Mother of Thyme (Thymus praecox)

Creeping Thyme, Mother of Thyme, Woolly Thyme

Creeping thyme, also known commonly as ‘Mother of Thyme,’ is an easily grown, spreading thyme variety. It is excellent planted as a lawn substitute or among stepping stones or pavers to create a living patio. Let’s learn more about creeping thyme plant care.

I. Appearance and Characteristics 

Thymus praecox is a species of thyme. A common name is mother of thyme, but “creeping thyme” and “wild thyme” may be used where Thymus serpyllum, which also shares these names, is not found. It is native to central, southern, and western Europe.

Thymus praecox is in the genus Thymus belonging to the Serpyllum section. It has sometimes been reclassified as T. polytrichus.

Thymus praecox is a low-growing perennial hardy in USDA hardiness zones 4-9 with fairly minimal requirements. An evergreen with lightly haired foliage, this tiny-growing creeping thyme varieties rarely over 3 inches or 7.5 cm. It will appear in low, dense mats, which sprawl randomly and quickly fill in areas as a ground cover.

Flowers sometimes appear as early as May, however most varieties bloom from June to August. They cover the entire color pallet from pink to carmine red. And white is also available. The characteristic labiate flowers of Thymus praecox are directly on top of the thick cushion of foliage. They attract bees and other insects as if by magic.

II. How to Grow and Care

Sunlight

Mother of thyme responds best to full sun exposure and enjoys light afternoon shade. Full sun helps keep soils from getting damp. Mother of thyme serves well as year-round ground cover; planting it along edges, on slopes, or in rock gardens is a good way to use it, provided the location is exposed to sun. If full sunlight is not available, plants should receive at least 6 hours of partial sun each day.

Temperature

Mother of thyme is a hardy perennial. Most species prefer temperate to warm, sunny climates to grow to their fullest potential. Average climatic temperatures of 20 to 30 ℃ during spring and early summer are best for growth, along with soil temperatures above 18 ℃ post-harvest. Like all perennials, it prefers moist soil during the first year while the root system gets established. After that, most varieties need adequately drained soil, as the genus is susceptible to root rot.

Watering

While the roots are getting established, keep the soil moist. Water the plant every other day. Once established, mother of thyme requires little watering and tend to prefer soils on the dry side; mother of thyme needs little more than natural rainfall as a source of water. Research has shown that the quality of the oils and aroma created by the mother of thyme increase with less watering.

Soil

Mother of thyme tolerates different soils, but ideally, soil should be slightly sandy. Soil for planting mother of thyme should be adequately drained, as it is susceptible to root rot. Heavy, wet soils also accommodate the plant, but the aroma will not be as strong.

Fertilizing

The Thymus genus does not need a great deal of fertilization, as an over-supply of nutrients can lead to thin, spindly branches. However, a modest amount of NPK+sulphur can be applied as base fertilizer when planted, and moderate applications of nitrogen after pruning or harvesting can help promote new growth. Over-fertilization can impact the quality of leaf aroma.

Planting Instructions

Mother of thyme can be grown from seed or stem cuttings, through divisions, or through layering. Seeds can be planted in spring as early as one month before the last frost, but the germination rate is relatively slow. Mother of thyme can be grown more easily from cuttings made from healthy, mature stems, cut 5 to 10 cm long and taken from well-developed plants during the spring.

Alternatively, fully established plants can be purchased and re-planted. Root systems should be fully watered before transplanting, as roots can dry out during transport. Transplant before midday or in the evening to avoid extremes of temperatures. Space plants 15 to 30 cm apart. Sometimes mother of thyme can be invasive and extend to areas where it may not be wanted, so position with care.

Pruning

Mother of thyme should be cut back to about 8 cm twice during the growing season to ensure strong and vigorous growth. Pruning is particularly effective in spring to encourage new growth. In addition, Mother of thyme should be divided and planted separately every 4-5 years.

Propagation

Creeping thyme can be propagated by stem cutting or division. Snip a few stems that are not in bloom, remove the lower leaves, and then put them in water on a windowsill to develop roots. Cuttings can be potted once some roots have emerged.

You can divide creeping thyme as well. As the plants grow, you can gently pull out a root ball and divide it in half. Replant one half and replant or donate the other half. Remember to water deeply to assist the roots in recovering from stress.

It’s best to divide every few seasons in the spring or early fall. Plants may need to be divided sooner if they are initially spaced more closely together.

Pests and Diseases

All types of thyme have natural antibacterial and antifungal properties that keep pests and diseases away. This makes it a great companion for other plants. The most important thing to keep an eye out for is root rot, which can occur if the soil does not drain well.

If you experience root rot, amend the soil by adding sand and other organic materials like compost or leaf mold. Then replant while keeping a close eye on the soil’s moisture content.

However, spider mites can be a problem for creeping thyme plants in hot, dry summer conditions. These pests can be effectively treated with insecticidal soap. Both spider mites and aphids can infest houseplants and can be killed with insecticidal soap.

Overwintering

If possible, planted mother of thyme should be brought indoors during the winter and allowed to grow indoors during cold periods. If left outdoors, plants should be covered with a layer of mulch to provide some level of protection against frost.

III. Uses and Benefits 

  • Ornamental uses

Creeping thyme, as the name suggests, is ideal as a creeping plant and . It is perfect for any areas where a flowing transition is required. Thymus praecox grows over tops of walls, around seedbed edges and softens architectural edges. It is ideal for planting in troughs and as a gap filler in natural flagstones. The Creeping thyme is one of the few plants you can also walk on.

The carpet former also looks great at a higher level on table beds. At this height you can stroke the aromatic herb or watch the lively bees toil away. At an even greater height you can use Creeping thyme . The shallow roots are an option for exposed areas thanks to their heat resistance. It is a must in . The floral mats weave between cheddar pinks and wild pinks, Helianthemum and Catsfoot (Antennaria dioica), creating a natural scene and bringing visual calm to planting.

  • Culinary uses

This thyme has a strong scent similar to Oregano. It can be used in cuisine.

IV. Harvesting and Storage

When mother of thyme reaches 15 to 20 cm tall, it can be harvested. The strongest flavors and scents are present in harvested twigs and leaves just before twig flowers open. Mother of thyme can be expected to bloom for the first time at the end of the summer of its second season.

If harvesting mother of thyme to dry in the sunshine, twigs and leaves should be cut just as the flowers begin to bloom. plant parts can be cut using secateurs or sharp kitchen scissors. Trim the tops of woody branches first using a garden pruner. Place cut stems or leaves on waxed or parchment paper and leave for a few days to a week to dry.

Mother of Thyme (Thymus praecox) Details

Common name Creeping Thyme, Mother of Thyme, Woolly Thyme
Botanical name Thymus praecox
Plant type Ground Cover
Hardiness zone 5a, 5b, 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b
Growth rate Medium
Harvest time Fall
Height 0 ft. 3 in. - 0 ft. 6 in.
Width 0 ft. 3 in. - 0 ft. 6 in.
Sunlight Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
Soil condition Sand
Flower color Pink
Leaf color Blue