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Ground Cover Thymes

Ground Cover Thymes in a mosaic pattern

Ground Cover Thymes are a great way to keep the ground cool and conserve moisture. Once they are established, these thymes also help to keep the weeds from sprouting.

In the photo above five thymes are growing in a mosaic. Pink Lemonade Thyme is the bright green thyme that has the shadow of the tree on it. It flows into the silvery Woolly Thyme near the boundary board which separates this garden from the lawn. The tall flowering, blooming Caraway Thyme is in the foreground to the right of the Woolly Thyme. In the back Heretus Thyme is also in full bloom. If you look closely you can see a bluer thyme in between the two flowering ones. This is the tiny Elfin Thyme. It is being threatened by the fast growing Pink Lemonade Thyme which will probably take over both the Elfin and the Woolly in a year.

Lemon Frost Thyme in Flower

Soft and low Heretus Creeping Thyme

White Flowering
 Lemon Frost Thyme

Rare Heretus Thyme

Coconut Thyme in Flower

Vibrant green White Moss Thyme

Dark Pink Flowering 
Coconut Thyme

Tiny White Flowering 
White Moss Thyme

Thymes are a blessing and a curse. A blessing because there are so many different kinds and a curse because there are so many different kinds. 

Culinary Thymes are pretty easy. There aren't too many and their names are fairly descriptive, like Lemon Thyme.

It is the Ground Cover Thymes that tend to confuse. Most folks want to use the Ground Cover Thymes to cover the ground. Not much of a surprise there. But, different folks have different amounts of ground to cover. It is important to know the difference between a ground cover thyme that is appropriate for a two inch space and one that is appropriate for a two foot space.  Large Thymes stuffed into a small space will disappoint with time. They will cover up stepping stones, spreading their stems onto paving that will not support growth, leaving behind a stub where the ground cover was suppose to be.

How they grow

Just like all plants, Thyme spreads by growing from one set of leaves to the next. In between the leaves is a stem segment. This little fact is what determines how fast a thyme will grow and ultimately how wide the spread is. It takes more energy and time to produce a set of leaves than to project a stem segment.

Creeping Pink Thyme Stem Segment

Therefore, a plant like this Creeping Pink Thyme with almost an inch of stem between its sets of leaves grows much more quickly than say a Pink Chintz Thyme or a Woolly Thyme whose leaves are very close together. This increased stem segment also provides a rooting zone for the thyme to creep and root along on. As long as the ground is moist where that stem segment hits it,  the plant will root and continue to creep. 

Unfortunately, Thyme is very shallow rooted and dies easily if left drying in the hot summer sun. This is especially true when first transplanted. It should remain moist but not soggy for best growth.

When plants first go into the ground, the ground around them actually wicks water away from the plant. So, it is necessary to keep the root balls moist until the roots become symbiotic with the soil around them. Mulching when first planted helps to retain moisture and get the plants off to a successful start.

Normally, Thymes don't require fertilizer or pruning, especially if your are practicing good organic gardening principles, like the mulching mentioned above. 

Thymes can take partial shade or full sun and most are hardy to about Zone 5. The Thymus praecox arcticus  varieties are reported by Jo Ann Gardner in her book Herbs in Bloom to be hardy in Zone 4. 

Most Ground Cover Thymes, but not all, bloom for about three to four weeks between mid spring and mid summer. A really nice combination is Caraway Thyme, which blooms early, and Coconut Thyme, which blooms when the Caraway Thyme is finished.  Just don't plant these too close to each other or you will end up with all Caraway Thyme. Plant in drifts or sections of all the same plant. If there is a front put the lower growing Coconut Thyme ( or any of our other ground cover thymes) there. Caraway is the earliest so almost any other ground cover thyme can be planted for a later bloom.

Which ones to choose?

Obviously if they bloom for only a short period of time it is unwise to get too caught up in the color or length of bloom of a certain thyme. Most thyme flowers range in color from white to dark pink. Some like Woolly Thyme, do not bloom at all and make a good choice if bees are to be avoided. It is better to consider the leaves and the colors they provide, and, of course, how big the thyme gets. 

Slower growing thymes for in between stepping stones include Elfin Thyme, Pink Chintz Thyme, Mint Thyme, Woolly Thyme, White Moss Thyme and Highland Cream Thyme.

 Elfin Thyme is the smallest and has a greenish gray leaf. It is the logical choice for those two inch spots. It also makes sense to purchase a plug tray for those small spaces. A plug tray contains 128 small plants whose root balls are about 3/4 of an inch. Just pop them in and keep them moist. Click here to learn more about plug trays.

Pink Chintz Thyme and Mint Thyme are close on the heels of Elfin with similar color and woolly texture but spreading out further.

Woolly Thyme and White Moss Thyme (sometimes called Creeping White Thyme) are also slower growing and do well between stones where space is cramped. Woolly  Thyme is the most silver leaved of all the Thymes, while White Moss is a lovely chartreuse. 

Highland Cream Thyme is our variegated stepping stone filler. Leaves of soft cream and green make this tiny thyme a must have for brightening up dark stones.

Faster growing, wider spreading thymes include Pink Lemonade Thyme, Goldtream Thyme, Creeping Pink, Caraway Thyme, Lemon Frost Thyme, Reiter's Thyme, Hall's Woolly Thyme and Coconut Thyme. However, these will mound if there is a plant or wall nearby to lean against.

Caraway Thyme has the added interest of red stems. In fact, Caraway Thyme is the only culinary Ground Cover Thyme in the bunch. Its Latin name, herba-barona, alludes to its medieval use to freshen other wise questionable barons of beef. 

Lavender Thyme, which smells great and makes a great container plant, is taller reaching between 3 and six inches. 

Doone Valley Thyme is more of a mounding thyme and can reach 10 inches. It is variegated green and gold in the spring and fall and green in summer. It has a refreshing Lemon Scent, but is not culinary. 

Thyme Plug Tray

PLUG TRAYS

These small cells of well rooted plants are ideal for planting between stepping stones. Each cell is about an inch long and 3/4 of an inch wide. There are 128 of all the same plant. 

Learn more about plug trays!

View All Our Thymes

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