How to Plant Thyme
When it comes to planting thyme, you can either start from seeds, or use a division, which is a piece of a mature thyme plant—root ball still attached—that is transplanted into your soil. Thyme seeds are prone to uneven germination, making them tricky to grow outside from scratch. However, you can start growing your thyme indoors, and then transfer the young plants outside when they’re ready:
- Jumpstart germination. Fill a planting tray with potting soil and water. Leave until the soil is moist, then drain excess water.
- Make furrows. Make shallow, quarter-inch deep planting furrows with your finger, spaced two inches apart.
- Sow the seeds. Sprinkle one or two thyme seeds per inch of row, then lightly cover with your moist soil.
- Store somewhere warm. Slide your planting tray into a plastic bag and put in a warm and sunny environment, around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The plastic bag locks in moisture and warmth, keeping the environment steady and promoting more even germination.
- Transplant carefully. Once plants have grown three to four inches (four true thyme leaves have sprouted), transfer to individual containers and place outside after the last spring frost (early spring in some zones, late spring in others).
- Do companion planting. Thyme thrives next to its great companions like strawberries, tomatoes, eggplants, and members of the cabbage family like broccoli and Brussels sprouts. Add mulch to restore balance to the soil.
How to Care for Thyme
While thyme requires little maintenance, there are a few key things to take care of to make sure your thyme can flourish:
- Optimize the soil. Once sprouted—since thyme prefers a drier environment—soil should be well-drained before planting. An ideal pH range is anywhere between 6.0 and 8.0.
- Give it full sun. Thyme needs a lot of sunlight to flourish. Make sure the spot you plant thyme in your garden is exposed to direct sunlight, and not overshadowed by taller plants.
- Water sparingly. The hardiness of thyme means it only needs to be watered once the soil is completely dry. Be sure not to overwater your thyme, and let the ground dry out adequately before watering again. If you’re planting in containers, make sure they have good drainage to keep the soil drier.
- Ensure adequate spacing. Thyme, like its other relatives in the mint family, can be aggressive growers. Give your thyme seeds enough space to spread out. Depending on which kind of thyme you’re growing, you may need to space them anywhere between six and 24 inches apart.
- Check for pests. Aphids and spider mites are two insect pests that flock to thyme. Use companion plants to bring in beneficial insects or use organic extermination methods to clear out these unwanted garden pests.
How to Harvest Thyme
Fresh thyme is ready for harvest right before its flowers open, and tastes best when gathered in the morning. You can harvest thyme in the summer, but also as late as the fall. However, cut thyme sprigs sparingly during the first season (no more than one-third) so it has protection to survive the winter’s colder temperatures. When harvesting thyme after the first year you can cut more, but leave at least five inches of growth to ensure continuous growing.
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