Introduction to Growing Thyme:
Gardeners are generally starting thyme plants for two reasons. For starters, it is great as an accent plant for most gardens as it is extremely easy to grow and very tolerant of its growing conditions. You might find thyme growing through cracks in rock walls or stairways, as well as in professionally landscaped rock gardens. Thyme is also a very versatile herb used to season just about any meat or vegetable. Thyme is another herb that comes from the Mediterranean and has a rich history to go along with it.
Regardless of your reasons for starting thyme plants, there are numerous benefits. Thyme is a perennial, which means it will survive most winters and come back the following year. Thyme is grown much like any other herb.
Ideal Conditions for Growing Thyme:
To achieve the best results, choose a site that gets full sun, preferably 6 to 8 hours per day, though thyme will tolerate lightly shaded areas. Thyme prefers a somewhat dry soil with good drainage, and a good rule of thumb is to mulch your plants with a good compost of organics. If you live in a region where the winters are severe, you may want to mulch your plants heavily so they will survive the cold. Thyme is a very drought tolerant herb and typically only needs watering during very long dry spells.
Growing thyme plants from cuttings is a very easy practice if you have host plants available, or you can buy starter plants from nurseries, or start from seed. You can start your thyme seeds indoors 6 to 8 weeks prior to the last frost, if you would like to get an early jump on the growing season. If sowing your seeds directly in your garden, lay them directly on the surface of the soil uncovered. Keep the soil moist and the seeds will begin to germinate within 10 to 20 days. Since starting thyme plants can be done virtually in any location, one popular use for this plant is along rock walls, or in between pavers in walkways. When the plant gets stepped on, it actually will release its highly aromatic fragrance that people tend to find delightful and stimulating. Thyme is also easily grown in containers as well.
Growing Thyme over Winter:
Thyme is a fairly hardy perennial that should survive most winters, with the exception of those that are most severe. A good way for starting thyme plants year after year is to provide the plants with a nice covering of organic mulch in the fall to help the roots absorb the heat from the daytime sunlight, and survive those bitter cold nights. After you have grown thyme plants for about three years, they will start to become woody. At this point the plants should be dug up and divided into smaller plants, and then replanted. The best time of the year to perform this task is in the spring time, around April.
When you dig up your thyme plants for dividing, make sure to remove as much of the soil as possible. You then will want to carefully tear apart the plant into three or four new plants, taking care that each new plant has both a root and some foliage to get it started. Thyme will reestablish itself very quickly and you will be able to begin harvesting off of the new plants in about three months. The best time of the year for harvesting thyme is June through July, which is why dividing them in the beginning of April is suggested. Keep in mind that the plants will stop growing over the winter, so if you are going to harvest leaves during that time, take them sparingly so you do not risk killing the plant.
Growing Thyme for Cooking:
If you can starting thyme plants for culinary use, you can begin harvesting stems the first year, but take them sparingly so that the plant has a chance to grow strong. The best time of the day to take cuttings is in the morning before the plant blooms. This will give you the very best flavor. You can take off the leaves and use them right away, or you can dry them for a later date.
Generally when growing thyme plants, most cooking recipes will call for the leaves of the plant, but there are instances when the whole “sprig” is used. Thyme differs from most other herbs in that it does not lose as much of its flavor when it is dried. When using dried thyme instead of fresh, be sure to cut back the amount the recipe calls for by as much as two-thirds. Thyme is a very slow releasing herbs, so you can typically add this herb to most recipes early in the process.
Growing Thyme for Medicinal Use:
Another use for growing thyme plants is for medicinal purposes. Thyme carries oil that is made up of up to fifty percent thymol. Thymol is an antiseptic that surprisingly is the active ingredient of modern day Listerine. In older thymes, early doctors and medics would use thyme as a means of treating bandages for wounds. Thyme is highly effective against some funguses, and it can be found in most natural hand sanitizers.
Early peoples were believed to be growing thyme to make into tea, which was given to patients for bad coughs or bronchitis. Its antiseptic qualities make thyme effective against respiratory infections, when made into a salve or steamed for inhalation. Be sure to consult your doctor before starting any herbal medical treatment.
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