Are you thinking about growing herbs in your garden this season? Why not give the Lemon Thyme a try? This aromatic herb is a great addition to any garden, bridging the gap between a useful herb and an attractive flower-bearing shrub.
The lemon thyme produces cheery chartreuse-touched foliage, producing a delicious and delicate aroma of citrus scents.
The lemon thyme is a flavorful aromatic frequently used in cooking. It’s a great addition to seafood and poultry dishes, bringing out the flavor in the food.
Whether you’re planting in the veggie garden or the flowerbed, lemon thyme is a magical plant to behold when it starts flowering. The lemon thyme shoots a whorl of pink-lavender flowers, attracting beneficial insects like ladybugs while enticing pollinators to your yard with its enticing fragrance.
The natural citrus aroma of the lemon thyme acts as a deterrent against deer and rabbits, making it ideal for companion planting in your veggie garden. Like others in the thyme genus, Thymus citriodorus needs full sunlight during the day, and it’s a drought-resistant plant, growing well in well-draining soils.
Reaching a size of six to 12-inches in height by up to 18-inches in width, it’s a short-statured plant, and it works well as a ground cover, even allowing the occasional foot to step on it without any damage. The lemon thyme works well as a border plant and attractive addition to the sides of walkways and paths around the home.
This post gives you everything you need to know about growing lemon thyme at home this season.
The History of Lemon Thyme
The lemon thyme (T. citriodorus) is a hardy, fragrant, perennial herb. It does well outdoors, with ideal growing conditions in USDA zones 5 through 9. Recent scientific research on lemon thyme shows it’s an independent species, and it’s not actually a part of the Thymus genus.
However, medicinal healers and chefs regard lemon thyme as a special plant. The polyphenol antioxidants in the herb have several health benefits, making it an excellent addition to cooking. The leaves add some amazing flavor to salads, soups, and sautés, and it tastes fantastic whether you’re using the fresh or dried leaves of the plant.
The lemony fragrance has a sharp tinge, and it’s also a popular addition to skincare products and perfume. Lemon thyme essential oil is also a popular choice in aromatherapy, and it’s also useful as a homemade insect repellant.
Growing Your Lemon Thyme from Seed
Growing lemon thyme from seeds is challenging, and many gardeners prefer the route of using cuttings or divisions to propagate their plants.
However, it’s possible to grow lemon thyme from seed if you have a green thumb. Start by sowing your seeds directly into the flower bed in the early springtime. Wait until the last frosts fall in your area, as the frost will kill any germinating seeds.
Place the seeds just under the soil’s surface and keep the soil moist at all times to allow for germination. Don’t overwater, or you risk drowning the seeds.
Growing Your Lemon Thyme from Cuttings
Take stem cuttings from your lemon thyme in the early springtime after new growth emerges on the plant. Cut around a three to four-inch stem length, removing all the foliage from the lower half of the cutting.
Prepare a growing container with well-draining potting soil, and place the cutting into the ground at around a 2-inch depth. Some gardeners prefer to use rooting hormone on the cutting to spur new root growth, but it’s not necessary.
Soak the soil after positioning the cutting, and maintain even moisture in the soil for the next two weeks. Don’t overwater after the first soaking. Covering the cutting with a small dome helps to speed up the process.
After two weeks, the cutting should have new roots shooting from the stem. Transplant it out to your desired location in your flowerbed or veggie garden.
Caring for Your Lemon Thyme
When planting out your lemon thyme, locate a spot in your flowerbed or veggie patch that has more than five hours of sunlight per day.
Ensure that the planting area has plenty of sunlight, at least five hours a day. Lemon thyme enjoys the full sunlight during the peak hours of the day and shady conditions in the afternoon to help it recover.
When it comes to soil, choosing nutrient-rich substrates helps accelerate the plant’s growth and flowering. However, lemon thyme is resilient, and it’s easy to grow in all soil conditions, even sandy soils and rocky terrain.
In the first two to three weeks after planting, water your lemon thyme thoroughly twice a week. After the plant establishes in the garden, you can back off the watering down to once a week, then once every other week after about two months.
Lemon thyme also does well in containers. Pick a pot that’s around six to 12-inches in diameter, and ensure it has drainage holes in the bottom. Fill the bottom with an inch-thick layer of desiccated granite to enhance the drainage.
Add a potting mix and amend it with some sand and perlite to improve drainage and airflow to the roots. Potted lemon thyme requires more watering than leaving it in the flowerbed. Watering twice a week throughout the season gives the plant everything it needs to thrive.
Avoid overwatering your lemon thyme. Overwatering can waterlog the soil, leading to the development of root rot in your plant. Root rot chokes the life out of your lemon thyme, and the plant eventually dies from its inability to absorb nutrition from the soil.
“Deadhead” the plant by removing the old flowers after your lemon thyme finishes its blooming cycle.
This strategy gives you a second round of flowers from your lemon thyme towards the end of the growing season.
If you’re growing lemon thyme in USDA growing zones four to six, apply some mulch at the base of the plant to protect the roots against the cold winter temperatures. Lemon thyme is a hardy and resilient plant. It might lose some foliage during the winter, but it bounces back in the spring.
After a few seasons, the lemon thyme starts to develop a bark-like stem. The stem continues to take a woody appearance with each passing season. After a few years, you can divide the plant to create new plants or prune them seasonally to encourage new growth.
When transplanting a division, you can place it straight into the ground, cover it with compost and soil amendments, and press down on the soil to remove air pockets. Water deeply and keep watering twice a week until the plant establishes itself.
Managing Disease and Pests
Lemon thyme is one of the most disease and pest-resistant plants in the garden. It scares off all types of other pests that love feasting on your vegetables and flowers. The natural lemon scent deters most pests, as well as deer and rabbits.
However, you might have minor issues with pests and spider mites, but this typically occurs in over-watered conditions. If you do experience pests, dilute some neem oil and spray it on the plant for a natural insecticide.
Aphids are also easy to rid from the plant using a quick jet of water from the garden hose. Don’t leave them on the plant as they suck the juices from the leaves, and they also spread disease on the plant through saliva.
You’ll find aphids under the leaves, with key giveaways of the pest being color disfiguration, leaf curling, and brittle leaves.
The spider mite infestation is also easy to treat and easy to identify. The mites leave tiny web-like structures between the leaves of the plant. Fortunately, they are also easy to remove using the hose method or using neem oil treatments.
Fungal diseases can be an issue for lemon thyme. Botrytis rot (Botrytis cinerea) causes fungal damage and infestation to the plant. Typically, this disease spreads during humid, warm conditions. Make sure the plant has plenty of air circulation around the branches to avoid fungal problems.
Mulching at the base of the plant also helps with retaining moisture in the soil and deterring pests, mold, and fungi.
Harvesting Your Lemon Thyme
After a successful growing season, it’s time to harvest some of your lemon thyme for use in the kitchen. You can harvest your lemon thyme at any time of the day, but first thing in the morning after the dew settles is the best option for heightened aroma and flavor in the leaves.
However, nothing stopping you from walking out into the garden and picking a few fresh leaves right off the plant whenever you need them.
Supposedly, gardeners think that the best time for harvesting your lemon thyme is directly after the flowers finish opening.
At this stage, the leaves are at their sweetest and most aromatic. Harvest your lemon thyme by snipping away the leaves a few inches down the stem. Make sure you clip above a new node to spur growth in the plant.