Mad About Berries

How To Grow Red Creeping Thyme

Red Creeping Thyme is a versatile and hardy perennial herb that adds both beauty and utility to any garden.

Renowned for its vibrant red blossoms, fragrant foliage, and low-growing habit, this plant is not only a visual delight but also an aromatic treasure.

Its dense mat-forming growth makes it an excellent ground cover, capable of enduring light foot traffic, and its drought-resistant nature suits various climates.

Published: November 16, 2023.

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Historical and Culinary Significance

Historically, Red Creeping Thyme has roots in both culinary and medicinal traditions.

It has been used since ancient times for its antiseptic properties, and in the culinary world, it is cherished for its intense flavor, enhancing dishes with its unique aromatic touch.

The versatility of this herb spans from its use in traditional medicine to being a staple in various cuisines, making it a plant with rich historical significance.

USDA Climate Zones for Growing Red Creeping Thyme

Red Creeping Thyme (Thymus serpyllum) is a versatile and hardy plant, adaptable to a wide range of climates.

According to the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map, it can successfully be grown in zones 4 through 9. This means it can thrive in regions with varying minimum winter temperatures.

  • Zone 4: In these areas, with minimum temperatures ranging from -30 to -20 degrees Fahrenheit, Red Creeping Thyme can survive cold winters. It is important to ensure good drainage and protection from harsh winds.
  • Zones 5 to 7: These zones represent a moderate climate, with minimum temperatures ranging from -20 to 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Red Creeping Thyme flourishes here, with ideal conditions for both growth and flowering.
  • Zone 8 to 9: In these warmer zones, where minimum temperatures range from 10 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit, Red Creeping Thyme can tolerate the heat, especially if provided with adequate water and some protection from the intense afternoon sun.

In all zones, the key to successful growth includes providing full sun, well-drained soil, and minimal to moderate watering.

This adaptability to different climates makes Red Creeping Thyme a popular choice for gardeners seeking a low-maintenance, aromatic groundcover.

Selecting the Right Location

Understanding Sunlight and Shade Requirements

For optimal growth, Red Creeping Thyme thrives in full sun but can tolerate partial shade. The plant needs around 6 to 8 hours of sunlight daily to develop its full aromatic potential and vibrant flowering.

Locations that receive ample morning sun with some afternoon shade are ideal, especially in hotter climates.

Ideal Soil Conditions for Optimal Growth

Red Creeping Thyme prefers well-drained soil, typically thriving in sandy or loamy compositions. It's adaptable to a range of pH levels but favors slightly alkaline to neutral soil.

Good drainage is crucial as the plant is susceptible to root rot in overly moist conditions.

Amending the soil with organic matter or gravel can improve drainage and create an ideal environment for growth.

Planting Red Creeping Thyme

Step-by-Step Guide to Planting

  • Prepare the Site: Clear the area of weeds and debris. Loosen the soil and mix in compost or other organic matter to improve drainage. Note that while compost improves the soil and feeds the plants, it may also lower the pH a little bit.
  • Spacing: Plant the thyme 8 to 12 inches apart to allow room for spreading.
  • Planting: Dig a hole slightly larger than the root ball of your thyme plant. Place the plant in the hole and fill it with soil, ensuring the base of the plant is level with the surrounding ground.
  • Watering: After planting, water thoroughly to settle the soil around the roots.

Best Times of the Year for Planting

The ideal time for planting Red Creeping Thyme is in the spring after the last frost or in early fall, allowing the plant to establish before the onset of winter.

Planting in these seasons ensures that the plant has favorable conditions for root development, leading to healthier and more robust growth.

Watering and Nutritional Needs

Watering Schedules for Different Seasons

Red Creeping Thyme is drought-tolerant once established, but regular watering helps maintain its vigor, especially in the first growing season.

In spring and summer, water the plant once a week if there's no significant rainfall, allowing the soil to dry out slightly between waterings.

During the fall and winter, reduce watering as the plant's growth slows and the weather provides natural moisture.

Overwatering or poor drainage can lead to root rot, so it's essential to ensure the soil is well-drained.

Essential Nutrients and Fertilization Tips

While Red Creeping Thyme isn't a heavy feeder, an annual application of a balanced, slow-release fertilizer in early spring can encourage lush growth and vibrant flowering.

Use a fertilizer with an equal balance of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (such as a 10-10-10 formula). Avoid over-fertilizing, as this can lead to excessive foliage growth at the expense of flowering.

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Managing Pests and Diseases

Common Pests and Natural Remedies

Red Creeping Thyme is relatively resistant to pests, but it can occasionally be affected by aphids and spider mites.

Aphids can be controlled by spraying a strong jet of water to dislodge them or using insecticidal soap.

Spider mites can be managed with neem oil or by increasing humidity around the plants.

Encouraging beneficial insects, like ladybugs, can also help control these pests naturally.

Identifying and Treating Diseases in Thyme

The most common diseases affecting Red Creeping Thyme are root rot and fungal leaf spots.

Root rot is usually due to overwatering or poor drainage, so improving soil conditions is key.

Fungal leaf spots can be minimized by ensuring good air circulation and avoiding overhead watering.

If necessary, use a fungicide specifically designed for these issues, following the manufacturer's instructions.

Pruning and Maintenance

Techniques for Pruning Red Creeping Thyme

Pruning is essential for maintaining a dense, healthy mat of Red Creeping Thyme.

After flowering, trim back the plant by about a third to encourage new growth and prevent it from becoming woody and sparse. Use sharp pruning shears for a clean cut.

This pruning also helps maintain the desired shape and size of the plant.

Seasonal Maintenance Tips

In spring, remove any dead or damaged foliage from the previous year to make way for new growth.

Throughout the growing season, keep an eye on the plant for any signs of pests or diseases.

In the fall, minimal pruning may be done, but it's generally best to leave the plant intact to provide winter protection.

In areas with harsh winters, a light mulch can help protect the roots.

Regularly check the soil moisture and adjust watering as needed throughout the year.

Propagating and Multiplying Your Red Creeping Thyme

To start growing Red Creeping Thyme, you have a few options: seeds, purchasing plants from nurseries, or obtaining cuttings or divisions from an existing plant. Each method has its pros and cons:


  • Pros: Growing from seeds can be more cost-effective and offers the satisfaction of growing plants from the very beginning. It also allows you to choose from a wider variety of species or cultivars that might not be available as plants in nurseries.
  • Cons: Thyme seeds are tiny and can be challenging to germinate. They require patience and careful attention to moisture and temperature. It also takes longer to establish a full plant from seed.

We will explain growing Red Creeping Thyme from seeds in greater detail later in this guide.

Plants from Nurseries

  • Pros: This is the quickest way to establish Red Creeping Thyme in your garden. Nursery plants are often already well-established and can be planted directly into your garden. This method also allows you to see the plant's health and form before purchasing.
  • Cons: The cost per plant will be higher than growing from seeds. There's also a limited selection based on what the nursery has in stock.

When growing Red Creeping Thyme using plants from a nursery, prepare the soil, transplant the plants, water them (soil only, keep the leaves dry), and let them grow - a very easy and quick method. Perhaps not the cheapest, but ...

Cuttings or Divisions from Existing Plants

  • Pros: If you or a friend already have a Red Creeping Thyme plant, you can easily propagate new plants through cuttings or division. This method ensures the new plants are identical to the parent plant, maintaining any desired characteristics.
  • Cons: This method requires access to an existing, healthy plant. It also requires some basic knowledge of propagation techniques.


  • Take 4-6 inch stem cuttings from a healthy thyme plant in late spring or early summer.
  • Remove the leaves from the lower half of the cutting and dip the cut end into a rooting hormone.
  • Plant the cuttings in a well-draining soil mix, ensuring at least two nodes are buried in the soil.
  • Keep the soil consistently moist and place the pot in a warm, well-lit area but out of direct sunlight until roots develop.


  • In early spring or fall, gently dig up your thyme plant.
  • Use a sharp knife or spade to divide the root ball into smaller sections, ensuring each section has a good amount of roots and shoots.
  • Replant the divisions immediately, watering them well to establish.

When choosing the best method for you, consider factors like your experience level, the time you're willing to invest in growing the plants, and the specific characteristics you're looking for in your Red Creeping Thyme.

For beginners, purchasing plants from a nursery might be the easiest and most reliable method. Experienced gardeners or those looking for a specific variety might prefer to start from seeds or use cuttings/divisions.

Tips for Successful Thyme Multiplication

  • Ensure cuttings and divisions are taken from healthy, disease-free plants.
  • Maintain consistent moisture but avoid waterlogging the soil.
  • Use a light, porous growing medium for best root development.
  • Protect new plantings from extreme weather conditions until established.

Growing Red Creeping Thyme From Seeds

Growing Red Creeping Thyme from seeds can be a rewarding endeavor, though it requires patience and attention to detail.

Here are some key notes to help you successfully grow this plant from seeds:

Seed Selection

Choose high-quality seeds from a reputable supplier to ensure good germination rates. Look for varieties of Red Creeping Thyme that are suited to your climate and soil conditions.


The best time to start Red Creeping Thyme seeds is in late winter or early spring, about 6-8 weeks before the last frost date.

This gives the seedlings enough time to grow strong enough for transplanting outdoors.

Seed Starting Indoors

  • Use a fine, well-draining seed starting mix in a shallow tray or pots.
  • Scatter the seeds lightly over the soil surface. Since thyme seeds are tiny, it's important not to bury them deeply – a light dusting of soil or just pressing them gently into the surface is sufficient.
  • Ensure consistent moisture, but avoid overwatering. A spray bottle can be useful for gently watering without disturbing the seeds.
  • Place the tray in a warm, bright location but out of direct sunlight. A temperature of around 70°F (21°C) is ideal for germination.
  • Cover the tray with plastic wrap or a plastic dome to maintain humidity until germination, which typically occurs in 1-3 weeks.

Care for Seedlings

  • Once seedlings emerge, remove the plastic cover and move the tray to a location with more light, such as a sunny windowsill or under grow lights.
  • Keep the soil evenly moist but not waterlogged.
  • When seedlings have a few sets of true leaves, they can be gently transplanted into individual pots.

Hardening Off

Before transplanting outdoors, it's important to acclimate the seedlings to outdoor conditions.

This process, known as hardening off, involves gradually exposing the plants to outdoor temperatures and sun over a week or so.

Transplanting Outdoors

  • Choose a sunny location with well-draining soil.
  • Transplant the thyme seedlings after the danger of frost has passed, spacing them about 8-12 inches apart.
  • Water them well after transplanting to help establish them.

Patience and Care

  • Remember that growing Red Creeping Thyme from seeds takes time. It may take a full season or two for the plants to establish themselves into a dense mat.
  • Regular watering, especially in the first growing season, and occasional fertilization can help promote healthy growth.

Red Creeping Thyme is a hardy plant that is easily grown from seeds. It does take some time, but it is worth it. If you are in a hurry, go to the local nursery and get yourself Red Creeping Thyme plants ready for transplanting to a permanent location.

Harvesting and Using Your Thyme

When and How to Harvest Red Creeping Thyme

The best time to harvest Red Creeping Thyme is just before it flowers, usually in late spring to early summer, when the oils and flavors are at their peak. To harvest:

  • Choose a dry morning after the dew has evaporated.
  • Use scissors or garden shears to snip off the top five to six inches of growth, being careful not to cut back more than one-third of the plant at a time.
  • Avoid harvesting the woody parts, as they are less flavorful.

Culinary and Medicinal Uses of Thyme

In the kitchen, Red Creeping Thyme adds a robust flavor to a variety of dishes. It pairs well with poultry, fish, and vegetables and is excellent in soups, stews, and marinades. The leaves can be used fresh or dried for later use.

Medicinally, thyme has been used for its antiseptic properties. It can be brewed into a tea to help with respiratory issues, such as coughs and bronchitis.

Thyme oil, extracted from the leaves, is used in aromatherapy for its calming and relaxing properties. As with any medicinal use of herbs, it's important to consult with a healthcare professional before use. Also, some people may find its flavor too strong, even when added to dishes in very small amounts.

Troubleshooting Common Issues

Red Creeping Thyme is an easy-to-grow and care-for herb, but occasionally, some issues may occur.

Addressing Growth Problems and Solutions

Red Creeping Thyme is generally a hardy and low-maintenance plant, but like all plants, it can occasionally face growth issues. Here are some common problems and their solutions:

  • Leggy Growth or Sparse Flowering: This often occurs due to insufficient sunlight. Ensure that your thyme receives at least six hours of direct sunlight daily. Pruning after flowering can also encourage denser growth.
  • Yellowing Leaves: Overwatering or poor drainage can lead to yellow leaves. Ensure the soil is well-draining and reduce watering frequency.
  • Root Rot: Usually a result of overwatering or waterlogged soil. Improve soil drainage, reduce watering, and consider transplanting the thyme to a better-drained location if necessary.
  • Fungal Diseases: Promote good air circulation around the plants and avoid overhead watering to reduce the risk of fungal diseases.

Frequently Asked Questions and Expert Advice

Here are some of the most common Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about growing Red Creeping Thyme.

How often should I water Red Creeping Thyme?

Water when the top inch of soil feels dry. Established plants need less frequent watering, about once a week during dry periods.

Can Red Creeping Thyme grow in the shade?

It prefers full sun but can tolerate partial shade. However, too much shade can lead to leggy growth and fewer flowers.

When is the best time to prune?

Prune immediately after the main flowering period, usually in late spring or early summer, to encourage a second bloom and denser foliage.

Is Red Creeping Thyme poisonous to dogs or other pets?

No, Red Creeping Thyme is not poisonous to dogs or other pets. In fact, it is generally considered safe for pets and is often used in gardens as a pet-friendly ground cover.

However, it's always a good idea to monitor your pets and prevent them from ingesting large amounts of any plant, as individual animals might have different sensitivities or allergic reactions.

What are the cons of growing Red Creeping Thyme?

Growing Red Creeping Thyme has many advantages, but there are a few cons to consider:

  • Slow to Establish: Red Creeping Thyme can take a full growing season or more to establish a dense mat. This slow growth rate requires patience and consistent care.
  • Light Requirements: It requires a significant amount of sunlight to thrive. Inadequate sunlight can lead to leggy plants with fewer flowers, which might be a challenge in shadier gardens.
  • Soil and Drainage Needs: While it can tolerate poor soil, poor drainage can be problematic. Overly wet or waterlogged soil can lead to root rot, necessitating well-draining soil conditions.
  • Limited Foot Traffic Tolerance: Although it can withstand light foot traffic, heavy foot traffic can damage the plants. It might not be suitable for areas that are walked over frequently.
  • Pests and Diseases: While generally robust, it can still be susceptible to pests like aphids and spider mites and diseases like root rot and fungal infections, especially if not properly cared for.
  • Pruning and Maintenance: To maintain its appearance and health, periodic pruning is necessary, especially after flowering. Neglecting this can result in a woody and sparse appearance.
  • Spreading Habit: Red Creeping Thyme can spread quite extensively, which might require regular edging or trimming to keep it within its designated area, especially in a mixed garden bed.

These cons are relatively minor and can often be mitigated with proper care and site selection. However, they're worth considering to ensure that Red Creeping Thyme is the right fit for your garden needs and conditions.

Does Red Creeping Thyme spread fast?

Red Creeping Thyme is known for its spreading habit, but it does not spread extremely fast. It grows steadily, forming a dense mat over time. The speed at which it spreads can vary depending on growing conditions such as sunlight, soil type, watering, and climate.

While it does spread, its growth is generally manageable and not as aggressive as some invasive ground covers. Regular maintenance, such as trimming the edges, can easily keep it within bounds if it starts to encroach on other areas of your garden.

Can Red Creeping Thyme be grown in flower pots and containers?

Yes, Red Creeping Thyme can be successfully grown in flower pots and containers. Its compact, low-growing habit and attractive foliage make it a great choice for container gardening. Here are some tips for growing Red Creeping Thyme in containers:

  • Choose the Right Container: Select a pot with adequate drainage holes to prevent waterlogging. Thyme prefers well-drained conditions.
  • Soil: Use a well-draining potting mix. You can also mix in some sand or gravel to improve drainage.
  • Sunlight: Place the container in a location that receives at least six hours of direct sunlight per day. Thyme needs plenty of sunlight to thrive and flower.
  • Watering: Water the plant when the top inch of soil feels dry. Be cautious not to overwater, as thyme does not like soggy soil.
  • Fertilizing: Feed with a balanced, all-purpose fertilizer in spring, but avoid over-fertilizing, as thyme doesn't need much.
  • Pruning: Trim the thyme after flowering to encourage bushy growth and prevent it from becoming leggy.
  • Winter Care: If you live in a region with harsh winters, consider moving the container to a protected area during the cold months, as container-grown plants are more susceptible to frost damage.

Growing Red Creeping Thyme in containers is a great way to enjoy this herb if you have limited space, like a balcony or patio. Plus, it adds beauty and fragrance to your container garden and is easily accessible for culinary use.

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Few Final Words

Growing Red Creeping Thyme offers numerous rewards for the gardener.

Its aromatic foliage and vibrant flowers enhance garden aesthetics and attract beneficial pollinators. It's also a practical choice, serving as a fragrant groundcover that withstands light foot traffic and requires minimal care.

Additionally, its culinary and medicinal uses make it a valuable addition to any herb garden.

Also, Red Creeping Thyme is an excellent example of a plant that supports sustainable gardening. Its drought tolerance makes it suitable for water-wise landscapes.

By choosing plants that are adapted to your local climate and soil conditions, you can reduce the need for excessive watering and chemical inputs.

Also, encouraging natural pest control methods and organic fertilization aligns with eco-friendly gardening practices.

Through thoughtful choices like these, gardeners can contribute positively to the environment while enjoying the beauty and utility of their gardens.

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