The common name “creeping thyme” can refer to one of several woody-stemmed perennial species of the Thymus genus that are good ground covers for sunny areas. Although creeping thyme is a member of the mint family, it’s not as aggressive as other thymes and does’t have a strong scent. Creeping thyme ground cover can be used in rock gardens, between pavers or flagstones, along walkways, and other sunny locations where you want to fill in bare spots without a lot of maintenance.
Creeping Thyme Care
Although it’s drought tolerant, creeping thyme benefits from regular watering in the hot summer months. Cut stems back to the base in the fall after all chance of frost has passed in your area, and fertilize once in early spring before new growth begins. Over about 40 percent of the creeping thyme plant is underground in a shallow network of roots, which makes it an excellent choice for erosion control on hillsides. Creeping thymes are often used by landscapers to stabilize soils along slopes or walkways because they are tougher than grass but softer than many other ground cover options.
Creeping thyme has fragrant green leaves that turn reddish purple during colder weather and creamy yellow flowers appear throughout late spring through summer. The flowers attract bees and butterflies. Creeping thyme adapts to a variety of soils but prefers well drained areas that aren’t too wet. It does best in full sun, although tolerates some light shade.
Creeping thyme is not fully winter hardy in more northern climates and may be damaged by heavy snow or freezing temperatures. Depending on where you live, it might be attractive as an annual bedding plant or as a container planting for the summer months. In subtropical regions with mild weather year round, creeping thyme is evergreen and can even grow in boggy soil near the seashore from sea level to about 4,000 feet. The size of the creeping thyme plants will vary depending on which species you have chosen for your garden.
Thymus serphyllum, known as “creeping thyme”, grows 8 to 12 inches tall and spreads up to 18 inches. It has lavender flowers on upright stalks in summer. It can be used as a ground cover or edging along flower beds or walks, or spilling out of window boxes.
Full sun to partial shade
Well drained, dryish soil. Not fussy about pH.
Moderate. Cut back after first flowering to encourage bushier growth and more flowers. Divide every 2-3 years in spring or fall for propagation or increased vigor. Creeping thyme is shallow rooted so it’s sensitive to drought conditions but also easily pulled up if necessary
Propagate by seed or stem cuttings in spring /summer.
Pests & Diseases
Relatively pest free although aphids can be an issue on young plants occasionally, Thymus serphyllum “Aureus” has attractive gold foliage that may attract pests like mealy bugs or spider mites.
Types of Creeping Thyme
Common thyme, Thymus vulgaris , is a small herb with a strong scent and grayish green leaves. It’s an ornamental ground cover for short distances along walls or in rock gardens, but not usually as a lawn substitute because the flower stalks tend to sprawl. It grows 8-12″ tall and has lavender flowers on upright stems in summer. Common thyme tolerates full sun to partial shade and well drained soil.
Creeping thyme (Thymus praecox arcticus) is not really creeping at all, but forms more of a flat mat that spreads slowly by tiny root runners visible beneath the surface of the soil. Creeping thyme needs little maintenance and it does best in full sun to partial shade. It tolerates a wide range of soil conditions, but prefers well draining areas with dryish soil and not too wet. Creeping thyme is the most drought tolerant thyme and if it’s planted between flagstones or pavers, creeping thyme can stay there for years with little maintenance except for regular weeding around the area where new plants emerge each year.
Common thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is a small herb with a strong scent and grayish green leaves that grow opposing on short stems along the main stem branches. Common thymes are grown as ornamental ground cover in rock gardens or near rocks on vertical surfaces, although they aren’t usually used as replacements for lawns because their flower stalks tend to sprawl.
Creeping thyme is cut back after the first flowering to encourage more flowers and a bushier growth habit. It’s best not to prune during hot summer months, but wait until the plant begins growing again in late autumn. If thyme gets a little scraggly looking in spring, give it a hard trim down to encourage new growth. Propagate by seed or stem cuttings in early summer /autumn
Common Thymes spreads by runners and can be aggressive if allowed so they are often used as ground cover plants between flagstones or pavers where their low profile is an advantage. In colder climates, common thymes will die back to the ground level during winter and regrow their roots when temperatures begin rising in spring or early summer.
Thymus vulgaris ‘Coccineus’ is a pink-flowered version that blooms in late spring and sporadically through the summer. Unlike many cultivars, it prefers full sun and is quite drought tolerant once established.’
How to Grow Creeping Thyme From Seed
Not much to it. Sow about ¼” seed depth and keep evenly moist until germination which takes 10-14 days at 65°F. Transplant directly to garden about 8 weeks after sowing or grow in pots and transplant when large enough to handle. Clip back flower stalks as they appear after the first flowering to encourage a heavier second bloom if desired. Creeping thymes tend to be fairly slow growers but once established, flowers for several months each year and spreads slowly by runners beneath the soil surface.
How to Get Creeping Thyme to Bloom
Besides its many ornamental uses as a ground cover between flagstones, creeping thyme is often grown in hanging baskets. It blooms throughout the summer and makes a nice addition to plantings around patios or walkways where it can spill over rocks or other features. Creeping thymes prefer full sun but will also grow in partial shade. They do best in well-drained soil that’s kept evenly moist during the growing season from spring through autumn when they are actively growing. Creeping thymes rarely need fertilizing beyond an inch-deep layer of compost spread beneath the soil surface each spring, although they will benefit from a light feeding about mid summer if growth begins to look weak or spindly. After flowering has stopped for the season, it’s best not to prune creeping thyme back until late autumn or early spring when leaves will begin to turn yellow and die back naturally.