Ways for Growing Thyme in Pots or Containers

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I couldn’t live without thyme. Have you tried it with roasted carrots and honey? Unbelievably delicious.

Thyme is a Mediterranean herb that complements so many types of cuisine, but it’s also just plain pretty. If you want all of the benefits of this delicious herb but struggle with space or difficult soil, this article is for you.

Thyme doesn’t need much for upkeep, so it’s a great option for beginners. Bees also beloved the blooms! Thankfully for those in small spaces, its shallow roots make it a great candidate for container growing. Need some tips on growing your own? Let’s get started!

First, Pick the Right Container

All types of thyme stay pretty compact, but they can spread a bit (definitely a good thing in this matter). Depending on the variety, thyme will grow between 3-12 inches tall and 12-15 inches wide over time. Keep these considerations in mind when choosing a container:

Size

Thyme is a slow grower with shallow roots. You only need a container 6 inches deep and 12 inches in diameter to grow one nice plant. If you’d like to grow multiple varieties, plant them in a wider pot or raised bed and space them 12 inches apart. They’ll slowly grow together for a lovely thyme smorgasbord.

Drainage

Thyme naturally grows in gritty, rocky soils and needs good drainage. If your container doesn’t have drainage holes, you can drill them yourself. Terracotta pots are nice, letting roots breathe, but any container letting water flow through will work nicely. Thyme is also excellent in raised beds with oregano, rosemary, lavender, and sage. They all like the same free-draining conditions, so amend with horticultural sand or perlite if the raised bed is filled with heavy soil.

I’ve been growing my thyme in a raised bed for a few years. If you’re looking for a larger bed, check out Birdies Metal Raised Garden Beds. Unlike wood beds which can rot over time, these are made of long-lasting galvanized steel.

If you have a smaller space to work with, try this Round Short Metal Bed. It looks good, could fit several plants for a compact herb garden, and doesn’t need any special tools to put together.

Plant at the Right time

You can plant thyme starts in your garden in early spring after the peril of frost has passed. It’s cold hardy down to zone 4 but it likes to get established in the garden before exposure to chilly temps.

You can plant all the way up to early fall, provided you give your thyme at least a month of warmth before a new frost hits. Its ideal temps range from 68-86℉. If you have an unexpected cold snap just after planting, cover it with frost cloth or mulch the top with leaves.

Thyme will stay evergreen in mild climates. It will go dormant in areas with cold winters and pop back up in spring. If you’d like to harvest it all year, keep it in a portable pot and bring it indoors near a sunny window.

Choose the Right Site

When planting anything, it’s wise to keep its native habitat in mind. Thyme originates in the Mediterranean, which has a hot and dry climate. Translating this to your garden means putting your thyme in full sun for at least 6-8 hours per day.

If you only have part shade, thyme will tolerate it but responds with slower growth. Go ahead and plant it anyway- you’ll likely still get plenty to harvest and enjoy.

Give it Good Soil

Thyme isn’t finicky about soil. In fact, many gardeners plant ornamental varieties in dry areas between rocks where it spreads beautifully.

Opt for sandy soil over heavy clay, as this aids in drainage. A good potting mix amended with a layer of compost and a bit of horticultural sand or gravel will do nicely.

Choose The Right Variety

One of the best parts about thyme is its various aromatic and flavor profiles. Some are earthy, others smell like citrus, and some are grown for their colorful flowers. It comes in two main types, ornamental and culinary, though all are edible.

Here are a few different varieties I recommend trying in your garden this season:

English Thyme

Close-up of an English Thyme plant in a purple pot against a blurry background. The plant consists of vertical thin pale green stems covered with small oval dark green leaves.

Common Thyme is a flavorful variety loved for its robust taste and attractive flowers, ideal for savory dishes.

A yummy, earthy-tasting variety, also called Common Thyme. It gets about 12 inches tall and wide, with light pink to lavender flowers adored by pollinators. It has a robust flavor popular in cooked dishes, especially used with meats and roasted veggies.

German Thyme

This is the variety I use most in my garden. It’s slightly less potent than English thyme, making it more of a versatile background flavor than the star.

This variety is also very winter-hardy, withstanding temps down to -30℉. It has small pink flowers and is great as a garnish and in salads.

Lemon Thyme

I could inhale this scent for hours! Lemon thyme has a refreshing citrusy mint flavor and a dreamy aroma when crushed. It has chartreuse foliage and pink flowers. While great for cooking and making tea, it’s also popular as an ornamental.

Creeping Thyme

Creeping Thyme comprises several ornamental varieties (you can eat them too!) that look gorgeous flowing over the edges of pots. Check out Red Creeping Thyme for pretty dark pink flowers, Wooly Thyme for soft, gray-green leaves and pale rose blooms, or Elfin, with a nice mounding habit and light purple flowers.

Seed vs. Nursery-Grown Plants

Thyme can be grown from seed, but reaching maturity takes 6-12 months. If you do want to grow it from seed, start it indoors at least 8 weeks before your last frost.

Sprinkle seeds on the surface (aim for about 3 every 10 inches or so), and barely cover with soil. Seeds germinate in 12-15 days and can be thinned once they’re an inch tall.

Harden your seedlings off once the peril of frost has passed, then transplant them into the garden.

Most gardeners opt to purchase a nursery start, which can after be propagated via cuttings. This way, you can harvest it right away. Prepare the soil and plant your purchased about 12 inches from other herbs so it has room to spread.

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