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 covers are low-growing, low-maintenance, and sometimes tolerate being walked on.
There are quite a few varieties to choose from, but one of the best options is creeping thyme, also called “mother of thyme,” a low-growing relative of the herb. It is characterized by tiny oval shaped leaves and flowers. Depending on the variety, the flowers can range from purple to red to white.
Ground covers can be...
Creeping thyme is available at many garden stores during the planting season. It will come as plugs or small potted cuttings. You can also purchase 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, so you may be better off going with plugs instead. However, some have been able to do it successfully.
Although it can do okay in shaded areas, it will offer the most “bang for its buck” if planted in a sunny spot.
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 the 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 it, 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 those will usually continue expanding in their new home.
Propagation is growing a new plant from a cutting. Here's how you do it:
There are several types of creeping thyme that come in different colors and characteristics. Below are some of the most popular types.
Question: I live in Calgary. What kind of thyme is best for zone four?
Answer: Most creeping thyme varieties are hardy through zone four. However, I think an elfin thyme is a little more cold tolerant than others.
Question: Could I plant creeping thyme in Florida?
Answer: It depends on what part of Florida. The northern parts are in USDA hardiness zone eight, while the southernmost part is in zone 11. Thyme is hardy up to zone nine.
Question: How long do creeping thyme blooms last?
Answer: Mine usually last a good month or more, starting in early July.
Question: Can I put creeping thyme around the base of a tree so I don't have to mow so close to the tree?
Answer: Yes. Just keep in mind that the patches directly under the tree will not receive as much sunlight, and may not flower as nicely.
Question: How do I get clover out of creeping thyme?
Answer: Thyme is a good weed barrier, but it's true that sometimes small weeds like clover can peek through. In my experience, a combination of gently pulling out the clover and a mild "weed and feed" general plant fertilizer should work.
Question: As of June, my lavender flowers are starting to fade. Will they return in Spring?
Answer: They will return next year, yes. Mine only bloom once a year.
Question: Can I plant creeping thyme in the Caribbean?
Answer: You could try, but creeping thyme is generally hardy between zones 4-9. The Caribbean is a zone 13, so it may be too warm of a climate for creeping thyme to thrive.
© 2017 Megan Machucho
Ruth Coffee from Zionsville, Indiana on April 20, 2020:
I have Elfin Thyme planted in the landscaping in front of my house. It is sunny and often very dry. It has been in place for four years (this will be it's fifth). At the end of last year, I noticed a couple of the plants suddenly had large dead spots in the center of them. I left them to see if they would green up this spring. They did not. They appear to still be green around the perimeter but 70% of the plant from the center outward is dead. Is there any possibility the center will regrow? Do I have to plant new ones? I probably have 20 plants and if I have to replace them every 4 years I will need to plant something else.
Helene pfeifer on April 11, 2020:
I have a large area of ornamental thyme. Over the years, large patches of it have died and it is quite weed infested. It is in full sun and was doing brilliantly when we bought the house 7 years ago....help! Thank you.
Arlene on March 03, 2020:
Will creeping thyme smother my other perennials if I plant these in between my plants for weed control?
Megan Machucho (author) from Milwaukee, WI on January 01, 2020:
Dawn, you could try in zone 6 CT. I have found that it is pretty hardy and may grow even where grass doesn't.
Dawn on November 08, 2019:
Can I use this in spots in my lawn that doesn't grow grass? I am in zone 6 CT. I would like to mow over it and eventually have it take over some areas instead of grass.
StevieKay on October 10, 2019:
Does it grow well in sandy soil? I live in Northwest Florida, and have given up on keeping grass alive in our soil.... Im looking for a ground cover that will handle not only our heat and humidity, but also our sandy soil. I'm willing to add fertilizer, but Im not bringing in truckloads of soil that will wash down our tiny hill in the next flash flood....
Emma Darlene Fields on June 18, 2019:
Live in southwest Pa zone 5 or 6 I need a ground cover for a slope on our front yard. It is on west side of house & gets a lot of hot afternoon sun. I don’t need a fragrant one. Do we have to kill all grass on the slope first, then plant ground cover. I think mulch would slide down slope.
Shirley Cayze on April 19, 2019:
I have creeping Thyme in my zone 4 perrenial garden as a ground cover. Good shoes and socks plant as they say - covers the soil, helps pollinators and blocks weeds. For between steppers I prefer Elfin Thyme - much easier to control and quite flat. If it creeps over the steppers I simply trim the edges
RTalloni on April 06, 2018:
Thanks for really useful info on thyme plants. I hope to establish red creeping thyme in several large areas...a big task that I hope will be well worth the effort! :)
Ellen Gregory from Connecticut, USA on April 01, 2018:
This was very helpful. I have a bare spot up front, between my shrubs that I would like to fill.
Megan Lewis on August 12, 2017:
I have creeping thyme between flagstones on a large patio area. It is absolutely lovely however, it does enjoy where it lives and so grows well therefore needing routine pruning as it spreads over the stones: usually spring and mid-late summer. As I have a lot of it and it is not the tops but the sides that need trimming, this cannot be done with a wacker but is done manually - a rather big job which I do in stages throughout the spring and summer. It was fine when I could hire workers but now I must do it myself and WHEW, what a tedious job! But, I love the look and the smell, although I'm not at all certain I would plant it this way again. Certainly not in such a large area.
Glen Rix from UK on July 13, 2017:
And it smells wonderful !
Megan Machucho (author) from Milwaukee, WI on July 13, 2017:
Creeping thyme is perfect for planting between flagstones! It is beautiful, can be walked on, and doesn't need to be mowed at all. I hope you get a chance to try it!
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on July 13, 2017:
I have plenty of regular thyme growing in our garden but not the creeping varieties. It was interesting reading about them. I like the idea of having some type of greenery between flagstones particularly types that are not hurt by walking on them. This sounds like a perfect candidate for that.