Re: Q&A: growing English Thyme
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Kimberly Warr
Posted on: January 21, 2008

Although I have had much success growing many other herbs in my garden, I have had little success with English Thyme. The soil in the garden is very rich with a lot of organic compost worked in. The area gets full sun for at least six hours a day and retains moisture very well. I have had enormous success with other more delicate herbs such as broad leaved basils but have not been able to get my English thyme to even germinate with much consistency.

Having been a former employee of Richters I know about your exacting standards for soil conditions and moisture levels. Any advice you have which would help improve my ability to grow thyme would be very appreciated.

I remain a loyal fan of Richters....

Good to hear from you, Kim!

In my experience thyme is not especially particular about soil conditions except for drainage. The soil and the grade of the garden together must allow excess water to drain away quickly. For example, if the soil is sandy thyme will grow even if the nutrient levels are low and the pH is not optimum.

You write that you are sowing thyme seeds directly in the garden. Is the problem with germination or with growth subsequent to germination? If it is germination, are you planting too deeply? Of the common garden herbs thyme seeds are among the smallest -- there are over 3000 seeds per gram -- and it is very easy to plant the seeds too deeply. When seeds are planted too deeply only a few (or even none) are able to penetrate the covering soil. Another related factor is care immediately after germination: because the seeds are so small to begin with, the seedlings have fewer resources to draw on compared to seedlings from larger seeds, and they are more susceptible to drying out. If you take a flat of thyme and a flat of a larger seeded herb such as sage and bring the seedlings of both you will find that the larger seeded seedlings will survive a brief dry period (to the stage of wilting) better than the thyme seeds. When you seed directly in the garden you have less control over the environmental conditions so the liklihood of failure during the critical germination stage is greater, which may be why you are having good success with other herbs and not with thyme. It may be worth trying to seed in plugs first so you have more control over the growing conditions during the first few weeks of the new plants’ lives.

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