to give them a boost and provide nutrients to jumpstart their growth.
7. Pinch tips to keep plants bushy
To keep plants from getting tall and leggy, pinch the tops off the actively growing shoots. This tricks the plant into growing more outwards instead of upwards creating a bushier plant. Avoid doing this the last few weeks before fall frost sets in to make sure new growth isn't too tender when temperatures begin to drop.
8. Harvest just before flowers bloom
As long as the plant is actively growing there really isn't a bad time to harvest. To get the most flavorful leaves though wait until just before the plant blooms to pick what you need.
9. Mulch around base to protect in winter
If you live in an area that experiences fairly hard winters, your plants will fare better if you mulch around the base after they go dormant in the fall. This helps protect the roots during the winter when it's cold and dry.
10. Light pruning after first year
Thyme doesn't require regular pruning to keep it growing strong and vigorously. In the spring following the first growing season though, remove any dead wood and prune back about 1/3 of the plant to promote healthy, new growth.