Creeping thyme is one of the many types of thyme available, which is a herb commonly cultivated for culinary use. Though creeping thyme is edible, it is not usually grown for this use, and instead is considered to be an ornamental plant that works well as ground cover. Creeping thyme has small, decorative oval leaves covering wiry stems, and when crushed, they will emit a pleasant fragrance similar to common thyme.
If you do choose to use this plant in the kitchen, you’ll find it has a taste similar to mint. You could use it in stews or casseroles, or it can also be brewed in hot water to make tea.
The plant has a low growing habit, reaching maximum heights of four inches, with a typical spread in the region of one foot across. As you would imagine from its common name, it spreads in a creeping fashion, like spreading vines. It can grow into dense masses of foliage to form an attractive green carpet. In spring, these plants bloom heavily, typically with small flowers in shades of pink.
At this point in the year, the plant is especially attractive and looks like a floral mat covering the ground. This plant grows quickly, so it works well to fill spaces between plants as a decorative groundcover. It is also very tolerant of being stood on, so it even works well in areas with high foot traffic. It works well in rock gardens and will creep over the rocks or trail down the sides of low walls.
Creeping thyme is both a practical and beautiful plant to have in the garden, and it is also very easy to care for.
Creeping Thyme Overview
|Origin||North Africa, Western Asia, and Europe|
|Scientific Name||Thymus serpyllum|
|Type||Perennial evergreen herb|
|Common Names||Creeping thyme, Breckland thyme, elfin thyme, wild thyme|
|USDA Hardiness Zones||4-9|
|Height||Up to 4 inches tall|
|Watering||Average to low moisture needs|
|Toxicity||Non-toxic, edible plant|
|Pests||Resistant to most pests|
Varieties of Creeping Thyme
Thymus serpyllum ‘Magic Carpet’
This is a dwarf creeping thyme that grows to a maximum height of just two inches, making it ideal for ground cover. It blooms abundantly during spring with a mass of bright magenta flowers. The flowers are small and rich in nectar, making them very popular with bees and butterflies. The foliage of this plant is very aromatic, and the scent is released when the thyme is trodden on.
Thymus serpyllum ‘Pink Chintz’
This is an award-winning creeping thyme that received the Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society for its outstanding qualities. It produces dark green leaves that have small hairs, giving them the appearance of being slightly wooly. The flowers of this plant appear in clusters. Each flower is small and has a pale coral pink color.
Thymus serpyllum ‘Elfin’
This creeping thyme typically reaches heights of up to three inches. It produces dense clusters of pretty, dainty-looking flowers. The blooms are a shade of lilac and are popular with pollinators. It is tolerant of poor soils and salt, making it ideal for growing in coastal regions.
Other Types of Thyme
Lemon Thyme-Thymus citriodorus
This thyme plant is grown primarily for its culinary uses. It produces tiny oval-shaped leaves that are strongly scented like lemon. They can be harvested at any time of year and can be used fresh or dried for later use. The foliage of this plant can vary in appearance, but often will be variegated with a dark green base and creamy-yellow margins. It thrives in rocky or sandy soils and is not as tolerant of low temperatures as creeping thyme.
Wooly Thyme-Thymus pseudolanuginosus
This type of thyme is not suitable for culinary use as it has very little flavor or scent. Instead, it is grown for its ornamental value, often as ground cover. It forms a dense carpet of heavily haired foliage, which gives it the wooly look it is named after. It can grow up to six inches tall but more commonly does not exceed one inch in height. This plant produces pale pink flowers in spring with a tubular shape.
Common Thyme-Thymus vulgaris
This is a popular culinary herb that is commonly grown in herb planters and herb gardens. As a hardy, evergreen plant, it is also popularly used as low hedging that remains attractive all year round. This plant grows to around one foot tall, with wiry upright stems that are densely packed in. The leaves are very fragrant and can be harvested at any time of year for use with meat or fish dishes, in soups, stews, salads, pastas, and sauces. Common thyme flowers in late spring to early summer, with blooms on white or pink that appear at the top of the stems. Like the foliage, the flowers are also edible and can be added as a garnish to dishes.
Caring for Your Creeping Thyme
The type of soil you plant your creeping thyme in can make all the difference in how well or how poorly it performs. Thyme, when young, will need plenty of moisture, but as it becomes established, it prefers moderately dry soil. This means a well-draining soil is essential. A soil that allows water to pass through quickly will prevent the roots of the plant from rotting while allowing them to absorb the moisture they need.
As a mature plant creeping, thyme thrives in dry to moist soil, so a well-draining soil will also allow any excess rainfall to drain through and avoid soggy soil. Creeping thyme also performs well in a soil that is nutritionally quite poor, which is common for herbs.
Avoid amending your soil with organic composts to improve soil quality, as this will not benefit the plant. You should also refrain from feeding the soil around your thyme plant with fertilizer because the plant does not require it, and actually, it can be at the detriment to the health of the creeping thyme. The pH level of the soil is not especially important to creeping thyme, though if you want to ensure the absolute best conditions for your plant, then it prefers a neutral or slightly acidic soil.
Creeping thyme has water needs that change as the plant evolves. When first planted in your garden, you should ensure that creeping thyme has consistently moist soil. It should not be allowed to dry out, but it should also not be watered so heavily that the soil is soggy. A good balance should be reached where the soil is damp but not wet because living in wet soil will cause the roots of this plant to rot.
Once the creeping thyme is well established, it becomes quite tolerant of dry soil and can sustain itself through periods of drought. That being said, it will perform best in moderately moist soil, so do not intentionally deprive the plant of water.
Almost all types of thyme thrive in full sun, and creeping thyme is no different. It needs to be in direct sun for the majority of the day to thrive. Take care when planting it to ensure that it isn’t shaded by taller plants, especially if using it as ground cover around the base of shrubs and trees.
Creeping thyme thrives in warm temperatures and is suitable for growing in USDA hardiness zones 4-9. It enjoys hot summers and is hardy enough to survive through relatively cold winters.
Creeping thyme is a plant that typically does not enjoy high levels of humidity. If you live in a naturally humid climate, then this plant may not perform brilliantly, but as long as you ensure good airflow around the plant, then it will usually adapt well.
To help reduce humidity, make sure you have not mulched around the base of the plant, as the mulch will retain water and increase humidity around the plant. Also, prune the plant to thin out its stems so that the air circulation is good between the stems of the plant. Ensuring other plants are not crowding the creeping thyme will also help to ensure good airflow and combat any issues the plant encounters with high levels of humidity. One common sign that the plant is in a climate that is too humid for it is mass leaf loss.
Creeping thyme is most commonly bought as a small plant from a nursery because it is quite inexpensive. However, it can also be propagated by division, through stem cuttings, and grown from seed. If you want to grow new thyme plants through stem cuttings, then you should take the cuttings in early summer. These cuttings should be between three and four inches long, and you’ll need to remove all of the lower leaves on the cut end of the stem.
Select stem cuttings that are not too woody, as these will struggle to propagate or can be very slow to do so. Once you have prepared cut stems, you can propagate them in soil or water. To grow them in soil, choose a small pot, fill it with soil, and ensure it is moist. Dip the cut end of the thyme in rooting hormone, then poke it into the soil and gently tuck it in. Keep the pot on a bright and warm window, and ensure the soil remains moist but not wet for several weeks.
When new foliage growth starts to happen, you will know the stem has rooted. Leave the cutting in the pot for a few more weeks, then transplant it to a bigger pot to allow roots to spread a little more, before finally planting it outside. Propagating stem cuttings in water is a very similar process, but instead of putting the stem in a pot of soil, you put it in a glass of water. The water should be changed out every few days to avoid mold and rotting.
This is a nice way to propagate because you can actually see the roots develop, but it can lower the chances of the cutting surviving when it is transplanted to soil. If you have large areas of creeping thyme, then division is a good way to create more plants. To do this, carefully dig up your plant, causing as little damage to the roots as possible, then divide the plant up into two or three portions before replanting. Each new plant will then grow to fill up the same space as the original plant.
Creeping thyme is virtually pest and disease resistant, so it rarely suffers from these types of problems. It can be a great plant to pair with other herbs that may suffer from pest issues, as it can discourage pests from residing nearby. It is also deer resistant, in spite of its delicious scent.
This is an incredibly easy and rewarding plant to grow, which does not usually encounter growing issues. The most common way to kill this plant is from overwatering, and in fact, this is one of the only ways you can damage creeping thyme. If your plant is failing to thrive, then you should check the condition of the soil around it.
Waterlogged soil almost certainly indicates that your creeping thyme is struggling as a result of too much moisture. This plant cannot tolerate ‘wet feet,’ and soggy soil will cause the roots to rot. Once roots have begun to rot, they cannot transport essential moisture and nutrients to the rest of the plant, which, ironically, will cause the plant to die of thirst. If this problem is detected early enough, you can try to save the creeping thyme by digging it up, removing any rotten roots, and replanting it in dry soil that is not overwatered.
Unfortunately, once a plant's roots have started to rot, it is very difficult to resolve the problem, so always err on the side of caution when watering plants that prefer drier soils.