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How To Grow Thyme From Seed – A Complete Guide For The UK

We have been growing a lot of herbs from seeds as there is no access to garden centres right now and wanted to share the best tips with you. There are options with thyme seeds.

You can start the seeds indoors and then acclimatise them before planting out. You can also sow directly in the ground a little later in the year. The third option you have is to sow indoors then move into a pot. Frosts and floods will be you enemy in the UK.

Obviously it is not as simple as that, there is always more when it comes to plants! I hope that we can share with you the tricks to ensuring you get the most out of this formidable herb!

Although robust when mature the seedlings are tender and prone to the effects of the British weather!

How to Sow Thyme Seeds Indoors

  1. From February to May time you can sow seeds indoors or under glass. You will need a tray of seed compost which you will then moisten.
  2. Then scatter the seeds over the top. Thyme seeds are really tiny so make sure you do this with good lighting to see where they actually land!
  3. Then scatter some very fine seed compost over the top.
  4. Spritz with water to keep them moist.
  5. Cover with glass or into a propagator.
  6. Get ready to be very patient indeed. Germination can take as little as 7 days, however even with a constant temperature of between 15-20 degrees it may take as long as 40 days.
  7. After all of that waiting and spritzing to keep them moist but not damp, you will be rewarded with little sprouts of around 5cm in height
  8. Get them acclimatised to the outside temperature. Bringing them out in day time and indoors once the sun sets. Then move them to under cover outdoors all night.
  9. Thin them to around 25cm in between each plant. Leave the weaker stems as you will have plenty of strong ones.
  10. Warm, sunny and well drained is the name of the game for these shrubs, so much so that a drought will show you the best results for your thyme growth!
  11. If you want your thyme herb to stay in a pot, bring indoors when it gets colder. If you have planted outside you may rely on a cloche during the colder months. Either way will give you a good winter yield.

“I know a bank where the wild thyme blows, where ox-lips and the nodding violet grows; Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine, With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine.”

Oberon, A Midsummer Night’s Dream William Shakespeare

How to Sow Thyme Outside

  1. Wait until April to mid July – basically wait for all frosts to be well and truly done.
  2. Finely rake the soil where they are to grow.
  3. Thinly sow the tiny little seeds onto that moist warm soil.
  4. Cover it very lightly with seed compost.
  5. Water down well as this should be an area with very good drainage. Thyme will thank you for poor treatment, putting out new shoots during drought.
  6. Germination is painfully slow with a waiting time of anything from 7-35 days, you will be fooled when the first few shoot up, but wait and more will appear.
  7. Once they are around 5cm in height and what you might categorise as sturdy, then thin them out. Remove any weaker seedlings. They will happily live about 25-30cm apart.
  8. Planting out will be around 2 months after germination. So not the fastest growing herb you can plant!

Thyme in Pots

If you have sown directly into the pots you will need to thin out the weaker seedlings. This sounds quite callous but it is allowing the healthier seedlings to thrive. Less competition from leggy seedlings is fine.

Once the thyme seedlings have true leaves on is the time to reduce the weaker ones. So not just the first leaves that are put out to maximise the surface area to catch that all important sunshine.

True leaves arrive after the first burst of life and are the stronger leaves. This means you can lever the seedlings apart and hold gently to the true leaves to help ease them out.

Then you can put them into their final pots.

Companion planting can be important here as thyme will work well with similar Mediterranean originating herbs. Think about what tastes good together – it grows well together as well.

In the Med you would expect to see Rosemary, Oregano and Thyme all growing in similar well drained soil. Just be aware that Rosemary is a massive shrub and will take over most pots!

A raised herb bed may be better suited here!

Oregano always gives good ground cover so you may want to consider that when planting up. Two herbs that both give good ground cover could become competitors.

So if you are going for a pot, ensure that there is plenty of drainage. Use old broken pots or pebbles in the bottom of the pot, but also make sure it has water holes!

Soggy roots will lead to rotten roots!

Choose a compost that has a good mix of well rotted matter. We have a very busy compost bin that offers great organic compost.

When the autumnal weather changes bring the pot to a more sheltered part of the garden. Use a cloche or straw to protect the tender parts.

In year two you can pot on to a larger container or if you want, keep it trimmed down and just repot.

Repotting Thyme

So you want to keep it in the same pot each year? Not a problem as this is often the case when you have a small patio or balcony.

You must make sure to keep on top of trimming the thyme back and not allow any dead patches to develop. A harsh trim will help with this.

Thyme will be relatively low maintenance but make sure that it is watered but never drowned. Any thyme herb will thrive with a little bit too little in the way of water.

Thyme will need the occasional feed and we will do this with the help of a liquid feed.

You may want to repot the plant to get a larger crop each year, this would also be a good time to check for quality of the compost.

Repotting should take place in September but before the first frost.

Harvesting and Storing

Thyme is a perennial and as such you can harvest the stalks as you need them from an early stage. A word of warning comes in the first year as you will want to take at most around a third of the total shrub. Not all in one go either! If you keep your thyme outside and don’t always fancy hopping out in the rain to gather fresh herbs, you can dry them. For a full guide on drying herbs have a look at our free guide available here.

The second year will allow you to take indiscriminately and you will be hard pushed to upset it too much. From the second year on wards it is a hardy little shrub that will resist all attempts to neglect it by growing with even more vigor.

Eaten fresh the leaves hold a stronger flavour but dried thyme is also a great addition to many dishes.

Perfect in fish or poultry dishes thyme is quite a flexible herb. You can get a lot of flavour in those tiny leaves but also in the stems.

To dry thyme simply tie up stalks with garden twine and hang in an airy dry place. Dark and dry are the key to successful storage.

If you do not want to dry thyme, can can store it in sprigs in the fridge. Make sure that you keep the sprigs in a glass of water. Empty the water and clean out the glass regularly and you should be able to extend the shelf life of thyme by a few more weeks.

Another great way to harvest and store the flavour of thyme is to use it in an oil infusion.

remember though that this is a perennial and can be harvested fresh throughout the year. The leaves will have a richer aroma and taste during sunnier periods.

This is due to the oils that the warmth of the sun encourages, as well as time to properly photosynthesise.

Why Grow Thyme

Super tasty and versatile in many dishes Thyme is also packed with vitamins. Thyme is one of our favourite herbs for versatility.

Great in bouquet garni as well as dried and mixed with other Italian herbs.

When you let your thyme plants flower then they are a great source of food for bees and other pollinators.

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