Easy methods to Plant, Develop, and Look after English Thyme

The name English thyme can be somewhat misleading. This herb is actually native to southern Europe and the Mediterranean. This herb quickly spread across Europe to the Americas, and now can be found worldwide. It is popular in Mediterranean, French, Middle Eastern, and Italian cuisines. 

This drought-tolerant perennial will come back year after year with proper care. It can be grown in containers, directly in the ground, or indoors year-round. It can reliably be grown in USDA growing zones five through nine and is a bit more cold-hardy than other Mediterranean herbs like rosemary.  



Thymus vulgaris ‘English’

Native Area

Southern Europe to Western Mediterranean region

Watering Requirements

Low, drought-tolerant

Pests & Diseases

Aphids, spider mites, root rot

Soil Type

Well-drained, neutral pH

What Is It?

Close-up of a flowering plant Thymus vulgaris Thyme, cherished for its flavor and history, enriches garden beds.

English thyme is a hardy perennial herb grown in many gardens for its culinary uses. Although it has medicinal and ornamental qualities as well. Ancient Sumerian and Egyptian cultures used thyme to embalm the dead. The ancient Romans used it to flavor cheeses and alcohol and burned it to ward off dangerous animals. The Romans’ affinity for thyme is thought to be responsible for its spread across Europe.

The essential oil derived from a specific species of thyme has been shown to have antibacterial properties as well. Still, it is most commonly used as a culinary herb and prized for its flavor with both woody and floral notes. There are several cultivars of thyme, such as lemon and orange, which add an extra kick of citrusy flavor to this savory herb. 

Native Area

Close-up of a growing thyme plant in a sunny meadow. The English Thymus vulgaris is a compact and aromatic herb characterized by its dense clusters of tiny, tubular flowers of delicate purple atop woody stems adorned with small, oval-shaped leaves. These leaves are a vibrant shade of green.Thriving in sunny, well-drained soils, thyme endures even cold.

English thyme is native to Southern Europe and the Western Mediterranean region. This area is coastal with sandy soils and experiences hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters.

For this reason, thyme does best in areas that receive full sun, have well-drained soil, and experience hot summers. It is also exceptionally cold-tolerant and can survive deep freezes. In its native area, it can be found growing wild in mountain highlands.  


Close-up of a flowering Thyme plant in the garden. Its woody stems bear small, oval leaves located opposite each other along the stems, densely covering them with a lush green hue. It produces clusters of tiny, tubular lavender to pink flowers that arise from the leaf axils.With slender stems and ample leaves, English thyme attracts pollinators.

English thyme has small gray-green leaves that grow along thin, upright stems. This perennial herb can reach a height of up to one foot tall. Although the leaves are generally small, the leaves of English thyme are larger than those of most other species, which results in easier harvesting from the stems and a higher overall yield.

Without regular harvesting, English thyme will flower and produce either tiny white or pale purple blooms that are loved by bees and other beneficial insects like hoverflies and parasitic wasps. 


English thyme can be propagated by seed, cuttings, or division. If you already have established plants, you can even save your own seeds! Simply let your thyme flower, and the flowers will produce seeds. Propagating by cuttings is a bit more technical. Propagating by division is best for mature plants that are outgrowing their current space. 


Close-up of thyme sprouts in soil. Thyme plant sprouts have thin, slightly hairy white stems and pairs of tiny oval cotyledons in a bright green hue.Starting thyme seeds indoors ensures optimal growing conditions.

Thyme is easy to start from seed and can be started either indoors or outside. It’s important, however, to get the timing right. When starting seeds inside, be sure to start them six to eight weeks before your average last frost date.

Starting seeds indoors is recommended for thyme since it can take anywhere from 10-15 days for seeds to germinate and a few weeks to reach a transplantable size. Starting them indoors ensures their ideal growing conditions are being met, and you’ll have a higher success rate with germination. Otherwise, you will have to wait until one to two weeks after your average last frost date to sow seeds outdoors.

These seeds are tiny and will need to be surface-sown since they require light to germinate. Scatter them lightly across the surface of the soil and gently press them into the soil with your hand. Next, you’ll want to mist them with a spray bottle, keeping the soil surface evenly moist until they germinate. Using a heat mat and humidity dome to create a consistently warm and moist environment will also help speed germination. Once the seeds are sprouted you should remove the humidity dome and heat mat. 


Close-up of a black plastic tray with thyme cuttings. Thyme vulgaris cuttings consist of slender, woody stems adorned with small leaves. The leaves are ovate, arranged oppositely along the stems, and feature a vibrant green hue.Propagate English thyme by rooting cuttings from established plants.

English thyme can also be propagated by taking cuttings from existing plants. You can do this by taking cuttings from your own established plants or by asking a friend or fellow gardener for cuttings from their plants. Be sure to take a cutting that is at least four to six inches in length. Cut just below a leaf node with sharp pruning shears. Remove the leaves from the bottom two inches of your cutting. 

Your cutting can now be rooted in water, or placed directly into potting soil. Keep is well watered and roots should begin to grow within a few weeks. Once your cutting begins to put out new growth, this is a good sign that it has become established. At this point, you can transplant it into a bigger container, or the ground in your garden. 


Close-up of a flower bed with a densely growing Thyme vulgaris plant. Thyme is a perennial herb renowned for its compact and bushy growth habit. Its woody stems bear small, elliptical leaves arranged oppositely along their length. The soil is covered with straw mulch.Divide thyme plants carefully for successful propagation.

To propagate by division, use a spade to dig up your thyme. Then use a sharp knife like a hori hori to divide your thyme bush into smaller, individual plants. Make sure to dig up as much of the root ball as possible to limit shock to the plants as you separate them. Finally, you can transplant each plant into a new growing location.  


English thyme is drought-tolerant and low-maintenance once established. The trick is to prepare the planting site and take a few precautions while transplanting to ensure the long-term survival of your perennial herb. 


Close-up of a young thyme plant growing in a large clay pot under sunlight in the garden. The plant produces thin, flexible stems of a reddish hue, covered with small oval green leaves.Gradually expose seedlings to outdoor conditions for successful transplanting.

To prepare your seedlings for transplant, you will want to put them through a period of hardening off. Hardening off seedlings involves slow and incremental exposure to outdoor temperatures for about a week before planting them into the ground. This adjustment phase prepares the seedlings for a life in the outdoor elements after spending their early days in the temperature-controlled indoors.

On the first day of hardening off, place your seedlings outside in dappled sunlight for an hour and then bring them back inside. Increase this time by an hour daily, slowly moving them into more direct sunlight. On the final day, your plants should be spending at least eight hours outdoors in direct sunlight.

This process can take a week to two weeks. Wait to begin the hardening-off process until your last frost date has passed and overnight low temperatures are at least 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius). Eventually, in their mature state, they will be able to survive a frost, but the tender young seedlings can be damaged or killed by a sudden frost. 


Close-up of woman's hands in white gloves transplanting a thyme plant into the soil in the garden. The plant has a bushy growth habit, consisting of vertical thin stems covered with small oval green leaves. There is a garden hoe lying in the flowerbed nearby.Plant thyme seedlings in sunny, well-draining soil.

Once your seedlings have been hardened off, you are ready to transplant them outdoors. Thyme seedlings should be planted at least 10 inches apart to account for their mature size. Choose a planting site with full sun and well-draining soil. Dig a hole at least twice the width of its original pot and the same depth.

English thyme prefers well-drained soils. If you have heavy clay soil, then you’ll want to amend it with organic matter or compost to help increase drainage. You can do this anywhere from a week before transplanting to right before you plant the thyme in its new home. 

Even though your thyme will eventually be drought-tolerant, you’ll want to water newly planted seedlings at least once a week until they are established. In their second year of growth, you can water them once every two weeks, or you may not need to water them at all if you receive enough regular rainfall. 

How to Grow

Thyme is a relatively maintenance-free and drought-tolerant plant once established. Providing it with its ideal growing conditions will ensure a healthy perennial herb that will come back for many years. 


Close-up of a flowering English thyme plant in a flowerbed in a sunny garden. Thymus vulgaris is a perennial herb renowned for its aromatic foliage and petite, tubular flowers. Its wiry stems bear small, elliptical leaves arranged in pairs along the stem. Atop these stems, clusters of tiny, five-petaled flowers bloom in shades of lilac.Plant English thyme in full sun for optimal growth.

English thyme prefers full sun conditions. Be sure to plant your thyme in an area that receives at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight each day. This herb is well adapted to the hot, dry summers of the Mediterranean region.

It can handle hot and dry summers very well. It will likely have growing issues from receiving too little sun, rather than too much. 


Close-up of watering a freshly transplanted thyme plant from a green watering can. The thyme plant produces thin, flexible stems covered with small, oval leaves that are bright green in color.Once established, thyme is drought-tolerant, needing occasional watering.

This herb is drought-tolerant once established. However, newly transplanted herbs will require regular water for the first few weeks. Once your plant shows signs of new growth, this is a good indicator that it has become established. After that, it can survive and even thrive, with water every 10-15 days.

It will generally receive enough rainfall to survive without supplemental water. However, in prolonged periods of drought, be sure to provide water at least once a week. 


Close-up of a thyme plant in a sunny garden. The thyme plant is a low-growing herb with small, fragrant leaves densely packed on woody stems. Its leaves are oval-shaped, gray-green in color, and have a slightly fuzzy texture.For optimal growth, ensure well-drained soil or container mix.

As mentioned above, this perennial herb prefers well-drained and even sandy soils. This can be achieved by amending soil with organic matter or compost to help increase drainage.

When growing in containers, make sure that your pot has a drainage hole at the bottom to prevent standing water. When growing in containers, it’s best to use a potting soil mix. These mixes are made especially for containers to hold onto moisture without staying overly soggy or waterlogged. 

Temperature and Humidity

Close-up shot of growing English thyme in a sunny garden. Thymus vulgaris features slender, woody stems small bearing, oval-shaped leaves arranged oppositely along the stems. The stems are reddish in color. The leaves are oval and green.Optimal growth occurs between 70-85°F, avoiding excess humidity.

English thyme prefers temperatures between 70-85 degrees Fahrenheit (21-29°C) during the growing season, and when temperatures are in this range, it will put on most of its growth. Although, it can still actively grow during periods where temperatures range between 45-95 degrees Fahrenheit (7-35°C). 

The ideal humidity range is between 40%-60% humidity, with this plant leaning towards the drier side. Too much humidity and warmth can cause fungal issues and rot. If you live in a warm and humid environment then be sure to provide your plants with plenty of air circulation by giving enough space between plants. It’s also important to avoid watering from above. Consistent moisture on the leaves, along with an overall humid environment, can lead to other issues like powdery mildew. 


Close-up of Bumble Bees collecting pollen from a blooming Thyme in the garden. The plant grows in a black pot along with rosemary. English Thyme features small, oval leaves arranged in opposite pairs along woody stems. Its petite, tubular flowers bloom in clusters atop slender stalks, showcasing hues of lavender to pink.Fertilizing thyme is unnecessary for optimal growth.

Providing fertilizer to your English thyme is optional rather than optimal. Too much fertilizer can cause sudden vigorous growth of foliage, which can dilute the overall flavor of the leaves.

This herb will take off on its own once its ideal temperature range and light requirements are met during the growing season. For this reason, a top dressing of compost in early spring is sufficient to fertilize these plants. 


Close-up of a gardener's hand trimming thyme stems using black scissors indoors. Thyme plant growing in a white pot on a white windowsill. The plant has thin stems, wooden at the base and thin flexible towards the tips. The stems are covered with small oval leaves of a dark green color.Regular harvesting maintains thyme’s bushy growth.

Regular harvesting will ensure that your thyme plant grows healthy and remains bushy and full rather than growing tall and lanky. At the end of the growing season, you can forgo pruning and allow your plant to flower, which will allow you to collect seeds. The plant will flower, and the flowers will die back and produce seed pods allowing you to collect the seeds.

Avoid heavy pruning in the fall as the plant prepares to store energy for winter dormancy. It’s also best to avoid pruning down into the old woody growth and only prune back the new wood. 


Harvested thyme stems in a wicker basket, top view. Thyme stems are slender, bearing small, opposite pairs of oval leaves. Atop the stems, clusters of tiny tubular flowers bloom in shades of lavender.Harvest fresh thyme for incomparable flavor in your dishes.

Now that you know how to plant and grow your herb to maturity, it’s time to learn how to harvest it! After all, that’s the main reason that this plant is found in so many gardens around the world. The taste of fresh thyme is delicious and incomparable to the dried thyme that you find on grocery store shelves. Simply snip when you want to use some, taking no more than one third of the plant at a time.


Close-up of a bowl full of thyme healing herbs, sachet bag full of thymus medicinal herbs and several flowering thyme stems on a wooden table. Glass tea kettle of thyme healthy herbal tea on the background.Enhance dishes with versatile English thyme’s savory essence and aroma.

This herb is prized for its flavor and culinary uses. It can be used as a savory tea or to season meats and cheeses. It’s an essential component of the French bouquet garni, a bundle of herbs, including thyme, bay leaf, and parsley, that is simmered in soups and stews.

The oil can also be used as a fragrance in soaps and body oils. The flowers are also edible and can be used as a garnish in salads or used in baking. Lemon-thyme scones are an especially delicious sweet and savory treat! 

Common Problems

English thyme is a low-maintenance and trouble-free herb. However, when conditions are less than ideal, issues can crop up. Below we’ll discuss how to manage and rectify these common problems. 

Leggy Growth

Close-up shot of a growing thyme bush in a flowerbed. The Thyme plant is a compact herbaceous perennial characterized by its woody stems, small aromatic leaves, and delicate flowers. The stems are slender and woody at the base, branching out into a dense, bushy form. The leaves are tiny, elongated, and linear, with a gray-green hue. Clusters of white, small, tubular flowers bloom atop the stems.Adjusting sunlight exposure can remedy leggy plant growth.

Leggy growth is a sign that your plants are not receiving enough sunlight. If this is the case, then you will need to move your plant to an area that receives at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight per day. This is easy enough if your plants are in containers. If your plants are in the ground, however, you will need to dig them up and replant them. 

Yellow Leaves

The Ligurian leafhopper Eupteryx on damaged leaves of thyme. The small, oval leaves are covered with a white-gray coating and orange dots. The Ligurian leafhopper, Eupteryx, is a small insect characterized by its elongated body and intricate coloration. This leafhopper features translucent wings with delicate veins.Watch for overwatering signs.

If you see yellow leaves, this is a sign of overwatering. As mentioned above, these Mediterranean herbs are quite drought-tolerant once established. For this reason, it is better to under-water them rather than over-water them.

If you have been watering your plant regularly and you notice yellowing leaves, this is a sign to cut back. Feel the soil around the base of the plant and don’t water again until it has completely dried out.  


Close-up of a stem affected by a swarm of aphids. Aphids are diminutive insects with soft bodies ranging in color from pale green to yellow. Their pear-shaped bodies feature long, slender antennae and two distinctive cornicles, protruding from the abdomen.Combat aphids with a strong blast from the hose.

Aphids are a common soft-bodied insect pest that can afflict various plants, including English thyme. A strong blast from the hose can knock them off of the plant, and when caught early enough, this method is effective. However, if an extreme outbreak occurs, a mixture of neem oil and water can remove aphids. If your thyme is actively flowering, be sure to avoid spraying the flowers to limit exposure to pollinating insects and focus these sprays on the foliage. 

Spider mites are the most common issue for herbs that are grown indoors. They prefer a warm, dry environment with low humidity, which is the same environment that English thyme prefers. The first signs of mites will be tiny holes in the leaves or small yellowish spots on the foliage. You may even notice tiny web clusters on the leaves as well.

If spider mites have already appeared, but there is little to no damage to the plant, they can likely be manually removed with a forceful spray of water. If the infestation is more serious, then insecticidal soap or organic insecticides containing pyrethrins can be effective at eliminating them. You can also move your plants outdoors and let the natural predators do their work on the infestation, they will have a feast! 


Close-up of a young thyme seedling with root ball on the table. English thyme seedlings emerge as delicate, slender stems crowned with tiny, oval-shaped leaves that boast a vibrant shade of green.Prevent root rot by avoiding overwatering and ensuring well-drained soil.

Overwatering causes multiple problems for this perennial herb and also contributes to the development of root rot. The symptoms of root rot will appear as a soft mushy stem, wilting, and of course, rotten roots. This type of rot is harder to recover from but can be remedied if there are still fresh, white roots that have not yet turned to mush.

You can dig up your herb, cut back the rotted roots, and replant into dry soil. Cut back on watering and only water if the soil has completely dried out. Remember, thyme is drought-tolerant, so it’s best to air on the side of under-watering rather than over-watering. 

Final Thoughts

English thyme is both a delicious and beautiful perennial addition to your herb garden. With its bushy, compact growth habit and beautiful delicate flowers, it makes a great border plant. With the added benefit of also being useful in the kitchen. Plus, it is low-maintenance and drought-tolerant. You won’t regret adding English thyme to your garden! 

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