Imagine this: you wake up in the morning, pour yourself a cup of your favorite morning beverage (coffee for me, no cream or sugar please), and step outside onto your porch to look over your lawn as the morning dew slowly evaporates in the sunshine. Except it isn’t a lawn covered in grass, but rather a deep pink carpet of flowers. Not only is your lawn covered in flowers, but you never need to mow it, water it, or pull weeds out of it. Does this fantasy seem too good to be true? I have three words for you: red creeping thyme.
What is red creeping thyme?
You’ve probably used thyme in a recipe or two. You may even have a jar of dried thyme leaves somewhere in your herb drawer. Red creeping thyme, or Thymus coccineus, is the same fragrant plant used in these recipes but doesn’t quite have the same flavor. It’s a low-growing, spreading, self-seeding plant with flowers that range from pink to red to purplish-red. The plant rarely grows taller than 6 inches and a single red creeping thyme plant can spread almost two feet wide.
Red creeping thyme is advantageous over a traditional grass lawn. It is a drought tolerant plant, which means it requires very little watering. It grows in incredibly dense and is a tough plant, which makes it difficult for weeds to overtake it. The flowers aren’t just beautiful but are frequented by local pollinators which helps save the bees and other insects. And because it only grows to a maximum height of six inches, you don’t ever need to mow it.
Even though it’s not recommended that you use red creeping thyme in recipes that call for the herb thyme, it is still a fragrant and lovely-smelling plant.
Growing Red Creeping Thyme
Here are some quick facts about red creeping thyme:
- Latin name: Thymus praecox ‘Coccineus’
- Other names: Breckland thyme, Breckland wild thyme, wild thyme, creeping thyme, or elfin thyme
- Native to: Europe, North Africa and Asia.
- Invasiveness: No
- Tenderness: Perennial
- Sun: Full sun
- Water: Dry to moist, not wet
- Soil: Well-draining soil with a neutral to slightly alkaline pH
- Hardiness zone: Zones 5 through 10
- When to plant: Late spring, after frost
- Spacing: 8 inches apart
- Plant height: 6″
- Plant spread: 2 feet
- Bloom period: Spring or summer for about 3-4 weeks
- Time to maturity: 1 year to get established
- Container friendly: Yes
- Fertilizer: Generally not needed
- Toxicity: Edible for humans, not toxic for pets
- Deer resistant: Yes
- Pest resistant: Yes
As mentioned already, red creeping thyme grows well in planting zones 5 through 10, making it a viable option for gardeners from southern Minnesota all the way down to Florida. Additionally:
- The plant is drought tolerant meaning that it requires sparse watering once established.
- Red creeping thyme grows best in well-drained soil. It can handle somewhat poor-quality soil.
- Soil pH should be neutral or slightly alkaline.
- Grows well from full sun to partial shade.
- Stem cuttings, divisions, and seeds are all viable ways to propagate the plant.
- Red creeping thyme plants, if purchased in a nursery, should be planted 8 to 12 inches apart and allowed to spread.
- Overseeding established lawns can help give it a fuller appearance but should only be done if there are bare spots in the lawn.
Even if only a few are planted, it won’t take long before a given space is completely overtaken with pink and red flowers. This particular creeping herb also makes for great border regions to gardens. If you aren’t sure about giving up all of your grass, it can be used to border the grassy parts of your lawn, reducing how much grass requires watering, weeding, and other lawncare. The toughness of red creeping time makes it possible to walk on the planet as well, but be warned: bees love it. You may accidentally step on one if you aren’t careful!
Other creeping thyme color variations
Red creeping thyme isn’t the only type of creeping thyme available. If a hot pink lawn isn’t your ideal situation, there are other colors to choose from.
- Thymus caespitius tends to have more of a white or light lilac color to its flowers.
- Lemon thyme’s flowers tend to be more orange and yellow.
- Caraway thyme grows flowers that are more of pale lavender and is a traditional English seasoning, said to be complementary to garlic.
Establishing a red creeping thyme lawn
If you are ready to get started with your red creeping thyme lawn, this section will guide you through the process. There are 4 steps associated with getting this type of lawn planted.
Step 1: Remove the existing lawn
Removing grass is a surprisingly difficult challenge. There are two effective ways to do this. You can take a pickaxe or shovel and scrape the top layer of grass off your lawn, but this produces quite a bit of waste that needs to be composted or discarded.
Another option is to cover the lawn with dark, black plastic and suffocate the growing vegetation underneath. The plastic will absorb heat, which will help sterilize any seeds or plants beneath it. Cutting off sun and water will also kill the grass. If you plan to smother your lawn, begin the process in late summer or early fall.
Once your grass is dead, move on to step 2.
Step 2: Till the soil
Next, you’ll want to thoroughly till the soil. Remove any big chunks of rock, roots, or other debris that get tilled up. Once you’ve thoroughly tilled up the soil, move on to step 3.
Step 3: Amend the soil
Red creeping thyme does pretty well growing in most soil conditions, but adding bone meal and rock phosphate alongside some compost will provide good starting conditions for your thyme lawn. You don’t have to work these nutrients very deep since thyme has a shallow root system.
Step 4: Plant your thyme
Finally, get your thyme planted. What I usually do is prepare a grid that places each thyme plant 8 inches apart. The creeping thyme will slowly fill in the gaps and spaces between the plants over the course of a year. Remember, you want to plant in early spring after the last danger of frost has passed, so steps 1-3 will likely need to be completed over the fall and winter.
Once you’ve planted your red creeping thyme plants, give them a thorough watering and then water regularly when the soil appears to be dry. Do this for the first year until your plants are established.
Keep reading: 10 of the best flowers for bees