If you want a fully-stocked kitchen garden, you can’t forget to include the essential perennial herb – thyme. This article shares what you need to know about growing, harvesting, and using thyme. Discover how to successfully grow thyme in Arizona and beyond, as it thrives in nearly every zone. Keep reading to become a thyme-growing expert.
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5 Tips for How to Grow Thyme
1. Plant different varieties of thyme in your garden
Thyme comes in a variety of shapes, sizes, and flavors, so it’s easy to find one that will fit into whatever space you have available. Plant thyme near vegetables as it is thought to help improve the growth and flavor of vegetables. Put thyme among pathways as their fragrant smell will give your walkways an inviting scent when you pass them. Finally, use thyme along the edges of your garden, as its low-growing nature will keep intruders out and create a beautiful border.
- Common thyme – Classic culinary thyme; grows about 16 inches (40 cm) tall; white or purple flowers.
- Provencal thyme – Small leaves with strong aroma; about 12 inches (30 cm) tall; white or purple flowers.
- English thyme – Soft mounded form; milder aroma; purple flowers.
- Creeping thyme – Bright green leaves; mild scent; does well in containers; 4-6 inches (10-15 cm) tall; white or purple flowers.
- Golden thyme – Gold leaves, about 6 inches (15 cm) tall; purple flowers.
- Lemon thyme – Strong citrus aroma; about 12 inches (30 cm) tall; excellent for cooking.
2. Plant thyme at the right time
Start sowing the seeds indoors 8-10 weeks before your planting date. Fill a seedbed or pots with a good seed-starting potting mix. Lightly press thyme seeds into the moist growing medium and barely cover them with soil.
The optimal soil temperature for seed germination is around 70°F (21°C). If you’re starting indoors, place the seeds in a warm spot or use a heat mat to maintain this temperature.
When purchasing transplants, choose sturdy well-branched plants with growth spilling over the pot. Avoid tall and gangly plants. Don’t buy transplants with brown leaves or dry spots.
After the risk of frost has passed and when soil temperatures have warmed up, transplant your thyme seedlings outdoors. This is usually 2-3 weeks before the last expected spring frost.
Space the plants about 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 cm) apart in all directions.
- PLANTING GUIDE: Each month lists vegetables, fruit & herbs to plant outside & seeds to start indoors.
- HARVEST GUIDE: Photos show what may be ready to harvest that month.
- Planting dates are for the low desert of Arizona (zone 9b).
3. Care for thyme correctly
Sunlight: Thyme grows best in warm, sunny areas. At least 6 hours of direct sunlight each day is ideal.
Soil: Thyme thrives in well-drained soil. If soil is heavy clay or drains poorly, consider growing thyme in raised beds or containers with a quality potting mix.
Watering: Water deeply only when the soil is completely dry. If you’re growing thyme in containers, water whenever the top inch of the soil feels dry to the touch.
Thyme is drought-tolerant once established, and too much moisture can lead to root rot. If thyme becomes wilted with yellow stems, it probably suffers from root rot caused by overwatering or poor drainage. Remove and dispose of affected plants. Planting thyme in raised beds can help with this issue.
Fertilizing: Thyme doesn’t require much fertilization. However, if your soil is poor, you can feed your plants in the spring with an organic fertilizer or enrich the soil with compost. Avoid over-fertilizing, as it can lead to excessive leaf growth at the expense of the essential oils that give thyme its flavor and aroma.
Mulching: Mulch can help conserve moisture, suppress weeds, and regulate soil temperature. However, because thyme prefers dry conditions, it’s best to use a light, breathable mulch like straw or wood chips. Avoid thick layers of mulch that can retain too much moisture.
Pruning: Cut back thyme regularly throughout the growing season to discourage flowering and encourage new growth. You can also allow thyme to flower to attract beneficial insects and pollinators. As the weather cools, allow thyme to go dormant, and do not cut it back. Mulch well with compost to provide cold protection.
Prune back dead thyme stems in spring. New growth should appear in late spring. Thyme can also be divided in late spring. Replace plants every few years for the most flavor.
4. Harvest thyme often
You can start harvesting thyme once the plants are well-established and have begun to grow vigorously. This usually takes about 6 to 8 weeks from transplanting.
To harvest, simply snip off the top leafy portions of the stems, leaving behind the woody parts.
Harvest thyme just before flowers open for the best flavor. Thyme flowers are edible but have a milder flavor than the leaves.
5. Use thyme fresh or preserve for later
I really enjoy using thyme as a herb in my cooking. It adds a delicious flavor to soups, roasts, potatoes, vegetables, and other savory dishes. Luckily, thyme thrives most of the year in the low desert of Arizona. Whenever I need some fresh thyme, I just head out to the garden to pick a few stalks.
Thyme has the most flavor when used fresh. Fresh thyme can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Alternatively, you can also dry or freeze the leaves for longer storage.
Get my favorite recipe for garden fresh vegetable stock in this post.
This post shares how to freeze-dry herbs for maximum flavor and freshness.
Tips for how to grow thyme in Arizona
- Thyme appreciates afternoon shade during the warmest months of the year in hot climates like Arizona.
- Plant thyme from October to April in the low desert of Arizona. Thyme does well when planted in all but the hottest months of the year.
- When temperatures warm in the spring, give thyme a good pruning to encourage new growth. Likewise, give thyme a trim once temperatures drop after the summer heat.
- Harvest thyme often to discourage blooming.