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Herb Garden
Published July 18, 2022 by Nicole Burke

How to Grow and Harvest Your Own Organic Thyme

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The Benefits of Thyme

Thyme is a nutritious herb in the Lamiaceae family, a plant family that does well most seasons of the year in the kitchen garden. Thyme grows quickly and looks lovely draped over the corner of an herb garden or along the edges of a kitchen garden. The shallow roots of thyme also make it ideal for growing in containers.

If you let your thyme flower, the pretty little blooms will attract bees just when it's time for your tomatoes, cucumbers, and other fruiting plants to be pollinated.

There are actually two main varieties of thyme: creeping and upright. Creeping thyme makes great ground cover, but when we're talking about herb gardens, we'll mostly be looking at upright varieties—the kind you'll want to harvest from and enjoy in your cooking as much as possible.

Speaking of cooking, thyme will add an earthy, citrusy flavor to your meals.

It's definitely an herb worth having on hand, so without further ado, here's how to plant, grow, and harvest your own organic thyme.

thyme

Thyme all year long?

Is thyme a perennial?

Thyme, like rosemary and oregano, is a perennial herb.

Perennials are your woody herbs that either continue growing throughout the entire year in moderate climates or, in colder places, die back and then return from their roots for another year or two of growth once the weather warms.

In places with milder winters, thyme can thrive into the cool months of the year and continue its growth as an evergreen. It can even hang on in the heat of summer. That means some gardeners can have fresh thyme all year long!

Can thyme survive winter?

Thyme is a fairly hardy herb. It can survive the winter in many places, even brief periods of frost, but will halt its growth. In a colder climate, thyme will die back during the winter and then send up new growth in the spring.

If you want to be able to continue harvesting from thyme over winter in a colder climate, consider moving your herb indoors. If you have a sunny window sill, preferably one that's south-facing, you can pot up thyme and keep it inside over winter. I've had a lot of success transitioning thyme indoors each year. While it doesn't produce as many leaves as it does outside, it continues growing moderately until I can move it back outdoors in the spring. Read more on how to overwinter herbs indoors.

reasons to grow your own herbs

Time to grow some thyme

Thyme Growing Conditions

Your main goal is to re-create an environment that feels like home to thyme, but unless you live in the Mediterranean region, thyme is not native to your area. It's up to you to provide it with its ideal growing conditions.

The best thyme to grow... I mean time to grow thyme is during the longest and warmest days of the year (75°F and above). That being said, thyme is cold hardy.

It's also drought tolerant once it's established in your garden (think of those dry Mediterranean hillsides). It's more likely that a beginner gardener will kill thyme through overly enthusiastic watering than under-watering.

Can thyme grow in shade?

Though thyme loves the sun, it will continue to grow in part sun. You'll see the most leaf production if you give this herb four to eight hours of sunlight per day.

herbs plants

Planting Thyme

Thyme seedlings are slow to grow, which is why we recommend planting thyme from a cutting or a mature plant purchased from the store.

Many herbs, thyme included, are easy to propagate. I call this herb magic. Take a few cuttings from a mature plant, remove the lower leaves, and place the stems in a small glass of fresh water in a sunny windowsill while you wait for roots to form. Transfer to a pot once you see several inches of roots.

Thyme is also easily divided, so if you know someone with a mature thyme plant, you could also ask them for permission to divide their herb in spring or early fall. (We're all about free plants over here!) Pull the plant's root ball from the soil and use a hori hori or a sharp spade to divide it into two. Replant the first half and take the second to transplant into your garden. Water thoroughly after transplanting while the plant recovers from its operation.

If you want to be able to enjoy thyme in your garden immediately, consider buying a mature plant from a nursery or a local grower. As always, avoid buying herbs from big box stores. Most of them will have traveled quite a distance before reaching the store and have most likely been treated with fungicide or synthetic fertilizers so they look great when you see them at the store. In my experience, the more local the nursery you buy your herb plants from, the better.

While buying mature plants is more expensive than cheap seeds or free cuttings, thyme should hopefully last a while in your garden and more than make up for your investment.

UNLOCK 43 VIDEO LESSONS TO GROW YOUR OWN HERBS

Learn the step by step to building, planting, and growing your own delicious herb garden for a year-found supply of herbs. Your Gardenary 365 membership includes access to the Herb Garden Guide, plus our entire content library.

How to Grow Thyme

I've found the most success with growing thyme in a raised garden or container, rather than in the ground. This is mostly because I've usually gardened in areas with clay soil, which thyme does not like. A raised garden filled with soil that drains quickly feels a lot more like home to your herb.

To grow thyme, pick a planter, pot, or container that's at least 6 inches deep. I also recommend picking something at least a foot wide so that you can grow some of thyme's cousins or several different types of thyme in one container. I like to have English thyme, French thyme, and lemon thyme on hand.

Learn more about setting up an herb garden.

When selecting your container, choose natural materials. My favorites are cedar, steel, and terra cotta clay. Here are three options for easy herb garden planters on Amazon. If you're shopping around on your own, look for words like "food grade" and "untreated" to ensure you're using the most natural of materials for your organic thyme plants.

If your container doesn't already have good drainage holes in the bottom, make sure to add some with a drill so that your thyme doesn't have to sit in extra water.

Before filling your container with well-draining soil, put a landscape cloth or weed barrier cloth inside the bottom of the container to keep the soil from leaving the container every time you water.

I also recommend adding 2 to 3 inches of compost to the top of your container. I really like the organic mushroom compost from Espoma.

thyme growing in container

Master the art of growing your own organic herb garden

Based on Gardenary's introductory gardening online course, Herb Garden Guide, this comprehensive guidebook will lead you through the step by step so that you know exactly how to grow all the culinary herbs you love right in your very own space. 

Become that person who passes right by all the expensive and packaged herbs at the grocery store and learn to grow your own instead. You'll learn every step of the process inside this ebook. 

Thyme Plant Care

Thyme is easy to grow and keep alive throughout the year. This little Mediterranean herb is drought tolerant and loves sun.

You'll find overall that herbs are incredibly easy to master compared to other plants you might grow in the garden. That's why we typically recommend that new gardeners start with herbs, then salad greens, before they ever move onto more needy and space-hogging plants like tomatoes and eggplants.

How to fertilize thyme

Herbs grown in soil rich in organic matter don't require much else to keep them happy and healthy. If you want to boost your thyme plant's leaf growth, add a fertilizer high in nitrogen.

How often to water thyme

Thyme prefers well-draining soil and hates to be overwatered. It's best to water your herb consistently but let the soil dry out a bit between watering. Stick your finger into the soil before watering and check the soil an inch or two below the surface. If it's still wet, don't water just yet.

I recommend growing your thyme near other woody herbs, like rosemary, oregano, marjoram, lavender, and sage, which also like their soil to stay on the dry side.

herbs

How to harvest thyme

Thyme can and should be harvested often once your plant is established in its new home. It's important to regularly prune the outer and lower leaves of your herbs to encourage more leaf production (and to have delicious leaves to take indoors and eat). Harvesting often also helps prevent pest pressure and deters disease. It's a win all around.

When harvesting, use a clean pair of pruners to cut from the outermost branches of a mature plant (one that's about 4 to 5 inches in diameter), almost to the base of the plant. This will encourage your plant to branch out. You could also pinch the plant right above a leaf node to encourage the plant to form two branches from just one stem.

Follow the golden rule of harvesting and never cut more than a third of a plant at a time. Give your herb time to bounce back so that you can return for more harvests in the future. During winter, if your thyme hasn't died back, then you can continue harvesting as long as you take only a modest amount.

This simple harvesting method will tell your plant to produce lots of lovely, lush leaves for you to eat all year long.

UNLOCK 43 VIDEO LESSONS TO GROW YOUR OWN HERBS

Learn the step by step to building, planting, and growing your own delicious herb garden for a year-found supply of herbs. Your Gardenary 365 membership includes access to the Herb Garden Guide, plus our entire content library.

What to do with garden-fresh thyme

Using Thyme Fresh or Dried

My favorite way to use herbs is fresh from the garden. I like to dash out to the garden to harvest herbs as needed, but you can also store thyme in a small glass filled with fresh water or in the fridge until you're ready to use it.

To dry thyme for future use, tie some sprigs of thyme together and hang your little herb bouquet upside down to dry somewhere indoors that does not receive direct sunlight. Make sure there's no moisture left before you remove the dried leaves from the stems and store them in a jar.

Whether you're enjoying your thyme fresh or dried, you'll find the flavor is so much better than the store-bought kind.

Recipes for Thyme

My favorite use for thyme is on this easy herb garden flatbread—mostly because it's something covered in green that my kids will actually eat.

You could also crumble thyme and make your very own bouquet garni or another spice blend. I like to season roasted vegetables from my kitchen garden with thyme and a little salt and pepper

When someone has a sore throat, I brew thyme leaves with lemon and honey for a soothing tea.

take the Green Thumb Quiz

Based on your results, we'll send you resources to help you set up your own growing space and grow your self as a gardener.

This is one of our favorite low-maintenance herbs to grow in the herb garden. Not only are the leaves so dainty and beautiful, they'll add a citrusy punch to your meals and get you hooked on bringing fresh greens in from the garden to enjoy in your kitchen.

How to Grow and Harvest Your Own Organic Thyme