The aromatic foliage of thyme will fill the air with scent on a warm sunny day, while its flowers are a magnet to wildlife. Its edible leaves are used fresh or dried to flavour soups, stews, fish, meat, sausages, stuffings and vegetable dishes. They are an important ingredient in bouquet garni and herbes de Provence.
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Thyme can be brought at ready-grown plants, but is also easy to grow from seed.
In early spring fill small pots with seed sowing compost and scatter a few seeds lightly over the surface. Cover with a light layer of sieved compost and water gently. Place in a propagator to germinate. When seedlings are large enough to handle, prick out into individual pots.
Plants hate too much water and are fairly drought tolerant. Ensure plants in pots are not allowed to dry out completely for any length of time during long hot, dry spells.
Place a collar of horticultural grit or gravel around plants in the ground to protect the foliage from wet soil.
Clip to shape after flowering with secateurs.
Remove fallen leaves that settle on thyme plants in autumn to prevent rotting.
Protect plants in pots from excessive winter wet by placing in a rain shadow or a dry, light position and raise onto pot feet to allow the compost to drain freely.
Plant out in a warm, sunny spot in the garden. They demand well-drained soil and will rot over winter if the ground is too wet. If your soil is too heavy or you have a small garden, grow thyme in pots – they will thrive in 15cm (6in) pots filled with a gritty potting medium, ideally soil.
As thyme is evergreen, the leaves can be harvested all year round, but the soft new growth in summer has the best flavour.
Use scissors to snip off young shoots whenever needed, but take care not to spoil the shape of the plant. Regular harvesting helps to keep thyme compact and bushy, with lots of new leaves.
The leaves can be used fresh or dried for later use.
To dry, hang up sprigs in a warm, dark, well-ventilated place. When fully dried, store the leaves in an air-tight jar.
Small creatures covered in a white ‘meal’ cluster in inaccessible spaces like leaf joints or under loose bark. They suck sap and secrete ‘honeydew’ which causes black sooty mould on the leaves.
Use biological controls and encourage ladybirds.
The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.