Creeping Thyme Ground Cover Plant: Types, Care, and Propagation
If you are looking to add some color and depth to your garden or lawn, you can achieve that with a ground cover plant. Ground cover plants are ones that are low growing, low maintenance, and can sometimes tolerate being walked on. There are quite a few varieties of ground covers. One of the best ground cover plant options is creeping thyme, also called “Mother of Thyme,” a low growing relative of the herb thyme that is characterized by tiny oval shaped leaves and flowers. Depending on the variety, flowers can range from purple to red to white.
Why Use Ground Cover Plants?
Ground covers can be used to accent an empty area bordering a yard or property, or can be planted between stones in a pathway to add a colorful accent. They can also be used along stone walls or drops, and will “spill” over and hang down, creating the effect of a waterfall of flowers. Ground covers do well in borders around tree trunks, and can tolerate a wide range of shade or sun. They often look more attractive than grass in awkward places, and can slow weed growth in the areas they cover. Ground covers can be used even in larger container arrangements outdoors to add an interesting bottom layer.
Flagstone Path with Ground Cover
Natural Rock Garden with Creeping Thyme
Creeping Thyme in Container Gardens
Why Creeping Thyme is an Optimal Ground Cover
Creeping thyme grows relatively quickly, can tolerate foot traffic, and appears to have more flowers than foliage during its peak blooms. It covers the ground in color, and breaks up all of the green. It is perennial, returning every year and requiring considerable less maintenance than grass.
Creeping thyme does not grow very tall—only about 2 to 4 inches, maximum, so it won’t steal the show from other plants or shrubs. It has tiny, hair covered oval leaves with similarly sized flowers that grow in clumps. Although it is not often harvested, creeping thyme, like any thyme variety, is edible and can be made into teas or other herbal remedies.
This ground cover is ideal for gardeners who are worried about pests, pets, or kids traipsing through their yard. Creeping thyme is deer and rabbit resistant and holds up very well if walked on. It also attracts bees—if you’ve ever had creeping thyme you’ll see bees buzzing about it during summer mornings. Other plants in your garden can benefit from these extra bee visitors who will facilitate more pollination. Thyme of all varieties also has a nice fragrance.
Creeping thyme in general grows in USDA hardiness zones 2 through 9, although some varieties do better in warmer climates.
Garden Pests Are Deterred by Thyme
Varieties of Creeping Thyme
There are several types of creeping thyme that come in different colors and characteristics. Below are some of the most popular ones used as ground covers.
This is probably the most used creeping thyme ground cover. It is very low growing but is covered in beautiful lavender flowers during early to mid-summer. It creates a “purple carpet” that can be walked over, hence its name. Individual plants will spread to 18 inches.
A variety of the genus thymus sepyllum, pink chintz thyme is characterized by its fuzzy, dark green foliage with light to dark pink flowers. It spreads even more quickly, and can reach 24 inches in diameter.
Mediterranean Creeping Thyme
This plant produces lots of deep pink flowers in bigger clusters. It spreads up to 18 inches. It grows best in full sun, and attracts plenty of butterflies and bees.
Red Creeping Thyme
Also referred to as coccineus, this thyme can be identified by magenta covered flowers that grows flat and covers a lot of area quickly. Its flowers are very small but very prolific. It will spread up to 18 inches, but is only around 1 inch tall.
This variety looks less like a carpet of flowers than the others. It produces more needle-shaped green leaves and pink clusters of flowers that appear sporadically. It only spreads 10 to 12 inches.
Elfin creeping thyme is the slowest grower of all thyme varieties, and also stays the closest to the ground. It will rarely reach even 1 inch in height. It has gray tinted leaves with pale pink, tiny flowers. It will likely grow only 2 to 8 inches in diameter.
This variety produces dark green leaves that are tipped with a creamy white hue, and smaller lavender blooms. It will usually reach about 2 inches tall, and spread 1 to 2 feet.
Doone valley thyme have dark green leaves and light purple to pink flowers that bloom in summer. In cooler temperatures when not in bloom, this plant can be identified by its gold covered tips at the end of its leaves.
Wooly thyme has beautiful silver-green oval leaves arranged in tiny spirals. It, like most thyme varieties, is rather drought tolerant. It is more cherished for its leaves, but does produce some pink to purple flowers in summer. This one doesn’t do quite as well in climates that are hot year-round.
Plant Care and Propagation
Creeping thyme plants are available at many garden stores during the planting season. They will come as plugs, or small potted cuttings. You can also purchase creeping thyme seeds. From personal experience and from hearing from other gardeners, growing ground cover from seed does not often produce the result you are looking for, and you may be better off going with plugs instead. However, some have been able to do it successfully.
Although creeping thyme can do OK in shaded areas, it will offer the most “bang for its buck” if planted in a sunny spot. It should get at least 4 hours of direct sun a day. They do well in most balanced soil conditions. Make sure the soil is loose and free of weeds before you plant. Moisten the soil before transplanting plugs or planting seeds.
You will want to plant creeping thyme plants in the late spring or early summer—as soon as you are confident that the risk of frost has passed. Planting earlier on ensures that the plant will root sufficiently and make it until next spring. When planting creeping thyme, space plants about 18 inches to 2 feet apart in staggered rows. This gives it room to spread out nicely and eventually achieve an even, rather than a patchy, look. If planting from seeds, scatter evenly over the area and cover with a thin layer of soil.
To plant plugs, dig out a space that is exactly the size of the plug. Insert the plug, and gather the soil around it to make sure it is snug. Make sure the soil is hugging the roots of the plant nicely—this will allow the plant to take root in its new home more quickly.
If you are looking to save money on plants but don’t want to chance seeds, you can opt to buy fewer plugs and space them farther apart. They will eventually spread out and cover the area, it will just take longer.
Thyme is pretty drought tolerant, but new plants will need extra care so they do not dry out. In the early weeks, make sure plants remain moist but not too soggy. After their first year you can get away with not watering them as often, and they should still do fine as long as they receive enough rainfall.
Thyme prevents weed growth when it is established because it prevents sun from getting to the weeds beneath, but it does not compete well with weds. To avoid any competition from weed seeds, put mulch around the base of the thyme plugs, leaving a 3-inch diameter around the stem bare. Reapply mulch yearly as needed.
Using 'Pink Chintz' as a Ground Cover
Creeping Thyme Plugs
You don’t need to mow ground covers. This is the beauty of using them. After the blooming season is over, however, you might want to remove the spent flowers. You can do this by passing over the thyme gently with a weed-wacker. If you need to, you can prune thyme stems that invade the space of other plants, but avoid trimming more than once or twice a season.
You don’t need to fertilize creeping thyme. If you feel it isn’t performing as you had hoped, you can try fish fertilizer or whatever general plant fertilizer you use for the rest of your garden. If you are going to do this, apply it in early summer before growing begins.
Depending on your location, creeping thyme will either remain evergreen, or it will lose its leaves and some stems will die over the winter. You don’t need to prune the thyme, but to protect it as much as possible you can cover it with sand or gravel over the winter. Make sure the area has good drainage and some kind of cover to preserve as much of the plant as possible for the following year. If these overwintering tactics are not working, you can always consider treating your thyme as an annual plant and replanting each year.
Most creeping thyme plants are easily reproduced via division or propagation. Thyme is a carpeter, so it sends down more stems into the ground as it expands. Small chunks of it can be dug up and transplanted elsewhere, and usually will continue expanding in its new home.
Propagation is growing a plant from a cutting that roots and turns into a new plant. To propagate creeping thyme, take a cutting from a stem during the late spring or early summer when the plant is thriving. Remove the leaves from the bottom third of the stem. Have a planting tray ready with a growing medium such as seed starting mix or course sand, a poke a small hole into the medium using a Q-tip or pencil. Place the cut end of the stem in , and then insert it immediately into the growing medium. Make sure to keep the cutting moist. You may cover it with plastic to retain moisture, and then place in a sunny area. After a few weeks, you can test the cutting by pulling on it gently. If it resists, it has rooted and is ready to be hardened off and transplanted outdoors. rooting hormone powder
To harden off the cutting, place it outdoors for increasing lengths of time each day for several weeks. Then, move it to its permanent location.