GROUND COVER THYMES

Ground Cover Thymes in a mosaic pattern

Ground Cover Thymes are not only beautiful and soft to walk on, they are also the perfect way to keep the ground cool and conserve moisture. Once established, ground cover thymes also help to keep weeds from sprouting.

In the photo above five ground cover thymes of varying colors, textures and heights are growing in a pleasing 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 taller flowering 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 small patch of a slightly 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 Thyme and the Woolly Thyme in a year or so.

CHOOSING THE RIGHT GROUND COVER 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 twenty foot space. 

Faster growing thymes stuffed into a small space will disappoint with time. They will cover up stepping stones, spreading their stems onto paving and may even cover them as the reach for ground around the paver.

Slower growing thymes are more appropriate for small spaces like those between flagstones.

How They Grow

Just like all plants, thyme plants spread by growing from one set of leaves to the next. In between the leaves is a stem segment. Some thymes produce sets of leaves very close together while others are spaced further apart. Stem segments grow faster without having to produce tightly knit sets of leaves.

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 greater rooting zone for the thyme allowing it to spread faster. As long as the ground is moist where that stem segment hits, the plant will root and continue to creep. 

The Big and the Small of It

Slower growing thymes for in between stepping stones and flagstones include Annie Hall, Elfin Thyme, Silver Needle 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 blooms very little which helps it to stay flat.

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.

Silver Needle Thyme has the most unique leaf structure and grows flat enough to make a good flagstone filler.

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.  This is the fastest growing ground cover thyme and can mound up to four inches on top of itself. It is lovely though cascading down a window box or hillside.

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 4 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. 

Flowers Are Fun But...

Most Ground Cover Thymes, but not all, bloom for about three to four weeks between mid spring to mid summer.  Pink Lemonade wins the "blooms the longest" award. It waves its lovely pink blooms throughout the growing season. On the other end of the bloom spectrum is Woolly Thyme which does not bloom at all. ( Don't confuse Woolly Thyme with Hall's Woolly Thyme which blooms profusely).

Obviously if most ground cover thymes bloom for only a short period of time it is may be more important to consider the different colors of the leaves. These run from very dark green, like Goldstream and Lemon Frost, to chartreuse, like White Moss Thyme.

PREPARING THE SITE

Thyme needs a sunny (about four hours a day or more), well drained spot to grow prolifically. Too little sun will result in a leggy stem instead of a stem that hugs the ground. To prepare the area it is necessary to remove all weeds and flatten the area as much as possible. Thyme will not compete with weeds and, if the ground is mounded in spots, the end result will be mounds throughout your landscape.

If soil is amended or graded in preparation, it will need to be watered several times so the soil settles. The soil should not be fluffy or the plants will "float" when they first go into the ground.

At this point it is also necessary to determine how the plants will be watered. Thyme is very shallow rooted and can dry out quickly. This is especially true when first transplanted. Thymes should remain moist but not soggy for best growth. Over head sprinklers, drip or hand watering can be used. It is important to make sure the entire area receives water so that the stems can root in moist soil.

PLANTING AND MAINTAINING GROUND COVER THYMES


Most of our Thymes come in two sizes, the 3 inch pot and the 128 plug tray. These containers should be thoroughly watered on the day of planting. The ground should also be wet, but not soggy. Remove the plant carefully from its container. Avoid pulling on the top part of the plant and instead coax the plant from the bottom of the container so the roots are not damaged.

The hole should be just deep enough to bury the plant at the same level it was buried in in its original container. Firm the plants into their hole by gently tapping down the ground around the plant. Making good root contact with the soil around it will help the Thyme to take off faster.

Keeping plants moist after planting is extremely important. If the soil around the root ball is too dry it will wick water away from the plant causing dehydration of the root zone. So, it is necessary to keep the root balls moist until the roots become symbiotic with the soil around them. Mulching the bare ground when the Thyme is first planted helps to retain moisture and get the plants off to a successful start.

Mulching also helps to keep weeds at bay. A small particle mulch requires about a three inch depth covering the bare soil around then new plants. The larger the mulch particles, the deeper the mulch should be. Avoid mulching right around the thyme. An airspace of about three inches around the plant will keep it from being composted by the mulch. In six months or less, mulches may need to reapplied as they decompose and start to show bare dirt. The idea is to keep weed seeds from getting the light they need to sprout. The photos below show how the bare ground around the Pink Lemonade Thyme, in the photo at the top of the page, was kept mulched.

Pink Lemonade Creeping Thyme

Pink Lemonade Thyme after three years

Normally, Thymes don't require fertilizer or pruning. They may be pruned away from other plants once or twice a year. Pruning too often causes plants to produce few leaves and exposes woody stems. Low mowing is not recommended but spent flower stems could be removed by a mower set at two or there inches or weed eater.

Lemon Frost Thyme in Flower

Soft and low Heretus Creeping Thyme

White Flowering
 Lemon Frost Thyme

Rare Heretus Thyme

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.  Heretus Thyme is pictured.

 

Learn more about plug trays!

View All Our Thymes

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Pink Lemonade Creeping Thyme