The creeping thyme is a woody, perennial species of the Thymus that acts as an excellent ground cover for sunny areas of the garden. Creeping thyme might not be edible like its cousin, but it does produce a pleasant herbal fragrance that’s similar to the thyme you use in cooking.
The thymus family encompasses a broad group of plants and herbs, all of which thrive in moderate climates. This perennial grows to a low height and then spreads out with its vine-like growing habits. The creeping thyme has foliage with a fine texture, and they spread out across the ground, producing flowers with different shades of color, depending on the type.
The vines begin to flower in the later springtime to early summer. Creeping lemon thyme, caraway thyme, and spicy orange thyme produce pink flowers, and the plant remains short, reaching a height of 4-inches. Both pink and red creeping thyme also stay short, reaching heights of 4-inches or less. Wooly thyme can grow up to 6-inches in height, but it’s a slow developer and spreads slowly.
Creeping Thyme Varieties
Thyme is an indigenous plant to parts of Eurasia. However, the popularity of this plant means that it now grows in gardens all around the world. North American gardens offer ideal growing conditions for creeping thyme, with pollinators and butterflies finding the plants attractive.
Honey produced by bees feeding on creeping thyme plants near Mount Hymettus, Athens, yields a pleasant herbal and sweet flavor.
English thyme is the most popular variety of the herb, and it’s also known as garden or common thyme. It’s this variety that you use to season food.
Other varieties of creeping thyme include the following.
- White creeping thyme (Thymus paocos ‘Albiflorus’)
- Spicy orange creeping thyme (Thymus ‘Spicy Orange’)
- Red creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum ‘Coccineus’)
- Caraway thyme (Thymus Herba-Barona)
- Wooly thyme (Thymus pseudolanuginosus)
- Archer’s Gold thyme (Thymus citriodorus Archers Gold)
Creeping Thyme for Landscaping
Creeping thyme has many uses, but it’s the best choice for groundcover for your flowerbeds. Using creeping thyme as groundcover chokes the life out of invasive weeds, keeping your flowerbeds free from weed growth.
Planting creeping thyme in your garden allows you to enjoy the sweet fragrance of the plant when it starts to flower.
Of course, there is the culinary use of the herb, but we suggest you stick with English creeping thyme if you want to use it for flavor in cooking your recipes. Creeping thyme also has a use as folk medicine, where it reduces inflammation and calms the nervous system.
The short and stocky nature of creeping thyme makes it the ideal choice for adequate ground cover, and some gardeners may even use creeping thyme as an alternative to grass in the yard.
However, the majority of gardeners use creeping thyme to fill in the gaps between stepping stones in pathways, or empty spaces in the yard. It’s important to note that caraway thyme may proliferate, suiting landscaping purposes where the garden requires broad coverage.
Wooly thyme is an excellent choice for tight spaces in the yard that need some ground cover. This slow-growing variety won’t engulf your stepping stones in the same manner as fast-growing varieties.
Planting white and red creeping thyme produces a spectacular visual display in the garden when they start to bloom.
For those gardeners with a scent garden, creeping thyme adds a delicious fragrance and aroma to the garden as it starts to flower. Use the creeping thyme as a border around flowerbeds, or as ground cover around tall perennials and shrubs.
When the plants are flowering, all they need is a light brush against them to release a powerful and pleasing fragrance into the air.
Cooking with Thyme
Thyme is a popular herb used in cooking. The aromatic herb brings flavor and fragrance to meals like soups and stews, and it’s a favorite additive in some olive oil blends as well. If you intend on growing creeping thyme to meet your culinary needs, then it’s important to note that both fresh and dried thyme has plenty of uses in recipes.
If you plan on drying your thyme leaves, then wait until the plant finishes flowering in the early fall. Harvest the new growth after the blooming period ends, and make sure you do it in the early morning to retain the full flavor and fragrance of the leaves. It’s essential to wait until any dew evaporates from the leaves before you harvest.
After harvesting the springs, bunch them together and hang them in a cool, dry place in your home, such as the attic. After the sprigs dry out completely, store the leaves in an air-tight container, preferably in the fridge. Fresh herbs lose their flavor and aroma after a few months, so make sure you use it within this time frame.
Tips for Growing Creeping Thyme
Caraway thyme, creeping lemon thyme, and spicy orange thyme, suit gardens, and growing environments in USDA zones 5 to 9. White and red thyme suit zones 4 to 9. Wooly thyme prefers USDA zones 6 to 8.
Creeping thyme grows best in soil with an alkaline balance, and it’s essential to plant your creeping thyme in an area of the garden where the ground gets good drainage. Similar to other herbs, creeping thyme doesn’t require a nutrient-dense soil. The perennial grows readily in the full sunlight, or in areas of the garden that receive afternoon shade.
Over time, your creeping thyme will develop woody stems.
If these woody stems start to dominate the plant, then it’s best to remove the plants and replace them with a new variety, pruning back the plant stimulates growth.
Pests and Problems
Surprisingly, thyme is resistant to most pests and diseases affecting other flowers, vegetables, and herbs in the garden.
However, gardeners must ensure they plant the creeping thyme in soil with good drainage. Leaving the roots of the plant damp all the time results in the onset of “wet feet,” and the start of root rot in the plant.
Planting Creeping Thyme
As mentioned previously, creeping thyme doesn’t require much attention while growing. Since the plant is reasonably compatible with most growing conditions, it doesn’t require excessive monitoring and watering like other perennials.
The creeping thyme does well in any soil type, but for optimal growth, plant it in nutrient-dense, loamy soil that drains well. Check the ground using a pH meter before you plant; the soil should have a slightly higher alkaline content.
It’s possible for gardeners to propagate creeping thyme using cuttings from the stem of the plant. If you’re looking for a new plant, then you can find them available at most nurseries or garden centers.
Gardeners should take cuttings from the plant in the early summer. If you’re growing the seeds, then start them indoors in the early springtime. As the seeds sprout, you can sow them in the garden during the spring after the lasts frosts fall. Check your local listings for details on frost dates in your area.
Gardeners should plant their creeping thyme at least 8 to 12-inches apart to accommodate the spreading of the plant. Prune back the vines in the early spring to prepare the plant for the growing season ahead. Prune again after the flowers die back.
Varieties of Creeping Thyme
Creeping thyme comes in a wide selection of varieties, each with unique characteristics and colors. Here are a few of the favorite types found in gardens across the United States.
- Pink Chintz – As a variety related to the genus thymus sepyllum, the pink chintz creeping thyme features dark-green, fuzzy leaves with pink flowers in light and dark hues. This creeping thyme spreads quickly and can reach diameters of up to 24-inches.
- Red Creeping Thyme – This variety of creeping thyme also goes by the moniker, “coccineus.” This variety of creeping thyme bursts into bloom with magnificent magenta flowers. This variety covers ground quickly, growing to 18-inches in diameter. The red creeping thyme produces small but pretty flowers that produce the typical thyme scent.
- Purple Carpet – This variety is the most popular type of creeping thyme found all over the world. The purple carpet grows at a low height, creating a purple carpet of flowers that gardeners can walk on without damaging the plant. This variety spreads out to 18-inches in diameter.
- Spicy Orange – This variety of creeping thyme produces pink clusters of flowers and needle-shaped foliage. This type does not provide the same groundcover effect as the purple carpet or other variations. It’s one of the smaller varieties, only spreading to a diameter of 10 to 12-inches.
- Wooly Thyme – This variety features silver-green foliage that takes the shape of a spiral. This variety is very drought-resistant, and the leaves are the focal point of the plant, although it does produce small purple and pink flowers in the summertime. This variety prefers colder climates.
- Doone Valley – Featuring light pink to purple flowers and dark-green foliage, the Doone Valley creeping thyme shows gold tips at the end of the leaves in colder climates.