How to Plant, Grow, and Care for Creeping Thyme

If you’re looking for a low-maintenance groundcover that will cut down on mowing and smells great, creeping thyme is perfect. In this article, gardening expert Melissa Strauss will tell you how to replace your lawn with an aromatic herb that pollinators love, too!

Vibrant purple Creeping Thyme flowers bloom in clusters, forming a mesmerizing carpet. The tiny blossoms showcase delicate petals, adding a burst of color. The lush green leaves of Creeping Thyme create a dense and textured ground cover resembling a vibrant lawn.


Lawn replacement is all the rage these days, with lower maintenance alternatives making grass lawns feel like a Saturday not well spent. If you’ve considered replacing your grass lawn with a groundcover alternative, Creeping thyme is a great little plant that does the job efficiently and provides a carpet of color throughout the summer months.


Rich, royal purple Creeping Thyme blossoms burst forth, capturing attention with their vivid hue. Slender stems gracefully interweave, supporting the lush, green leaves. Together, they compose a mesmerizing tapestry of color and texture.
Plant Type Evergreen
Family Lamiaceae
Genus Thymus
Species serpyllum
Native Area Northern Europe, Western Asia, and Northern Africa
Exposure Full sun
Height 2”-3”
Watering Requirements Low
Pests and Diseases Grey mold, root rot, aphids, spider mites
Maintenance Low
Soil Type Sandy, loam, well-drained
Soil pH Neutral to slightly alkaline

What is Creeping Thyme?

This ornamental herb is a member of the mint family and quite a beautiful one at that. While it is not a plant of remarkable size, when planted in mass, this herb makes a truly stunning groundcover that flowers beautifully in summer.

You may have seen a lawn covered in this wandering plant with its small, fragrant leaves. If you’ve passed by one in the summer, it is a sight that certainly would stand out, as a carpet of purple flowers far outshines any of its green grassy neighbors. Let’s take a look at this sturdy little plant that makes such a wonderful lawn alternative. 


A close-up of a stunning  flower lawn, presenting a mesmerizing carpet of purple blossoms. The collective display of these petite flowers creates a visually captivating scene, transforming the ground into a vibrant tapestry.
The word “Thyme” has sparked debates about its etymology.

This species grows low to the ground in a rambling or trailing fashion. Thymes have been cultivated for ages and are best known for their culinary use as a savory seasoning. Over the centuries, they served many other purposes. The earliest recorded use, by the Romans, was vital to bee culture.

The etymology of the word thyme has been debated, and some historians accept that the root of the word comes from the Latin word thymus meaning smoke, and refers to the use of this herb as an incense. However, others believe that the herb and its name pre-date the term, and liken it to the Greek word thymos, which means courage. 

In the Medieval period, ladies would embroider a sprig of thyme on the scarves that they presented to their chosen knight, reinforcing the idea that the plant symbolizes courage. Still, another theory claims that the name is derived from the Greek word thyo, which means sacrifice, attributed to its use in perfuming temples. 

Native Area

A close-up of  Thyme plants showcases a lush cluster of delicate purple flowers, forming a vibrant tapestry. The small blossoms attract pollinators, creating a lively scene. Surrounding the blooms are vibrant green leaves, adding texture and contrast to the overall composition.
This versatile plant can thrive in poor soil conditions and is resilient to drought.

Creeping thyme is native to the Palearctic realm of Europe and Asia and parts of Northern Africa. Its ability to grow in poor soil types and its drought tolerance makes it common to sandy and rocky landscapes, roadsides, riverside sand banks, and hillsides. 


A close-up of plants encircling a large white stone while creating a serene and harmonious garden setting. The flowers, in purple hues, create a visual spectacle, while the luscious green leaves provide a lush backdrop, enhancing the natural beauty of the scene.
Creeping thyme is a dwarf evergreen with a taproot that becomes woody over time.

As the name suggests, this is a low-growing species with a trailing or creeping habit. It is a dwarf evergreen that forms a taproot and becomes woody as it ages. As it spreads, this herb forms a mat on the ground with its dense, aromatic foliage. 

This ground cover has small, ovate leaves that grow in opposite pairs. They are a pleasing blue-green color and have a lightly flocked surface, which creates a very soft and attractive appearance. 

In the summer, it sends up vertical flower stems topped with clusters of fragrant flowers that are highly appealing to bees. The flowers can be pink or white, but most commonly are pale purple. When in bloom, the plant takes on the appearance of a thick carpet of flowers, and when walked upon, the plant releases its scent into the air


A close-up showcasing vibrant  Thyme plants nestled along the border of sizable white tiles in an intricately designed garden floor. The petite purple blossoms of Creeping Thyme add a burst of color, complementing the lush green leaves and delicate grasses that surround them.
A notable feature of this plant is the delightful aroma released when walked upon.

Creeping thyme is an edible form of the herb, but it is most often used as an ornamental ground cover or trailing border. It makes a stunning carpeted path through the cottage garden or to fill in between stepping stones. One of the nicest characteristics of the plant is the wonderful aroma that is released as it is walked on. 

Where to Buy

A vibrant and diverse selection of  plants presented for sale in a market setting. The lush foliage and various colors showcase the beauty and appeal of these popular groundcover plants.
Buy this herb in local nurseries and online retailers.

You can find this plant at most local nurseries, as it is a relatively common plant that is popular for its ornamental use. Many online retailers also carry it, and this may be a better option if you are particular about the flower color you prefer


A close-up of a flourishing plant in a spacious brown pot, its tiny tendrils gracefully cascading down towards the container. Positioned adjacent to a transparent window, the plant enjoys ample sunlight, highlighting the intricate details of its lush foliage and enhancing the overall aesthetic.
To provide ample space for spreading, plant about one foot apart.

If you prefer to grow from seed, start them indoors in the winter, about eight to ten weeks before the last expected frost. Plants can go in the ground when the thermometer hits 60°F (16°C), and no more threat of frost exists. 

Thyme is evergreen, but it needs to establish roots and be a strong, mature plant to survive freezing. Space your plants about one foot apart to allow them space to spread out. 

How to Grow

Creeping thyme is cold hardy, low-maintenance, and easy to grow. It adapts quite well to different soil types and doesn’t mind poor soil. It is drought-tolerant and won’t appeal to deer or rabbits. Pollinators love it and will flock to the sea of purple flowers in summer. It truly is an ideal ground cover


A close-up captures pink blossoms, showcasing nature's pastel masterpiece in intricate floral detail. The green leaves, neatly arranged and slender, create a harmonious contrast, contributing to the plant's overall visual charm and aromatic appeal in garden settings.
Mass planting showcases truly spectacular flowers when in full bloom.

Like all thymes, the creeping variety grows best in full sun. It will survive, and the plant may even look quite healthy in partial shade, but for the most intense flower production, these plants need at least six hours of sun daily. The flowers truly are a spectacular sight when in full bloom on a mass planting. 


A close-up of plants showcasing delicate lilac-colored flowers, their petals unfurling in intricate patterns, creating a vibrant tapestry. The leaves, small and green, form a lush carpet, adding texture to the garden landscape.
Once established, there’s minimal need to add extra water to your plant.

This thyme is considered drought tolerant, and it certainly enjoys a well-drained location. When first planted, you may need to water your plants once or twice weekly, but be sure to allow the soil to dry in between waterings as these plants do not like wet feet. 

Once your plants are established, there will be little need to supplement rainwater in terms of moisture. Unless you are gardening in an arid climate, this plant should be fine without being watered often. In times of drought once every one to two weeks is fine.


A close-up of fertile loamy soil, rich and dark, teeming with life. Beside it, a gardening shovel and rake with brown wooden handles stand ready for cultivation. The tools' earth-stained surfaces reflect a history of nurturing the earth.
Improve drainage by loosening the soil with compost and other materials.

Because it is susceptible to root rot, it is imperative that the soil is well-draining. If your soil is very clay-heavy, it may be more difficult for you to grow this plant. You’ll likely have to do some major amending of clay soil to keep your thyme happy. 

An ideal soil texture will be loamy with a fair amount of sand or gravel. Loosen your soil by mixing in some compost and other materials to improve drainage if needed. Use coarse sand when planting in the ground, or perlite if you’re keeping this as a container plant. Preferably, the soil should have a neutral to slightly alkaline pH.

Temperature and Humidity

A close-up showcasing delicate lilac flowers, emanating a subtle charm in their intricate bloom. The tiny, lush leaves complement the vibrant blossoms, forming a picturesque carpet of greenery that adds a touch of nature's elegance to any landscape.
In hot and dry conditions, be prepared to water your thyme more frequently.

Thyme, like many herbs, has very good heat and frost tolerance. It will even retain its foliage through the winter in milder climates. To protect your thyme in the winter, a thick layer of mulch around the base of the plant will act as insulation for the roots. Ultimately, it is root hardy to -30°F (-34°C).

It grows best between 65°-85°F (18°-29°C) and is drought-resistant in this range as well. In very hot and dry weather, expect to water more often. Humidity is not much of a factor. It will tolerate it if there is proper air circulation, but it doesn’t need an especially high level to thrive. 


A close-up captures brown slow-release fertilizer granules meticulously placed in rich, black compost. The golden hues of the granules blend seamlessly with the nutrient-rich compost, creating a harmonious environment for plant growth. Surrounding the granules, vivid green leaves signify the promise of flourishing plant life.
Avoid excessive nitrogen to prevent leggy growth.

Too much nitrogen will lead to leggy growth. Since thick, lush foliage is what we typically want from a ground cover, excess nitrogen should be avoided.

Thyme doesn’t need much fertilizer, but if you want to give it a boost in the spring, a slow-release fertilizer or an application of liquid fish fertilizer will give your plants all the nutrients they need. 


A vibrant cluster of tiny purple flowers, creating a stunning focal point. The delicate blooms form a captivating tapestry, accentuating the lush green leaves that provide a rich backdrop to the intricate floral display.
Shaping the plant in late summer after flowering enhances its overall appearance.

Creeping thyme is low-maintenance, but it’s not no-maintenance. This plant does need to be pruned regularly to keep the foliage dense, especially if you are growing it as a groundcover.

The ideal time to prune is in the late fall or early spring. Remove all of the leggy growth, you can use a mower for large swaths of plants, but set the mower blade no lower than three inches. 

If you prune too hard and hit the woody portions of stems, you may not see as much growth in the coming year, if ever. Don’t prune too late in the spring or you risk cutting off buds and preventing your thyme from producing those wonderful flowers. A shaping in late summer after flowering will keep your plant looking more attractive as well. 

Growing in Containers

Basking in direct sunlight, the vibrant plants create a visual symphony, combining the graceful descent of the foliage with the radiant allure of the blooming clusters.
Creeping thyme in containers yields successful results.

You can definitely grow this plant in containers, and it makes a great filler-spiller plant in planter arrangements where it will fill in between other plants and spill over the pot as well. Make sure that your container has drainage holes, and use loose, well-draining soil, and your thyme should thrive in a sunny spot. 


A close-up reveals Thyme plants adorned with delicate lilac-colored flowers, creating a captivating sight. The vibrant blooms stand out against the backdrop of lush green leaves, forming a harmonious blend of colors. Planted in rich brown soil during the summer, these Thyme plants thrive in their natural environment.
Patience is essential as germination may take up to three weeks.

Because the stems are short, propagation by cuttings is an ineffective way to propagate. Propagation by seed and division is much more effective and will result in stronger plants.

Start your seeds in late winter, giving them about two months before the last expected frost to grow indoors. The seeds can take up to three weeks to germinate, so patience is required. Plant your seeds in a loose, moist potting mix, and cover them with plastic, then set them next to a warm window to germinate. A grow light is effective, too. Transfer outdoors when the temperature reaches around 60°F (16°C).

To propagate by division, select a young, strong plant. A one to two-year-old plant will work better than an older plant with woodier growth. Dig up your selected plant, being careful to preserve the roots because you need to save all you have. 

Use a sharp knife to cut sections of the plant apart, making as many divisions as you like, as long as each has some roots attached. Plant your new divisions where you would like them to grow and tend to them as new plants until they are established. 

Common Problems

Although it is a very sturdy and resilient plant, there are a few vulnerabilities that could have your plant looking a bit sad, and not growing to its full potential. 

Lack of Flowers

A close-up of the lush green leaves , showcasing their intricate patterns and vibrant hues. Amidst the foliage, tiny white flowers add a touch of elegance, although their scarcity hints at a lack of sunlight, affecting their bloom.
Keep in mind that insufficient sunlight can lead to a lack of blooms.

If you don’t see flowers the first year, don’t fret. If you grow your plants from seed, chances are good that they won’t flower in their first year. Just keep tending to them as you would, and you will probably see flowers the following summer. 

A lack of sunlight can also cause a scarcity of flowers. Remember that thyme is a full sun plant and in the partial shade it will flower much less. Seasonality is another factor, as these plants flower in the summer, so if you are expecting flowers in the spring, you’ll have to wait a bit longer. 


A cluster of small, yellow aphids with delicate translucent wings, feeding on the sap of a vibrant green leaf. These tiny insects form a bustling infestation, primarily congregating on the undersides of the leaf.
Pests can be removed from the plant by using a steady stream of water.

The two most common insect enemies are aphids and spider mites. Aphids are easy to spot, as they are larger, and their damage tends to happen quickly. These insects attack newer, tender growth, draining it of water and nutrients and leaving young leaves curled and damaged. 

Spider mites are more difficult to see, as they are much smaller, and reside on the underside of leaves in hot dry climates. They will ultimately cause a decline in the health of the plant and potentially death. Both insects can be knocked off the plant with a steady stream of water, which will help to reduce the population.

Try to avoid harsh, chemical insecticides, especially when the plant is flowering, as this is detrimental to pollinators. Rather, consider natural control by attracting predatory insects like lacewings and ladybugs into the garden. Neem oil is a less harmful alternative to pesticides and is harmless once dry, so spraying in the afternoon will help lower the risk of harm to beneficial insects.


 slender stems and tiny, green leaves, sprawls gracefully across brown soil. The vibrant leaves exhibit a lush and intricate pattern, creating a visually appealing ground cover that enhances the beauty of the garden.
Root rot occurs when the soil lacks proper drainage or in areas of high humidity.

Most of the disease-related issues that you can encounter with this plant are fungal. Root rot is prevalent when the soil doesn’t have proper drainage or in areas of high humidity. This issue typically rears its head in cooler months due to overwatering, as the soil takes longer to dry so the roots are exposed to wet soil for longer periods. 

Avoid watering established plants in the cooler months. As long as there is regular rainfall, creeping thyme is unlikely to need additional moisture. If your plants start to look droopy with yellowing leaves, you may be looking at a case of root rot. Relocating the plants and removing all affected root tissue is the best hope for recovery. 

Grey mold is another potential enemy. This airborne pathogen favors cool, humid weather and affects all parts of the plant. Removing the affected plant or plants is the best solution to preventing the spread of this disease. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Will My Creeping Thyme Return Every Year?

In zones 4-9, it is an evergreen perennial that will live up to five years with proper care.

Is Creeping Thyme Invasive?

No, it is easy to keep this plant under control as it spreads slowly, and does not self seed aggressively.

Is Creeping Thyme Toxic for Pets?

No. It is completely edible for people and animals and will cause no harm to pets if ingested.

Final Thoughts

Creeping thyme is a pretty little plant that requires little of its owner in return for a very colorful summer season and a wonderfully fragrant way to replace traditional grass lawns. If you are interested in cutting back on your lawn maintenance and adding a plant to your yard that will feed pollinators, this low-growing herb is a perfect plant for the task

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