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Elfin Thyme Care: How To Grow And Care For Elfin Creeping Thyme Plant

The elfin thyme is one of those multipurpose plants that make a good case as to why you should plant them in your garden. A woody creeping perennial, the elfin thyme plant (Thymus serpyllum) is an aromatic shrub that grows close to the ground and covers the area like a fragrant and thick cushion. With tiny round leaves that come in gray-green shades, the elfin thyme puts on a show with lavender flowers that bloom in the early summer.

Elfin thyme
Image by Kasmira from Flickr.

But it’s actually the leaves that make this plant attractive. They’re slightly aromatic without being intoxicating and in mild to warm weathers, they can last through the winter. As a creeper, the elfin thyme plant will barely grow more than a couple of inches high, but its stems will crawl and cover an area of about 12 inches wide. This helps you keep invasive plants such as weed from taking root in your garden. 

Benefits of Elfin Creeping Thyme Plant

Have you ever wondered why you would want to grow a plant that creeps over the ground and acts like the more expensive version of turfgrass? Well, just consider all those empty spaces in your garden or lawn that are too tiny or awkward to grow anything in them. Low-maintenance elfin creeping thyme plants sound like the right solution for these situations. But the benefits and uses of elfin thyme are not limited to covering up difficult or embarrassing patches in your garden. 

  • The elfin thyme has a fast growth rate making it ideal to plant on stone walls and drops to cover them with a fragrant blanket.
  • Adds a colorful shade when you plant it in a pathway or between stones.
  • Doesn’t damage easily and will withstand the punishment it gets from heavy traffic.
  • The abundance of colorful blooms in the early summer almost take over the whole plant and cover the leaves.
  • The leaves are edible and you can make delicious tea with them or add them to various types of soups.
  • The essential oil extracted from the leaves goes into many lotions, soaps, and cosmetic products.
  • In the kitchen, use elfin thyme leaves in meat recipes, marinades, herb butter, and many more. 
  • It is also resistant to many wildlife such as rabbits and deer.
  • Acts as a colorful backdrop to many flowering plants in the foreground. 
  • Elfin thyme is an attractive and more aromatic substitute to the boring turfgrass.
  • Suitable for many kinds of weather and has USDA hardiness zones between 2 and 9.

Thyme Plant Varieties

Once you’ve decided that your garden, let alone your kitchen, could use the colors and fragrance that the elfin thyme is famous for, it’s time to choose the right variety for you. Almost all varieties of this creeping thyme are aromatic. But the question is, what flower colors are you interested in and which variety suits the weather conditions in your area. 

  • Pink Chintz: The dark green leaves of this variety of creeping thyme are tiny but also fuzzy to the touch. The flowers come in two shades of pink, either light or dark pink. It grows fast and spreads to about 24 inches wide covering more ground than the other types. So it works well in large spaces than in tiny borders or corners.
  • Red Creeping Thyme: The flowers of this variety are small but bright and have one shade, magenta. The tiny flowers tend to cover the ground eclipsing the leaves in the bloom season. It’s also a fast grower and despite only rising to about one inch above the ground, it grows to 18 inches wide in every direction.
  • Wooly Thyme: A showy variety not just with its pink or purplish flowers, but mainly with its leaves. The small oval leaves are silver-green and form spirals giving them a unique look. Grow this variety in your garden if you tend to forget to water your plants regularly since it is drought-resistant. However, it doesn’t tolerate heat well, so it’s not recommended for hot climates.
  • Elfin Thyme: It grows slower than other varieties and needs less maintenance. On average it will take up between 8 to 12 inches of space. The flowers are either pink or lavender or a blend of both of those colors. This variety is the focus of this article. 

How to Grow Elfin Creeping Thyme Plant

As a versatile plant, the elfin thyme grows well in just about any setting. You can grow it in the garden, in the pathway, near borders, over a stone wall, or even in a container. One thing you need to pay attention to if you want to grow it in a pot is the size of that container or pot. The elfin creeping thyme has a tendency to spill over edges and just cover walls and drops with a thick blanket. 

  1. Pick a spot in your garden or lawn that gets at least 4 hours of full sun every day. If you plant it in a pot, make sure to place it in a window that gets this same amount of hours of sun on a daily basis.
  2. The best times to plant elfin thyme are in the late spring or early summer usually after the last frost.
  3. Elfin thyme grows in just about any type of soil as long as it’s balanced. Check the pH in the soil to make sure it’s roughly between 5.5 to 7.0 before you plant it.
  4. Loose and well-drained soil ensures the success of this creeping thyme. Mix your clay or packed soil with perlite, peat, or even sand, to improve aeration and water drainage.
  5. Clear any weed or debris from the area you plan to grow elfin thyme.
  6. The soil needs to be moist before you spread the seeds or plant the thyme.
  7. Dig a hole in the soil that matches the depth of the pot the thyme came in. This hole should be about one and a half times wider.
  8. Plug the plant in making sure the rootball is completely submerged in the hole. Fill the hole with soil and pack it lightly around the roots.
  9. Space the plants about 12 inches apart to allow them enough room to spread without overlapping.
  10. Water the new plants without soaking the soil. For the next few weeks, keep the soil moist but don’t overwater it.
  11. After the first year, this perennial can handle less frequent watering. This, however, only works as long as it gets water from other sources such as rainfall.

Elfin Thyme Plant Care

Unlike grass that needs mowing and comes with a bunch of problems of its own, elfin thyme plants are hardy, drought-resistant, and have better landscaping qualities. So how do you make sure your creeping thyme grows successfully year after year?

Soil

The elfin thyme plant grows in any soil from the rocky to the sandy and even loamy one. As long as it’s well-drained, the sensitive roots of the thyme won’t have a problem spreading. It’s only an issue if you try to grow it in clay. The packed soil retains water for longer than the thyme likes. This leads to root rot. So dig up the clay and mix a generous portion of sand, small pebbles of gravel or perlite to improve drainage.

Fertilizer

You won’t have to fertilize your elfin thyme creeping plant. It subsists on what little nutrition it finds in the soil and still blooms brightly every summer. However, if you want to speed up its growth to cover that barren corner in your garden or lawn, you can use a general-purpose fertilizer. Use it sparingly in the early summer just before the bloom cycle begins.

Propagation

In most cases, you won’t have to worry about propagating the elfin thyme plant. That’s because it does that on its own. As the plant grows, it sends out stems into the ground to claim more garden real estate and spread its domain. You can dig out these stems along with the roots that grow out of them and plant them somewhere else in your garden or in a container. You can also propagate it using a cutting. 

  1. Cut a healthy stem from a growing plant in the late spring and clear off the leaves at the bottom third of the cutting. 
  2. Dip the end of the cutting in a hormone powder then plant it in a pot or a sunny spot in the garden.
  3. Water the soil lightly just enough to get it barely wet then cover the cutting with plastic or tarp to maintain humidity.
  4.  Keep the soil moist for a few weeks to encourage the cutting to grow roots. 
  5. Test the cutting by pulling it up gently. If it doesn’t come out easily, that’s a sign the roots have developed.

Winter Care

The continuous success of your elfin thyme year after year depends on the kind of weather you get in the winter months. A cold winter could mean the creeping thyme would lose its leaves or some of its stems. This shouldn’t be any cause for alarm. By the next spring, all these gray-green leaves will grow back and soon flowers will bloom as well. 

Many horticulturalists like to cover the elfin thyme with sand or gravel. This protects it against the ravages of the cold winter. When the weather warms up, you should remove that thick protective layer and allow the plant to breathe and grow again. If that doesn’t work and the freezing temperature kills your thyme, you can still treat it as an annual. This means you’ll have to replant it every spring right after the last frost. This might be too much work, but the elfin thyme is well worth the trouble.  

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