Creeping Thyme: A Fragrant and Low-Maintenance Ground Cover Plant

Creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum) is an excellent plant for gardeners who want to create a low-maintenance ground cover that is both fragrant, drought tolerant, and attractive.

It is a low-growing, creeping perennial herb native to Europe and North Africa.

As mentioned, it is commonly used as a ground cover.

When in bloom, it produces small, pink, or purple flowers in the summer.

Creeping Thyme in bloom
Creeping Thyme in bloom, close up photograph by Nayana Sondi, CC.

Growing Zones

Creeping thyme grows well in USDA Hardiness Zones 4 to 9. It is a hardy plant that can tolerate a wide range of soil types and growing conditions.

In the UK, it is classed as being reaily growable in RHS zones up to H5.

Growing Conditions

Creeping thyme prefers full sun to partial shade and well-drained soil. It is able to tolerate a range of soil types, from sandy to loamy.

It is known to be drought-tolerant and doesn't require much water once established, making it an excellent choice for xeriscaping, and for use in a low maintenance garden.


Creeping thyme is usually planted in the spring or autumn, with perhaps the most ideal time to plant being after the last frost date.

The plants should be spaced about 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 cm) apart. Over time they will spread out and create a dense mat.


Creeping thyme is very low-maintenance and does not require much care once it has become established.

Be sure to water regularly for the first few weeks after planting it. This will allow it to establish a strong root system.

Once established, water sparingly, and only if the soil is dry to the touch.

Following blooming, trimmed back the creeping thyme flowers; this should help with tidiness and also prevent them from becoming woody.

This will also encourage new growth and keep the plant looking healthy and attractive.

Pests and Diseases

Creeping thyme is a hardy plant that is generally resistant to pests and diseases. However, like all plants, it can be affected by certain issues.

A common pest that can affect creeping thyme is spider mites. These can cause discoloration and webbing on the plant. Spider mites can be controlled by using insecticidal soap or neem oil.

They may also be affected by thrips. These also cause discoloration and distortion of leaves, and can be controlled in a similar manner to spider mites.

Disease wises, creeping thyme may be affected by root rot if grown in areas with poorly drained soil. Do not over-water, and only if the soil is bone dry.

Remove any plants that have root rot, as it needs to be eradicated as soon as possible.

The fungal disease Powdery mildew can also affect creeping thyme. This produces a white powdery coating on leaves.

Control by removing any affected leaves and applying a fungicide.

Thymus serpyllum by Andreas Rockstein, CC.

Creeping Thyme Uses in Cooking

It has numerous culinary uses, particularly for Mediterranean cuisines, where it is used to flavor meats, stews, and soups when cooking.

That said Lemon thyme (Thymus x citriodorus) is usually used more in cooking.

  1. Creeping thyme can be used to season a whole chicken before roasting, giving it a delicious herbaceous flavor.
  2. Potatoes: sprinkle chopped creeping thyme over roasted or mashed potatoes.
  3. Grilled vegetables: Creeping thyme pairs well with grilled vegetables such as zucchini, eggplant, and bell peppers, as it adds a savory flavor to these dish.
  4. Add to soups and stews to create a depth of flavor that complements meat, beans, and vegetables.
  5. Salad dressings: infuse in vinegar or oils.
  6. Grilled fish: Sprinkle with chopped creeping thyme.

I need ground cover fast, which are the fastest creeping thyme varieties to grow?

As there are several varieties and cultivars of creeping thyme it is not surprising that some are more vigorous and faster-spreading than others.

Here are a few cultivars that are known to be fast-spreading:

'Elfin' Thyme': A compact variety that forms a low, dense mat of tiny leaves and pink flowers. It is very hardy and spreads quickly.

'Coccineus' Thyme: This cultivar features deep green foliage and bright pink flowers that attract pollinators. It can quickly fill in bare areas in the garden.

'Magic Carpet' Thyme: A low-growing fast-spreading variety that readily forms a dense mat of small, glossy leaves and pink flowers.

'Pink Chintz' Thyme: Small, dark green leaves, and pink flowers. It is very hardy.

Creeping thyme invasive, and how can I remove it from the garden?

Creeping thyme is not generally considered to be an invasive plant.

It is a low-growing perennial that spreads out through sending out runners and rooting at the nodes. But it is not typically over-aggressive enough to become invasive in most gardens.

Indeed, most gardeners like it as a ground cover plant for its ability to form a dense mat that aids in suppressing weed growth and helps to stabilize soil.

Its spreading habit can also make it a good plant to grow to help prevent erosion control on slopes and banks.

If you are concerned with it over-spreading, then grow it in a contained area by installing barriers such as edging or using it in raised beds.

Regular pruning can also help keep it in check and to prevent it from over-spreading.

If you need to remove creeping thyme, then try some of the following methods:

  1. Hand Pulling: A small patch can readily be removed by hand. Initially water the area where it is growing to loosen the soil, and then use a fork to loosen at the roots. Grab from the base and pull gently, being sure to remove as much of the root system as possible.

  1. Smothering: For large patches it may be worth trying to smother using a tarp, cardboard, wood chips, or heavy mulch. Leave the covering in place for several months to starve the plants of light.

  1. Chemical Herbicides: Glyphosate-based herbicides are effective, but may also affect the surrounding vegetation, so use with care.

Are they considered an expensive plant? Do I sow seeds or simply buy plants from the garden center

Creeping thyme is not considered to be an expensive plant, and is readily available at most garden centers and nurseries.

The cost will usually depend upon the size of the plant, and the cultivar that you choose to buy.

Buying from a garden center or nursery is a faster and more convenient option. Look for plants that have healthy foliage, and avoid buying any that show signs of disease or pest damage.

Starting from seed is usually the more economical option, but it can take longer to establish and grow than starting with lots of purchased plants.

If you choose to start from seed, sow indoors in early spring, and transplant seedlings outdoors once they have developed their second set of true leaves.

References and Further Reading

A comprehensive guide to growing creeping thyme by NC State Extension:

University of Arkansas – Plant of the week:

Aussie Green Thumb – How to Grow Creeping Thyme in Australia

To sum up, Creeping thyme is an excellent plant for gardeners looking for a herb that can be used for ground cover in gardens and in landscaping.

It provides a low-maintenance ground cover that is fragrant, drought-tolerant, attractive, useful for erosion control, attracts pollinators and has numerous culinary uses. It is hardy, easy to grow and control, and requires minimal care.

I hope that you have enjoyed this quick overview of how to grow Creeping Thyme, you may also enjoy my other Lamiaceae family growing guides on Satureja, Lavandula angustifolia, Origanum, and Agastache plants.

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