The Ultimate Guide to Planting a Creeping Thyme Lawn

Let’s face it – maintaining a lush green lawn or garden full of colorful flowers isn’t easy.

Regardless of the tremendous efforts you put into checking the soil condition, watering on time, and applying the best fertilizers for healthy roots and grass growth, there’s still a good chance that your lawn will turn into a brown landscape at some point. 

Now you can let your lawn return to the wild and if you’re lucky enjoy an influx of birds, bees, and wildflowers.

But even though stopping mowing has a few advantages like saving on skyrocketing gas prices and time spent performing the task, the fine from the borough for letting your grass grow too long may not be that pleasing. 

But if you’d like to keep everyone happy – yourself, the city council, and even your neighbors, creeping thyme is the solution. 

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What is Creeping Thyme? 

The word “thyme” probably conjures images of a garlic and thyme garnished roast chicken, but I’m referring to a variety of it and not the exact herb you use in the kitchen. 

Creeping thyme is a common name for one of many wood-stemmed perennial species of the Thymus genus. Although all types of creeping thyme belong to the mint family and have a pleasant scent, not all of them are grown as herbs. 

Some types of thyme species grow upright and showcase shrub-like growth, creeping thymes are low-growing and spread like vines. 

Creeping thyme grows only a few inches tall and spreads relatively quickly, making it an excellent ground cover for lawns big and small. 

The Ultimate Guide to Planting a Red Creeping Thyme Lawn

Why is Creeping Thyme a Popular Choice for Lawns?

There are plenty of reasons why creeping thyme is gaining popularity, most notably:

1. Doesn’t Require Mowing 

Who would’ve thought that a lawn doesn’t require mowing? Well, surprisingly, you can bid adieu to mow a creepy thyme law, and even if you have to, it’s only once a year. Creeping thyme can get leggy and woody so a light mowing once with the mower blades will give it a little rejuvenation. 

2. Drought Resistant

Certain creeping thyme varieties such as red creeping thyme may appear delicate, but adapt well to a range of well-draining environments and even tolerate light foot traffic.

That doesn’t mean that creeping thyme can grow without water, but the average watering schedule is much less than your other outdoor or indoor plants. 

Creeping thyme isn’t a fan of wet conditions and prefers dry soil type and moist soil. This sun-loving plant thrives in US Hardiness Zones 4 to 10, which comprise some of the coldest and northernmost areas of the continental United States. Here’s the US hardiness zone map for your reference.

3. Aesthetically Pleasing 

All homeowners desire a healthy and aesthetically pleasing lawn, and while this is possible with grass, creeping thyme offers twofold benefits – looks good and emits an aromatic scent. 

Creeping Thyme Lawn

4. Pleasant Aroma

Creeping thyme is a herb after all, and can be used as a herb in your kitchen owing to its beautiful aroma. Freshly cut grass does smell good too, but creeping thyme is a few notches ahead. Here are a few other herbs that emit pleasant aromas.

5. Attracts Pollinators 

Most of the world’s flowering plants in your herb garden and entire garden depend on pollinators to reproduce. Creeping thyme attracts a lot of bees and butterflies, and even provides a good habitat for them owing to its fragrance. 

Close up on a Creeping Thyme Lawn

6. Repels Deer, Rabbits, and Mosquitoes

When pests, insects, and unwanted animals are bothering you at home, creeping thyme is a herb you can rely on to keep mosquitoes, earworms, maggots, hornworms, whiteflies, deer, and rabbits at bay. There are several other ways to keep these pests away without using pesticides.

If you want to use creeping thyme to get rid of insects and animals, you’ll have to bruise its leaves for the chemical to be released. Once the pesky animals and pests smell the thyme, they will fly or crawl away from your lawn and garden. 

7. No Need to Fertilize 

Are you tired of spending a fair amount of cash and time fertilizing your turfgrass? Well, creeping thyme being a light feeder doesn’t require fertilization as long as you plant it in healthy soil. 

Creepy thyme grows best in well-draining soil with a neutral to slightly alkaline pH. If you have poor soil, you can compensate by adding a delayed-release fertilizer once at the beginning of each growing season. 

8. Can Handle Foot Traffic 

Once established, creeping thyme can handle a fair amount of foot traffic. Not only can you walk on it but can also enjoy its fresh scent along the way. 

Disadvantages of Planting a Creeping Thyme Lawn 

Just like all other plants including traditional grass lawns and mature plants in your garden, creeping thyme isn’t perfect and there are a few downsides to planting this herb.

First is the cost: Planting a creeping thyme lawn can be pricey given that the plants need to be set 6 to 12 inches apart. This cost is fairly comparable to if you were to plant a sod lawn, which is one of the biggest reasons you see many people use creeping thyme to fill in pathways and around patio pavers. 

Another big downside is the labor it takes to establish creeping thyme, where the process entails killing your current grass first, which needless to say can be a slow and daunting process. 

What Thyme Varieties are Good for a Lawn? 

Well. 3 varieties are great to plant on a residential lawn:

  1. Thymus serpyllum ‘Elfin’ (Elfin thyme),
  2. Thymus coccineus (Red Creeping thyme),
  3. Thymus pseudolanuginosus (Wooly thyme).

These types of thyme don’t produce much long top growth, making them easy to maintain. 

Creeping thyme sidelawlk lawn

How to Plant a Creeping Thyme Lawn? 

There are several steps you need to take to plant a creeping thyme lawn. 

1. Prepare the Area 

This is perhaps the most important step before you begin planting creeping thyme seeds. Start by removing the grass and weeds that are present in the area.

You can accomplish this by either digging up the grass and weeds manually or by applying herbicides and then raking up the dead grass after a couple of days. 

2. Adjust the Soil Conditions

Creeping thyme isn’t fussy and grows well in sandy, rocky, or otherwise poor soil and in areas that receive at least six or more hours of sunlight each day. 

But for optimal growth, plant creeping thyme in well-draining soil, which has a soil pH between neutral and slightly alkaline soil. 

3. Decide Whether You Want to Plant Creeping Thyme Seeds or Creeping Thyme Plugs

The best time to plant creeping thyme is in the spring or autumn in mild areas and when the temperatures are consistently in the high 60s or above. Avoid planting in the fall to protect the seeds against freeze damage. 

You can either plant creeping thyme plugs or seeds but the former is a more expensive albeit quicker approach to establishing a creeping thyme lawn. If you have large bare areas, I’d recommend planting creepy thyme seeds. 

Planting creepy thyme plugs also requires you to dig holes to accommodate each plug compared to simply spreading creepy thyme seeds with a handheld or broadcast spreader. 

After spreading the seeds,  give them a good drink of water to keep them moist and prevent them from washing away with the wind. 

The creeping thyme seeds should be kept moist until germination, which should be anywhere between 21 to 28 days. Once the seeds have germinated, water to a depth of 6 – 8 inches when the top couple of inches of the soil dries out. 

If you’re experiencing warmer and/or drier climates, adding a little mulch can help retain mulch to accelerate active growth 

Unlike other types of seeds, creeping thyme seeds do not need any special treatment before sowing like soaking, or stratification, and in fact, grow best when raised in trays and then transplanted to your lawn. 

How to Grow a THYME LAWN

When to Water Creeping Thyme? 

Creeping thyme only requires water while its roots are getting established, after which it requires minimal watering and prefers soils on the dry side. 

Many gardeners aren’t used to this little watering schedule, so accidentally over-water creeping thyme, causing root rot and eventually killing the plant. 

Take note that creeping thyme may indeed survive frequent watering, but will showcase poor growth down the line. Creeping thyme only requires good watering when planting, and as needed during the growing season. 

If you plant creeping thyme during the summer, it should be watered approximately 2 – 3 times a week during the first growing season. And creeping thyme in most areas of the country doesn’t need to be watered after the first year. 

Watering a Creeping Thyme Lawn

When to Fertilize Creeping Thyme? 

As I mentioned earlier, creeping thyme doesn’t require any fertilizer if you have good-quality soil.

But if your lawn has poor-quality soil, apply a delayed-release fertilizer once at the start of the growing season. 

To make good soil, mix in a 2-3 inch layer of manure, compost, or other organic material before planting, which should also negate the need for fertilizer. 

What is the Best Fertilizer for Creeping Thyme? 

Creeping thyme doesn’t need regular fertilization, so that’s one lawn maintenance task you can scratch off the list. In fact, adding nitrogen-rich fertilizers can produce leggy and weak creepy thyme plants. 

Simply apply a dose of mulch in the fall or spring to retain moisture to keep creepy thyme plants growing throughout the year. 

You can also use a balanced liquid or delayed-release fertilizer in the spring to grow a healthy creepy thyme ground cover lawn. 

When to Mow Creeping Thyme Lawn? Is Creeping Thyme Invasive?

In most cases, creepy thyme doesn’t grow more than 2 inches tall, but its flower stems stand taller and can begin to look unkempt.

You have 2 options to choose from to improve the appearance of blooming thyme – mowing or pruning. 

Mowing is the faster approach and doesn’t require much effort as long as you’re comfortable pushing a lawnmower. 

  1. Set the lawnmower’s blade to its highest setting, which is somewhere around a 4-inch cutting height.
  2. Let the plant finish flowering in the late summer and mow creeping thyme with the lawnmower. 
  3. Be careful not to mow any sections more than once, and always mow in side-by-side rows. 
  4. Rake the leftover debris, collect it, and dispose of it properly. 
  5. Water thoroughly at the rate of 1 inch of water or enough to moisten the top 6 inches of soil. 
  6. Lastly spread roughly an inch of mulch for healthy growth and prevent weeds. 

How to Prune Creeping Thyme? 

While light mowing improves the creeping thyme’s appearance, pruning the plant’s stems in the early spring prepares it for the growing season ahead. 

The best time to prune creeping thyme is in the early spring and after the flowers die back, usually at the end of the summer.

Prune a second time in late fall, after the first frost, but this time just the leggiest, woodiest stems by half. Maintaining this pruning schedule encourages healthy growth in the spring. 


FAQs 

Q. What are the Benefits of Red Creeping Thyme?

A. The red creeping thyme variety can be used as a colorful ground cover in your vegetable or ornamental garden. Apart from being an excellent companion plant, red creeping thyme repels deers and attracts beneficial insects.

Q. Does Creeping Thyme Spread Fast? 

A. Creepy thyme starts off slowly in the first year but accelerates its growth in the second year. The speed of spreading depends on the species of creeping thyme you’re growing.

Q. Can I Plant Creeping Thyme Directly in the Ground? 

A. You can plant seeds of creeping thyme directly in the ground outdoors after the first frost has passed. 


Final Thoughts 

Creeping thyme is a perennial that is billed as a great ground cover and is also hailed for its aromatic properties. Growing creeping thyme plants as a ground cover requires little effort and can be done in a few steps starting with preparing the area. 

After germination, creepy thyme is a joy to maintain where it doesn’t ask for either water or fertilizer. Furthermore, creepy thyme should only be mowed when it gets untidy, which is probably just once every growing season. 

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