Vic MacBournie Vic MacBournie Vic MacBournie Vic MacBournie

How to grow and care for creeping thyme ground cover

Thyme can be a very effective ground cover in a hot sunny dry area where you want to form a low growing dense cover that works like a living mulch.

Ground cover for hot, dry area and on a rock wall

Creeping thyme ground cover is one tough plant that not only withstands foot traffic but practically begs you to walk all over it.

Go ahead tramp on it. Put it between pavers and grow it over the edges of places you normally walk. Not only will you like the feel on your bare feet, chances are you’ll especially love the sweet perfume fragrance that the ground hugging plant gives off.

If you are in bare feet, however, watch those native bees that will be busy buzzing around on this non-native ground cover. Native to northwest Europe, you can expect creeping thyme (Thymus praecox) to grow into a dense mat of about four to six inches tall with the lavender flowers growing just above the foliage.

According to Wikipedia: Thymus praecox is a species of thyme. A common name is mother of thyme, but creeping thyme and wild thyme may be used where Thymus serpyllum, which also shares these names, is not found. It is native to central, southern, and western Europe.

This aromatic ground cover spreads at a very controlled rate of a couple inches a year up to about 24 inches, so if you are looking for a quick cover, plant individual plants 6-8 inches apart.

Use it to connect spaces in your garden. This evergreen ground cover works like a living mulch to shade your soil, suppress weeds and conserve water.

It works nicely as a low-growing border plant as well as in between pavers and in a rock wall. And, it can even be used as a lawn substitute, especially for smaller areas where getting out the lawnmower just doesn’t cut it.

It grows in full sun to partial shade in dry to moderate moisture soils in USDA hardiness zones 3 through nine.

I like to think this excellent ground cover is almost impossible to kill. Plant it in a sunny dry spot with average soil and you should be good to go. But, as noted above, it can take partial shade.

Every couple of years, pull some out and spread it around the garden to enhance another pathway. You can even steal some to pop in a container planting for a couple of months to work its magic in a patio container. In fall, just plug it into the ground in a spot you’ll want to grow it next year.

Our creeping thyme is actually one of the first plants that welcome visitors to our home. We have it growing in the front garden spilling over massive boulders that line the one side of the garden and work as a type of retaining wall.

I remember buying a flat from a local big box store a few years back and tucking it between the rock edges of our new massive boulders and the soil knowing that the warmth of the boulders in spring would give the thyme an early kick start.

And boy was I right.

The thyme has filled in nicely over the years, spilling on to the rock faces and softening their hard edges.

In spring, of course, the thyme is filled with purple flowers that attract the early pollinators and help welcome summer. In time, when the flowers begin to fade, the plants are happy to just sit back and take on an almost mossy look on the rock faces.

Spring or summer, it’s always a joy to take a few seconds to rub the thyme between my fingers and encourage the aroma to waft through the air. The fact that the thyme grows at or above knee height makes it easy to regularly reach down to bring out the scent of the thyme.

There are a variety of thymes to choose from. Some are particularly good as cooking herbs.

Other thymes that you may prefer: Woolly, lemon thyme, and hyssop thyme are examples of thyme varieties that can be used in the garden. Aromatic herbs, like the various thymes, work well with many garden plants in boosting othr plants’ defenses and increasing growth. Try experimenting with various thymes in diffent locations in the garden to see which ones work well.

Looking for more information on ground covers? Please check out my other posts on ground covers I use in the woodland garden.

Bunchberry perfect ground cover for woodland garden

• Easiest ground covers to grow

Three great ground covers for the woodland garden.

Hardy Geraniums as a ground cover

Snow in summer ideal for hot dry areas

Moss and moss-like ground covers

Native alternatives to creeping thyme

It’s always better to choose a native plant rather than using a non-native species. While creeping thyme has proven useful in many ways both as a problem solver and a plant that attracts pollinators, there are good native alternatives you might want to consider.

• Wild Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana) like sun, part shade to shade conditions in both dry and moist soils. It is an excellent underused perennial that spreads quickly by runners in sun or shade. It is not considered overly aggressive and struggles to outcompete other plants in the garden. It has tiny white flowers in spring followed by fruit. The fruit is small but is a good food source for native birds and mammals. Wild strawberry attracts native bees, and is though to be a host of at least 75 Lepidoptera caterillars including the gray hairstreak butterfly and grizzled skipper.

Green-and-gold (Chrysogonum virginianum) will not replace thyme in a hot dry area but it could be a good replacement in a dry shady or part shade area. Pretty yellow flowers bloom against a backdrop of green in the spring into summer. Green-and-gold spreads by rhizomes in optimum conditions which include well-drained soils.

Eastern Hay-scented fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula) is another alternative for a shady dry area but it grows tall in comparison to the ground hugging characteristics of creeping thyme.

Read More