If you’re tired of constantly mowing, watering, and spraying your lawn, a creeping thyme lawn is an eco-friendly, low-maintenance, and delightfully fragrant alternative. Creeping thyme is an aromatic ground cover related to the Mediterranean kitchen herb we all adore. It eagerly colonizes any sunny yard, creating a cushiony lawn that naturally out-competes weeds.
As a grass replacement, this quick-spreading herb grows low to the ground, forming a dense carpet of greenery. The tiny blue-green leaves offer a dazzling display all summer long, and if you don’t mow, it produces bee-magnetizing fuchsia flowers throughout the summer.
Best of all, this ground cover is tough, drought tolerant, and remarkably low maintenance. But before you rip out your grass, let’s dig into a step-by-step guide on how to grow a creeping thyme lawn the right way.
Does Creeping Thyme Make a Good Lawn?
This easy-to-maintain plant thrives without mowing or fertilizers, keeping weeds at bay naturally.
This is one of the best lawn alternatives because it is incredibly drought-tolerant and low-maintenance. The beautiful herb remains green all summer, even when neighboring turfgrass has turned brown and dormant.
This low-growing perennial groundcover doesn’t require regular mowing or fertilizer. Its vigorous growth chokes out weeds, so no herbicides or weeding are necessary.
This ground cover attracts pollinators and outperforms high-maintenance turfgrass, making it an eco-friendly choice.
When you put creeping thyme head-to-head with high-maintenance turfgrass, this humble herb wins in almost every category except price. This type of lawn is…
Once established, this Mediterranean herb tolerates and even enjoys dry soil. It can often subsist on natural rainfall except during the hottest, driest months. Even then, it requires minimal supplemental watering during hot weather compared to a traditional grass lawn.
This lawn alternative requires less mowing, irrigating, spraying, and fertilizing than turfgrass. It grows vigorously without much help, so you can lay back by the pool or enjoy your favorite summer hobbies while knowing your yard is still green.
The bluish-green leaves and vibrant purple or pink flowers add ornamental value to your landscape. With its lush textured foliage, thyme can be cut low for a manicured look or grow upwards in a cottage garden style.
Some like the smell of fresh-cut grass, but the delectable aroma of thyme, when crushed or walked upon, is far more romantic.
Thyme is a hardy perennial in USDA zones 4-9, but it may need some winter mulch in harsher cold climates.
When moist, thyme tolerates quite a bit of walking and feels nice beneath your bare feet.
This fast-growing herb chokes out weeds and prevents unwanted plants from taking hold in your yard, meaning no herbicide or hand-weeding is usually necessary.
If you forego mowing and allow your thyme lawn to flower, bees and butterflies go wild for the gorgeous purple blossoms. You can enjoy the beauty of native insects and reap the benefits of pollination for your nearby vegetable garden.
The strong smell of thyme makes it a popular companion plant for many edible and ornamental crops. Growing it near your gardens can help deter pests like aphids, flies, and mosquitoes.
If your lawn used to be a dinner buffet for neighboring deer, you’ll be glad to know that these forest herbivores strongly dislike the smell and taste of thyme.
While a standard lawn may require mowing every 1-2 weeks, thyme can go a month or even all summer without being mowed. The plant naturally grows just 2-3 inches tall. For a more manicured look, you can mow every 3-4 weeks, but your yard will still look great if you don’t have time to crank up the mower.
Thyme is a light-feeding plant that does not require regular fertilizer. Too much nitrogen can cause leggy or weak plants. Compost and a spring application of slow-release fertilizer are usually plenty to keep your new lawn happy.
What Are The Downsides?
A thyme lawn may be costlier to establish and require more preparation than turfgrass.
No plant is perfect, so you may wonder what the catch is. A thyme lawn is more expensive than turf, and it may take more labor to prep the ground and get it established. The drawbacks include…
The seed is fairly expensive compared to grass. Growing from plugs (seedlings) is not very cost-effective unless your yard is very small. You need a lot of seeds to establish a large area. Topsoil or compost is helpful when sowing.
This groundcover is slow-growing in its first year and needs some patience to get established. However, once anchored in the soil, the plants spread rapidly.
Converting a grass yard to a thyme lawn requires a fair amount of labor to get started. Fortunately, you only have to do it once, and most of the work can be completed in one afternoon. We’ll cover the details of getting started below!
You can’t repeatedly stomp all over thyme like you can with grass. This plant does better when it can grow freely around pavers or stepping stones. It has a harder time recovering from heavy foot traffic when dry.
If your kids or pets regularly play in the yard, you may need to keep thyme mowed so the flowers don’t attract too many bees. While bees are generally busy providing ecological benefits, they can sting when startled.
This herb enjoys semi-regular mowing or pruning and can become woody if it doesn’t get cut at least twice yearly. As the plants age, they may become spindly or woody at the base. If you mow or cut back half of the plant’s growth in the spring, it rejuvenates the foliage and keeps your lawn looking fresh.
2-3 years down the line, even with regular mowing, you are likely to still have a few woody plants; these may need to be removed & replaced with younger plants to keep the lawn fresh and reduce the woody growth habit.
How to Plant: 6 Simple Steps
These plants establish best in fall or spring, avoiding intense summer heat.
Creeping thyme is cold-hardy in zones 4-9. Fall or spring are the best times to establish this perennial lawn alternative. Young plants have a hard time in intense summer heat.
If seeding in the autumn, start 6-8 weeks before your expected hard frost. In frigid northern zones, late spring is more desirable for strong establishment.
1. Smother the Grass
To seed thyme successfully, the labor-intensive step of removing existing grass is crucial.
Before you can seed thyme, you’ll need to remove your lawn grass. This is the most labor-intensive step, but it will dramatically improve your thyme lawn success.
You have a few options for smothering or removing the turf. I highly recommend mowing before you start. Put your lawn mower on the lowest setting to cut the grass as short as possible.
Layers of newspaper or cardboard are an easy organic way to smother the grass and weeds. Lay the sheets out in an overlapping fashion. If using a newspaper, avoid the glossy magazine-style pages. Break down boxes and ensure all tape is removed from the cardboard. Furniture stores are a great resource for big sheets of cardboard.
To prevent blowing away, immediately saturate the newspaper or cardboard with a hose. Then shovel compost or topsoil over the top. You can seed immediately or leave the paper to smother the soil for 1-2 weeks before planting. As a bonus, the sheet mulching adds organic matter as it decomposes and attracts many beneficial soil organisms like worms and fungi.
If you want to get down to the native soil immediately, use a shovel and rake to dig up the sod and remove it. Remove the full chunks of sod and dispose of them in the trash or yard waste bin. You can also rent a sod cutter from your local hardware store to make it easy to cut the grass into strips and roll them up.
For the least labor-intensive method, try occultation or tarping. Use a large silage tarp that is opaque in color (not see-through). Ideally, the tarp should be black or dark green and marked for landscape or agricultural use. Lay your tarp over the grass for several weeks before seeding. Secure the edges with sandbags, smooth rocks, or bricks, and add several weights in the center.
Leave the tarp in place for 2-3 weeks to smother the grass. The lack of sunlight will kill any plants underneath, creating a clean planting surface for your thyme seeds. If you have a lot of perennial weeds or aggressive grasses like quackgrass, you may want to lift the tarp each week, water the area, leave it off for a day to encourage re-sprouting, and then cover the plants again. This helps exhaust the root energy of weedy perennials. You can repeat as many times as needed until the space is bare.
Although tilling is not good for soil health, a one-time tillage event can help you get your thyme lawn established fast. You can rent a rototiller from most lawn and garden stores. Put it on a shallow to medium setting (no need to till super deep) and chop up the grass on a sunny day. Leave the grass clippings to decompose in place. You can seed immediately or wait 2-3 days for the grassroots to fully die back in the sun.
2. Test Soil and Apply Compost
Test your soil and adjust its pH using suitable materials if needed.
With your lawn’s grass accessible, it’s time to amend and prepare for seeding. Creeping thyme is tolerant of a wide range of soil conditions as long as they are well-drained. Like its Mediterranean cousins, rosemary and lavender, this plant is susceptible to root rot and really dislikes waterlogged soils.
Heavy clay will require more extensive amendments. Sandy loam or even gravelly and rocky soil is more suitable for a thyme lawn replacement.
A neutral to alkaline pH between 6.5 to 8.0 is ideal for a thyme lawn. Test your soil with an at-home soil test before planting. Most turfgrass lawns are already at a suitable pH, but if your soil is too acidic, add dolomite lime, wood ash, baking soda, or crushed oyster shells to raise the pH.
Compost is the secret sauce to a speedy thyme lawn establishment. This herb is known to be very slow to start, but if you give it a nice well-drained compost-rich soil, the seeds germinate and take off much more easily. Compost improves the soil structure, moisture retention, and fertility for a beautiful and long-lasting herbal lawn.
Depending on the size of your yard, you can dump store-bought bags of compost or have a truckload of compost delivered to your property. Ask the dump truck driver to drop the compost as close to the lawn as possible so you can easily wheelbarrow it around and rake it out smoothly.
A 1-2” thick layer is ideal, but deeper is fine. If you can’t find quality compost, topsoil is another option. The thicker the upper layer, the faster your thyme will anchor in. This also helps kill any remaining grass or weeds underneath.
If the soil under your turfgrass is exceptionally compacted or heavy in clay, broad forking can significantly improve aeration and drainage. The long, sharp tines of this unique tool help incorporate oxygen into lower soil levels so microorganisms can create better soil structure. The holes offer more space for compost to seep in so thyme roots can easily reach downward.
Broadforking is a bit of a workout, but you only need to do it once to your yard. This ancient tool is very easy to use and is a great investment for any gardener. Look up a YouTube video in advance to get your technique right.
3. Choose Your Variety
Thyme comes in many varieties and cultivars for different tastes and climates. All of these plants create a low-growing, dense carpet of aromatic leaves, but some are better suited for specific aesthetics.
Elfin Thyme (Thymus serpyllum)
This dwarf variety features bright pink tubular flowers and forms a dense mat.
This dwarf variety is named ‘Elfin’ for its tiny leaves and compact growth, maxing out at a mere 1-3 inches tall. Perfect for anyone who hates mowing! The tiny tubular flowers are bright pink and beloved by pollinators. The plant forms a tight mat of leaves ideal for large expanses of lawn and gaps between rocks or pavers.
Red Creeping Thyme (Thymus coccineus)
This variety spreads horizontally with stems that anchor in place and develop new roots.
Arguably the most popular groundcover variety, this plant has stems that grow horizontally. Once the stem touches the soil, it anchors in place and grows new roots from the stem.
The attractive red flowers appear in late spring and summer. The quick-spreading habit tolerates heavier foot traffic and emits a nice classic thyme smell when walked on.
Wooly Thyme (Thymus pseudolanuginosus)
Wooly thyme’s vigorous, spreading stems are perfect for partially shaded lawns or rock garden borders.
This pleasantly silver-hued thyme has lovely little whorls of leaves with a fuzzy texture. The vigorous stems root as they spread across the soil, never growing more than 2” tall. Its delicate appearance is nice for a partially shaded lawn or along pathways and rock garden borders.
Magic Carpet Thyme (Thymus serpyllum ‘Magic Carpet’)
This variety will surely impress anyone passing by with its striking magenta summer lawn.
This dwarf cushiony variety is extra-short, dark green, and magenta-flowered. It has lemon-scented leaves that form dense mats wherever allowed. This variety will dazzle passersby if you want a show-stopping magenta-blanketed lawn in the summer.
Lime Thyme (Thymus x citriodorus ‘Lime’)
Remember that this cultivar requires more frequent mowing as it grows slightly taller.
This bright green hybrid is prized for its vibrant color and citrus-scented leaves. The low-growing mat produces pastel pink flowers in late spring. ‘Lime’ offers a gorgeous lime-green hue between rock pavers, but it absolutely despises wet soil. It grows a bit taller than other varieties (up to 6”), so it requires more mowing.
Creeping Thyme Mix
Buy a mixed thyme seed pack from a reputable supplier to create a captivating array of thyme varieties.
Purchase a thyme mix from a seed supplier for a diverse patchwork display of eye-catching varieties. These often include a combination of white, pink, and purple-flowered varieties with slightly different foliage. Shake the bag thoroughly to ensure even distribution.
4. Sow the Seeds
Direct seed for a cost-effective lawn replacement.
Direct seeding is the most economical option for establishment. Alternatively, purchase flats of plugs or start your own seedlings indoors. However, this can be significantly more expensive and time-consuming. Only transplant if you have a small lawn!
Most lawns already have sprinklers in place, so you might as well directly sow the seeds and water them with the existing irrigation system.
Most residential lawns in the U.S. average 5,000 to 10,000 square feet. To calculate the square footage, measure the length and width, then multiply them. You don’t need to be ultra-precise, but it helps to order the right amount of seed so you don’t run out.
The general sowing rate recommendation is ⅛ pound of thyme seed per 5,000 square feet. A large lawn will require ¼ to ½ pounds of seed or more. When in doubt, order slightly more seed than you think you need.
Sow seeds 6-8 weeks before the first fall frost or 1-2 weeks after the last spring frost. The weather should be cool but not too cold. Avoid seeding your thyme lawn in extra hot weather.
Plant seeds about ¼ inch deep and lightly press into the soil with your hands or feet. You don’t want to cover them with too much soil, or they won’t have the energy to sprout from deep underground.
Sow approximately 2-4 seeds per square foot. If transplanting, plant healthy seedlings 8-12” apart. Again, there is no need for ultra-precise calculations here. Just make sure the seeds are evenly distributed across the soil surface. If you want the lawn to fill in quickly, sow more densely.
Broadcast (scatter) them by the handful or use a hand-powered seed spreader for more even coverage. If you accidentally drop too many seeds in one spot, don’t worry! You can rake them out or allow them to grow extra thick.
The average germination time is 14-21 days. If you don’t get any rain, your new lawn will need water 1-3 times per week during the establishment period. The soil should not dry out during germination.
5. Water Consistently
Once the plants are well-rooted, they become resistant to drought and require less moisture.
You must provide consistent moisture during the establishment phase, which typically lasts 3-4 weeks. Check on the thyme every day and ensure the soil doesn’t dry out. This is the most water your lawn will ever need. But while doing this, you should also ensure the soil doesn’t become soggy or waterlogged.
When thoroughly rooted, the plants become drought-resistant and don’t need nearly as much moisture. This usually starts happening in weeks 3 or 4. Once seedlings emerge and start filling out, ensure at least 6” between plants for optimal growth. If you have a giant yard, crouching down and pruning every section is unnecessary. Just be sure there aren’t any thick areas where seedlings are crammed against their neighbors.
You also need to remove any major weeds early on. When the thyme finishes spreading, it will choke everything else out without issue.
After the first month, you can cut back watering to once weekly or less if there is rain. The plants will tell you if they are thirsty by wilting slightly or slowing growth. If you are overwatering or the soil isn’t properly drained, the plants may turn yellow. In this case, it could help to broad fork or wait until the soil dries and the plants are better established.
6. Prune or Mow 1-3 Times Per Season
If you seeded in the fall, you won’t need to do anything until the following spring.
Finally, the easy part! After all the work of establishing your new lawn, you can sit back and relax until it grows to several inches tall. These yards only need mowing or pruning a few times per year. Don’t start mowing until the plants reach 2-3” tall and appear lush and healthy. If you seeded in fall, you won’t need to do anything until the following spring.
Set your lawn mower on a high setting for a more manicured lawn to avoid cutting the thyme too short. Mow once in the spring and again in the summer if the plants grow quickly. This will create the most dense, cushiony carpet of glossy bluish-green leaves.
If you want to enjoy the vibrant thyme flowers, mow in the early spring and avoid mowing again until the end of summer when the blossoms begin fading. Fall mowing can help prevent woody growth the following year. After that, this plant will take care of itself for years to come!
This herb lives for 3-5 years but eagerly self-sows, so the lawn can thrive for ten years or more! It typically doesn’t require any major maintenance once established.
An alternative lawn is an incredible choice for eco-friendly landscapers and gardeners who want to spend less time weeding, watering, and mowing grass. Creeping thyme has the advantage of being drought-tolerant, fragrant, and pest-deterrent. It is naturally low-growing, so you only need to mow once or twice a year.
The key to establishment is properly smothered grass and compost application. I recommend laying newspaper, covering it with compost, broad forking, and broadcasting the seed about eight weeks before your expected fall frost. Maintain continuous moisture for the first month, and watch your thyme fill in throughout autumn and winter. The lawn can take up to one year to reach its full glory, but you should have a nice cushion of herbaceous growth by the following spring.