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Groundcover Wednesday: Lemon Thyme

Thyme remains evergreen all winter in our Zone 4B climate

Thyme remains evergreen all winter in our Zone 4B climate

From Estabrook's Greenhouses, Yarmouth, Maine

From Estabrook’s Greenhouses, Yarmouth, Maine

thymeline2

With the onset of summer and in honor of beginning our second year of the blog, we’re adding a new feature beginning today: Groundcover Wednesdays. Offered up under the premise that properties shouldn’t be designed with turfgrass alone, these weekly posts will focus on some of the best grass replacement plants, or plants for those places where grass just doesn’t do well. Special emphasis will be given to plants that never, ever require pesticide applications.

As we build up our list of great groundcovers through the year, we’d love to hear your suggestions, too. And please feel free to share any photos you have. I’m sure our members would love to see them.

Week One:

LEMON THYME

Unquestionably my favorite groundcover, I simply adore this plant for its scent, its appearance, its durability and the fact that it’s also edible. What more could you ask for?

Here’s a rundown:

Botanical name: Thymus citriodorus

Plant Characteristics: Low maintenance, disease, insect and drought tolerant. Tolerates wind and slopes. Resists deer and rabbits.

Foliage Characteristics: Fragrant, shimmering green, although some cultivars are variegated.

Flower Characteristics: Fragrant pink or purple. Scented. Blooms early to late summer.

USDA Hardiness Zone: 4 to 9

Light Range: Part shade to Full Sun

pH Range: 5.5 to 8

Soil Range: Mostly Sand to Clay Loam

General Comments: This plant is about as self-sufficient as it gets; in fact you should avoid most temptations to give it fertilizer or other care, other than maybe a shot of organic fertilizer once in the fall. It’s most fragrant and flavorful when grown in dry, lean soil.

Troubleshooting: Avoid too much moisture or the plants may rot. Try to obtain well-rooted cuttings from existing plants and space them 4-6 inches apart in the beginning, although you can start the plants from seed if you have patience. In southern climates the plant can get more shrub-like, so give it a hard pruning in the spring to get it low to the ground.

About The Author

Paul Tukey

An international leader of the green movement, Mr. Tukey is a journalist, author, filmmaker, TV host, activist and award-winning public speaker, who is widely recognized as North America's leading advocate for landscape sustainability and toxic pesticide reduction strategies.

Number of Entries : 1023
  • Peggy

    Hi..
    I would love to know what to plant in the area between my wall and the street. My landscaper put crushed stone down..and it looks great..but..now..all the weeds have come up and it looks awful.
    Thank you.
    Peggy

    • Paul Tukey

      Peggy,
      What are the light and soil conditions in the area?

      • Peggy

        i never tested the soil..but..i believe it is not too organic and got some sand in it..it is next to road… Direct sunlight all day.
        thanks paul

  • http://MountainLakesOrganic.com Marnie Vyff

    I planted hairy vetch in my vegetable garden to fix the nitrogen and it is so incredibly beautiful, I’m thinking of planting it instead of my lawn. I planted it in October. Immediately it took and created a green cover which stayed green through the winter. Now, June, it has had beautiful purple flowers for at least 6 weeks and is lush looking. It grows thickly keeping all weeds out. My only fear is what it will look like toward the end of the summer. It does keep the ground very moist, so it shouldn’t be too bad.

  • denise

    Are there any Native cultivars of thyme ? I am trying to go with native plants as much as possible in my Long Island, NY home. There are so many invasive plants competing for nutrients, water, etc. and this has impacted the kind wildlife we see here. I like this idea, now can it be tweaked towards a Native North American plant ?

    I am so glad you are doing this weekly series.

    • Paul Tukey

      Denise, Thyme is native to the Mediterranean. I’m not aware of any native species, but I’m not positive on that. It’s a good question. We will certainly keep our focus on native plants when possible. When we do talk about plants from “away,” we will not include any that are known to be an exotic invasive. Thyme has been grown on this continent for at least 400 years; it is included in the diaries of our first settlers. That, of course, brings up the age-old debate of what is native, or not. Many of the plants that we commonly celebrate today (lilacs, lawn grasses and many other herbs just to name a few) weren’t grown here before the first settlers arrived. Thanks for the great feedback.

  • Jim Clark

    I live in Maine, in a Mobile home park (Augusta area) and the grass gets treated a heavy dose of road salt and the occassional plow running over my lawn. Since the land is “rented” I certainly do not feel the need to put a lot of money into it! Would this Lemon Thyme be a good alternative?

    • Paul Tukey

      Jim,
      Lemon thyme isn’t going to be a good choice in that situation. Birdsfoot trefoil, a European plant that is salt tolerant, can work very well in that situation. Some states consider the plant to be invasive, however, especially in the Plains states and areas of northern California.

  • ML Machias

    I have a backyard with very little topsoil and a rocky (under the soil) hill under pine trees. I have been trying to let it go natural with groundcover. Would lemon thyme work under pine trees?
    Thanks.
    ML Machias
    Kingston, NH

    • Paul Tukey

      ML,
      Thyme needs more sun than you’ll get in that situation; ground ivy would be a good choice.

  • http://www.marketamerica.com/suzanne Suzanne

    HELP … Shady, pine/oak, moist and mosquitos (even at 12 Noon)! New England environment … Senior with bad back and knees, loves the idea of Ground Cover Wednesday !
    So far the moss is filling in the yard, especially with all the rain. There are blades of grass here and there, as well as weeds that need to be removed/mowed, until the ground cover really fills in. Will I always have to maintain the moss?
    Sadly, my son-in-law pulled up all the pachysandra boardering the sidewalk because of the attacking mosquitos … any really low maintenance landscape ideas or should I just stay inside?
    Oh yes … the deer eat my prized Hosta and Rhododendron … even the
    pinetrees have lost their lower branches.
    HELLO OUT THERE! I know I’m not alone with these issues …

    • Paul Tukey

      Suzanne,
      The moss will continue to fill in if you keep acidifying the soil and you keep it moist, more moist than grass likes it. As for the mosquitoes, try to avoid standing water. Here is a great product to check out: http://www.naturehills.com/product/mosquito_bits_30oz.aspx.

  • Patty Ghertner

    A word of caution about using lemon thyme as a groundcover. I’m in Nashville, Tennessee and have grown lemon thyme and other thymes for many years. In my climate, after a year or two, thymes tend to become very woody and die back in the center. To remedy this problem, you have to divide them. The good news is this gives you more plants for your garden or to share with friends, but it takes time and energy. Cutting them back hard in the spring doesn’t really work. The roots need to be divided.

    In my neighborhood, we have large yards. When we moved into our house 12 years ago, we had over an acre of lawn. I have slowly been converting the lawn into gardens and raised beds, but I still have too much lawn as far as I’m concerned. I look forward to your groundcover Wednesdays for ideas for large areas. The typical choice in our area is vinca or euonymus, which I will not use since they are exotic invasives in Tennessee.

    • Marion Copleston

      Hello Patty,
      I don’t have any experience with lemon thyme, but we have planted a portion of our lawn with wild thyme (Thymus serpyllum)also known as Creeping Thyme. It never gets woody and has developed into a fabulous, low growing, soft carpet, with the added benefit of a lovely fragrance when you walk on it.

  • Kate

    Zone 4 here, too, in Vermont, and our problem area is over the septic field, and on the north side of some big Maples — wet and shady. Oh, and we have to drive the tractor over it to get to the field, so the moss that is there just gets torn up. Since it is over the leach field can’t be deep-rooted (and it was several owners-ago who thought putting the leach field under a tree was a good idea, but it is still working). Any ideas?

    Thanks!

    • Paul Tukey

      Kate, Try chewings red fescue in that situation, but you may need to test the soil and raise the pH

  • http://groundcoverspecialists.com Rob

    I love ground cover wednesdays. Check out groundcoverspecialists.com its ground cover day every day there. just having fun love the blog

  • Michelle Q

    We have a large front lawn in Southern NH, with a lot of garden beds spread throughout. Stone wall runs along the front, split in half by a walkway (which splits the lawn in half) going straight from the front door to the street. Very sandy soil right near the walkway. A huge boulder or ledge in the ground under and near the walkway causes the lawn to burn there, and then an electrical conduit leading to a post lamp, all wreak havoc with the grass on the edge of the walkway. We’re thinking a groundcover that can be mowed right over would be the best way to go, as access with our rider to all areas of the lawn is impossible if the we plant something else along side of the walkway. Would lemon thyme work in this situation? Area gets full sun for about 75% of the day. We also want to try to keep the ground cover from infiltrating the grass. Suggestions? Thanks!

    • Paul Tukey

      Michelle,
      It sounds as if lemon thyme would be perfect!

  • http://listofspices.com spice list

    Since we are discussing the many benefits of
    Groundcover Wednesday: Lemon Thyme | Safelawns Daily Post and Q&A Blog , You have an endless variety of herbs to choose from. If you are a beginner, you should start with basic herbs commonly used in everyday cooking dishes.

  • http://florists.findincity.net florists

    HELP … Shady, pine/oak, moist and mosquitos (even at 12 Noon)! New England environment … Senior with bad back and knees, loves the idea of Ground Cover Wednesday !
    So far the moss is filling in the yard, especially with all the rain. There are blades of grass here and there, as well as weeds that need to be removed/mowed, until the ground cover really fills in. Will I always have to maintain the moss?
    Sadly, my son-in-law pulled up all the pachysandra boardering the sidewalk because of the attacking mosquitos … any really low maintenance landscape ideas or should I just stay inside?
    Oh yes … the deer eat my prized Hosta and Rhododendron … even the
    pinetrees have lost their lower branches.
    HELLO OUT THERE! I know I’m not alone with these issues …

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