Thyme: A Portrait of a Perennial Herb

©2007 Thyme has small attractive flowers and fragrant leaves. See more pictures of perennial flowers.

Thyme is usually relegated to the herb garden but its low-growing, creeping habit makes it a natural for edging and planting in between stepping stones in a sunny perennial garden. There are hundreds of species -- some are best left to culinary use because they get tall and rangy, and others are compact and good in ornamental gardens. It is important to get the right species for use in a perennial garden.

Description of thyme: Stems are either trailing or upright with small, elliptic leaves that are very fragrant. Many species are evergreen. Pink or lavender flowers occur on short, dense spikes. The flowers are very attractive to honeybees.


Growing thyme: All species need full sun and good drainage. Plants will rot in soil that stays wet for long periods. Thyme grows very well all summer in northern gardens where the climate is not as hot and humid as in the South. If plants melt out due to high heat and humidity, cut them back and new growth will emerge. Plants will be fuller and more vigorous if they are pruned back frequently up until August. (Pruning after this may result in tissue that is not hardy enough to survive the first hard freeze.) Do not cut plants back during fall or winter garden cleanup -- wait until new growth emerges in spring.

Propagating thyme: By seed, division, or stem cuttings.

Uses for thyme: Perennial thyme can be used as an edging plant, between stepping stones, in pockets in stone walls, and in containers.

Thyme related species and varieties: Thymus x citriodorus, lemon thyme, smells like lemons and grows 9 to 12 inches tall. Look for the pretty variegated forms. T. herbabarona, caraway thyme, smells like caraway and is a robust plant that grows 2 to 5 inches tall. Thymus praecox, mother-of-thyme, is the traditional dark green ground cover that grows 4 inches tall. T. pseudolanuginosus, woolly thyme, has minute, woolly silver leaves and stays low to the ground. T. serphyllum, wild thyme, grows 4 to 6 inches tall and is used extensively as a ground cover. 'Coccineus' bears tiny rose-colored flowers and forms a dense mat.

©2007 Different varieties of thyme have slightly different appearances.

Scientific name for thyme: Thymus species


Want more gardening information? Try:

  • Perennial Flowers: Find out more about how to grow and care for perennial flowers, which come in all thinkable shapes, sizes and colors.
  • Perennials: Read more about the many species of flowers, evergreens, and herbs that return year after year to the diligent gardener.
  • Herb Gardens: Learn more about this prominent feature of gardening culture.
  • Gardening: Read our helpful articles and get tips and ideas for your garden.