How to grow thyme in a pot
Want to grow thyme in your patio or deck container garden? Here’s how.
Thyme might sound fancy, but it’s an easy-to-grow, hardy herb and does very well in pots and container gardens.
Grow thyme in a pot on your deck along with basil and oregano for your own little pizza garden. The tiny leaves smell so good and partner well with other herbs both on the deck and in the kitchen.
It’s simple to grow and dry and can even be left out over the winter to lie dormant until spring.
I’ve had mine in a wide-mouth pot with some oregano, and they are so happy and productive! I got several big harvests out of the pair I grew last year.
We’ve been using the dried herbs in recipes all winter and it’s pretty awesome. WAY better than store-bought!
Thyme is in the family of Mediterranean herbs that make patio gardening so easy and satisfying. They like sun, moderate water and a little room to grow, and they aren’t fussy about any of it.
Have I sold you yet on how easy it is to grow thyme in a container garden??
Within a few weeks, you should have enough growth to start harvesting a little to use in the kitchen. It’s perfect on roasted chicken and vegetables and amazing in soup.
Read on for the basics on growing thyme in a container garden.
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How to plant thyme in a pot or container
Should I start thyme from seed or seedlings?
Like its cousins basil and oregano, thyme can be started from seed indoors. But unlike those quick-growing herbs, thyme can take up to a month to germinate.
To grow thyme from seed:
- 4-6 weeks before last frost, sprinkle seeds in seed-starting containers (plastic starting trays, egg cartons, peat pots, milk cartons …) in a sterile, loose seed-starting mix or coconut coir.
- Check your estimated local frost dates to help you plan.
- Cover with a very light layer of the mix or potting soil.
- Keep warm in a sunny window or under fluorescent lights.
- Mist seedlings to keep them consistently moist until germination.
- Thyme is a slow grower … germination can take up to 30 days, so don’t be surprised if you haven’t seen them sprout after a couple of weeks!
- When the seedlings have four true leaves, transfer to the containers they will grow in for the season.
- Move outside when temperatures consistently reach 60-70 throughout the day — April-May in most zones.
To grow thyme from seedlings:
Starter plants or cuttings are easier, especially if you’re antsy or not as experienced with starting plants from seed (although that’s also super easy and you can totally do it … see above!).
The best place to get seedlings is a local nursery or farmers market (find a local one here!).
- TIP: Look for seedlings that are dense and bushy, not stretched out and leggy. That gives you the best chance of growing strong, healthy plants that will last all season and produce well.
To grow thyme from cuttings:
If you still have thyme in a pot (outside or inside) from last year, you can use your own cuttings to propagate new plants. This is super satisfying because it makes you feel like a master gardener when your own homegrown plants thrive and multiply. Bonus: It’s free.
How to propagate thyme from cuttings:
Hardening off thyme
When you’re ready to move seedlings out to the deck, patio or balcony, make sure to harden them off. This means gradually exposing them to the outdoors before planting in your containers. Set them out in indirect sunlight for an hour or two per day for a few days, adding a bit more time and direct sunlight each day until they’re outside all day.
How to grow thyme in pots
Choose a large enough pot and a sunny spot
Thyme likes: full sun, well-drained or even rocky soil, room for air to circulate, being planted near its herb friends
Thyme doesn’t like: full shade, too much water, dense soil
These are all key factors when deciding where and how you’re going to plant:
A couple of weeks before your last expected frost, plant your seedlings in a 10-12” deep pot or container with good quality potting soil. Be sure to use loose soil and don’t worry about too much fertilizer, but you can add some time-release fertilizer or a little compost if you’d like.
When transferring a seedling to a pot or container, plant with the root ball just below the surface. Planting too deeply can lead to rot and unhappy thyme.
Terracotta or clay pots work great for herbs like thyme and oregano that prefer dry conditions. The porous material helps with drainage and doesn’t hold in moisture like plastic does.
But my favorites, by far, are fabric grow bags. They’re roomy, easy to move around, and do an amazing job regulating moisture levels. For thyme, try a 5-gallon size. You could get a couple of bushy plants in there!
- Vivosun 5-gallon grow bags (5 pack)
Next, park your thyme in a spot on your patio, deck or balcony that gets full sun at least 6-8 hours per day, if possible.
What variety of thyme is best for cooking?
Common thyme (along with close relatives English and French thyme) is the variety most often used for cooking. but you can also find interesting varieties like lemon or oregano-scented thyme.
- TIP: Because of its woody, hardy nature and ability to mound or creep, thyme is also a common groundcover. Creeping thyme and wooly thyme are two varieties more often used in landscaping — not unsafe to eat but won’t have the quality of flavor you can get from culinary varieties.
How to take care of a potted thyme plant
First and foremost, if you’re not using a fabric grow bag, make sure your container has good drainage to protect the thyme from soggy roots. As I said above, thyme is one of those hardy Mediterranean herbs that likes sun and generally dry conditions. Let the soil dry out in between waterings and then give it a soak. But keep an eye on it during very hot, dry periods in summer. If it starts to look wilted or the color starts to fade, it might need a bit of extra water.
Does thyme in a pot need fertilizer?
Thyme isn’t super needy when it comes to fertilizer. Use fertilized potting soil or add a handful of compost or time-release organic fertilizer when you plant it. Jobe’s Organics Slow-Release Plant Food is my go-to for pretty much everything I grow!
Thyme in pots and containers can benefit from a little water-soluble fertilizer or compost tea once or twice in the growing season, but it isn’t a requirement.
(Learn more in my Compost 101 and Fertilizer 101 posts!)
To prune thyme, snip or pinch stems and harvest a few leaves once your plant is established and reaches about 4-6”. Be sure to trim regularly throughout the growing season to encourage growth.
- TIP: Don’t trim back more than ⅓ of the plant (or pick more than ⅓ of the leaves) at a time. Always use clean, sharp gardening shears or kitchen scissors to prevent damage to the stems, which can invite disease and pests.
If you’re treating your thyme plant as an annual and don’t plan to keep it over the winter, you only need to do light pruning and harvesting throughout the growing season. Before the first frost, do an all-over harvest. Snip all stems and leaves for fresh use or drying.
However, if you’re treating it like a perennial and plan to keep it through winter, you’ll need to do a more thorough pruning in late summer to prepare it. Cut back about ⅓ of the oldest, woodiest stems by ⅔. This will help encourage more tender growth and keep it from getting too woody heading into winter.
How much thyme should I grow?
One of the great things about thyme is its compact size. The leaves are tiny, and healthy plants are bushy and can grow both up and out. They rejuvenate quickly after pruning and can even produce (though more slowly) over the winter.
If you anticipate using thyme occasionally or regularly for cooking throughout the season, one plant should be sufficient.
If you plan to use it often for cooking and also want enough to dry or preserve, plant two or more.
Remember, thyme is perennial and can be grown from your own cuttings. So maybe try one plant your first season, then grow another one or two from cuttings the following year.
So basically, thyme is an awesome addition to any deck or patio garden. It’s easy to grow, even with minimal care, and it’s a total rock star in the kitchen. Add it to your container herb garden and you’ll be glad you did!
More ideas for herbs to grow in your container garden:
- How to grow basil in a pot
- How to grow oregano in a pot for your patio garden
- How to grow rosemary in a container on your deck
- How to grow dill in a pot
- How to grow catnip from seed
- How to grow chamomile in a pot