Herbs for Cracks in Mosaic Patio
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Gai and Hal
Posted on: April 9, 2002

I live in Anchorage, Alaska. Last year my partner and I put in a large 12 feet X 20 feet patio made from broken concrete. We would like to grow something in the cracks which are 1-3 inches wide with 2 inches of top soil, sand base. Our climate is pretty cold in the winter, -15 degrees Fahrenheit, and the area of the patio gets pretty hot 80 degrees in the summer with direct sun. We need an inexpensive, low growing ground cover. A gardener suggested we order plugs from your company, woolly thyme, or something similar. We have miles of cracks, and we need something INEXPENSIVE. What do you think we should put in? I don’t mind watering and mowing the patio if needed.

Woolly thyme and other creeping thymes are excellent to put in between cracks of patios. They form neat, low mats that do not need mowing. These thymes cannot be grown from seeds; they can only be propagated by division or cuttings, which means that Richters plugs are the least expensive option.

Unfortunately there are few seed-propagated options. Seed is definitely much cheaper than plugs in most cases where both seeds and plugs are available. Probably the only two seed options you might want to consider are wild thyme and yarrow.

Wild thyme grows taller than woolly thyme, about 4-6 inches high, but it can be maintained lower with periodic mowing. It creeps like woolly thyme or creeping thyme, so it will fill in the gaps to produce a lush mat. It is much faster growing than its lower cousins. Its drawback is that it tends to have somewhat more wirey and woody stems so that after mowing it won’t be as soft to walk as woolly or the other creeping thyme. This is not a problem unless you expect to be in bare feet a lot; and even then it is really more of an irritation than a real discomfort.

All the thymes have the disadvantage that they are really only reliably hardy to zone 5 or 4. But your zone is 5 or even 6, so all thymes should do well. You may find after severe winters that patches will die out. If that happens you can transplant pieces from the healthy patches to fill in the dead areas.

I mention yarrow because it is being used increasingly as a turf plant. Only the common white yarrow, Achillea millifolium, is used. It is easy to grow from seeds, and it forms a dense mat with soft, lacey leaves. As a turf plant the "achilles heel" is its tendency to send up when it flowers stems that can be tough. But if it is mowed low when the flowering season arrives, this is not much of a problem. Yarrow is among one of the hardiest of mat-forming herbs and it will tolerate foot traffic well.

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