Woolly thyme for ground cover

treeskate(6a Hartford CT)November 13, 2005

I read the other thread and it seems most people are saying to start with plants versus seeds. I have a large circle (20 ft across) with a large boulder in the center and 2 rings of stone. The area is very slightly mounded, it gets high noon sun (hot & dry CT.) I also have a new curving 30 in x 60 ft. stone walkway through the side yard. I want to plant Woolly thyme but the amount of plants needed seems slightly overwhelming (cost and installing....) I was dismayed to learn people don't recommend seed - I was hoping to put it in like grass seed.

Any guidelines would be greatly appreciated. I don't have the space or conditions to use starter seed packs.....


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One of the great benefits of using the creeping forms of thyme for groundcovers is their rapid spread and an ability to cut or divide potted plants into small plugs, allowing a widespread dispersal and placement of not too many plants.

Seeds for groundcovers are just not common in my area and nearly everyone grows them from plugs or small pots. And, should you locate seeds, they may not be as amenable to direct sowing as say something like lawn seed.

If you can obtain growers flats (solid flats of GC without separate pots), this is often the most economical way to purchase thyme in quantity. You can cut these flats into small plugs of an inch or so square and space them out accordingly. Providing the growing conditions are good, you should see considerable coverage by the end of a single season. The same procedure can be followed with the smaller pots more commonly available.

Like most other issues with gardening, patience is a virtue. Few are able to afford an immediate full coverage with ground covers, nor would you necessarily want to - by nature they DO spread :-) Too close a placement of too large a plant or start will result in overcrowding.

    Bookmark   November 14, 2005 at 9:14AM
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treeskate(6a Hartford CT)

Thanks so much for your advice! My landscape man came today and told me he would help me out by getting them wholesale next spring. Whew! I'll be sure to remind him and ask if he can get the flats like you described. I sure hope my knees don't give out....or I lose the plants before I get them all in the ground! Thanks again!

    Bookmark   November 14, 2005 at 5:51PM
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pianojuggler(z8b WA)

Here's my story.

Earlier this year, was on my way home from my piano lesson, and started following signs for a garage sale. On the way, I passed a home with not a single blade of grass in the yard. I stopped and asked the gentleman what he had planted, and he said it was wooly thyme. I was intrigued. He said he originally planted them a foot apart, and had gotten a whole bunch of plants for 75 cents each.

I want to replace the grass in a couple of large areas with something that doesn't need to be mowed, and will stay green with little or no water. I'm gonna start with WT and add some other groundcovers later. My first area is about 10x40. Planting a foot apart, this is 400 plants! Ouch! And the nurseries want $2.75 or so per plant, or $25 to $30 for a flat. I should mention that I am a fundamentally cheap person.

This summer, I bought one one-gallon pot of WT for $4. It was spilling over the sides of the pot. I took several cuttings and rooted them in starting trays. My first tray yielded 36 little, tiny WT plants.

I found another one-gallon pot of WT on the "distressed" rack at a local nursery. It actually looked pretty good, again spilling over the sides of the pot. I liked this one better, as the leaves were more densely clustered on the stems. I started filling my two 36-cup starting trays on two-week cycles.

Then, I found the house I first saw and asked if I could take some cuttings. The gentleman was very gracious and let me take several dozen pieces from along the edges. I took these home and stuck them in the starting trays. Unfortunately, I think it was getting late in the season and very few of them sprouted roots. Bummer.

I mentioned this to my piano teacher, and she said there was WT growing along the edge of their driveway, and I could take as many cuttings as I wanted off of it. Each week, I grab about a palm-sized piece and take it home and toss it in a pot. This is really easy, because when WT is planted along pavement, it tries to cross over the pavement. You can just lift up a handful and pull it off - it usually already has roots going. Just lay it on top of some dirt, and it will make itself at home. Taking small handfuls from random spots still leaves the mother plant looking natural, and it will fill back in quickly.

Then, I happened to mention this project to my sister-in-law. They have large clumps of WT growing on the edges of the steps from their carport to the house. She just cut the plants back to the edge, and rolled up the mats of WT that were growing over the edges. I laid these out in the lid from a compost bin. I am still dividing it up into smaller sections, and putting them in pots and flats.

My sister-in-law said that their one big mistake was not completely killing all the grass before they started putting in the groundcovers. So I am diligently killing off the lawn, digging out the turf in some places. I am very squeamish about using chemicals. I will probably lay down plastic sheeting over some areas for a couple months. I'm also planning to put in edging between the WT and the small sections of grass that I want to keep, although this is difficult with all the tree roots.

Okay, so maybe I have gone a little overboard, but when the first area is ready, I should have at least four or five hundred plants ready to go.

I have gotten cuttings or swatches from seven different sources now. I have divided the original two one-gallon plants into a couple of pots each to give it some room to spread out.

I have noticed that there are some different varieties of WT. Some have bright green leaves that are not clustered as densely, and stay very low to the ground. Some, like the second pot I got have more gray-green leaves, fuzzier, and tightly clustered. These seem to hump up a bit more, getting up about two inches or more in the denser clumps. I plan to use the different types in different areas, so I have been careful to label each plant as I divide and pot them.

Most of the plants are on a table on my back patio. I need to get them into a spot where they won't freeze, now that the temperature is getting low at night. I have been avoiding putting them on the ground as a neighborhood cat likes to come around and dig in my trays.

If I can figure out how to post pictures here, I will add some pictures of my project.

The moral is, if you are a tightwa I mean frugal person like I am, just start asking everyone you know if they have wooly thyme, and if you can come an get some cuttings. In the spring, you can probably just take good size swatches and lay them on the ground, water occasionally, and they will take hold.

If you go the route of rooting cuttings in starting trays, Here's the method with which I have had the best luck: Take cuttings with densely clustered leaves, or from a long of a stem. Use cuttings that are no more than two or three inches long. Carefully remove the leaves from the lower half, then put in your rooting medium. I use just perlite and water. Nothing fancy, no rooting hormone. After two to three weeks gently pull the cutting out, and it should have some roots on it. Transfer it to a pot with soil, or straight into the ground.

    Bookmark   November 15, 2005 at 8:53AM
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pianojuggler(z8b WA)

Starting tray (clear plastic top removed)

A friend's WT heading across the walkway

Kinnikinnick on the left, wooly thyme on the right, parked in the lids from compost bins.

Some of the mother plants (the ones with the little white tags):

A couple more, with some of the starts next to the steps. The bigger pot sitting on the 4x4 is the second one-gallon plant I bought (for $2).

More of the starts:

So you said you didn't have the space for starter seed packs. If you can use a corner of your patio for a project, you could propogate several dozen plants from cuttings in a fairly small area. Or just plant your first handful next to the walkway, and when it starts to look like the second picture, take cuttings for other locations.

Good luck.

    Bookmark   November 15, 2005 at 9:35AM
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treeskate(6a Hartford CT)

Wow! Thanks Gardengal48!

I've printed your story and pics and will surely look at them for the future.

    Bookmark   November 15, 2005 at 1:29PM
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Thank you all for wonderful information on Wooly thyme! How much foot traffic can it take? Could it take daily foot traffic (10x10 area)- if not, is there any other low-growing hardy evergreen ground cover that can? I live in Maryland. Thanks!!

    Bookmark   July 6, 2006 at 1:49PM
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I planted WT 4 years ago which is still struggling in my walkway made of driveway chips. I read that WT prefers poor soil and likes to be dry. The walkway gets a lot of forest refuse from Douglas Firs and also grows moss. I wonder if I should sprinkle dolomite on top to sweeten the soil?

    Bookmark   June 12, 2007 at 1:03AM
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I planted some whooly thyme about 3 weeks ago in between some stone pavers that get alot of sun. So far they are looking pretty good but haven't seem to grow much. I need alot more but they are quite expensive and I was told they might not survive the western PA winters. I hope I don't have to replant them every spring. I was thinking about trying some irish moss instead which I was told will come back. Has anyone used irish moss?

    Bookmark   June 13, 2007 at 8:51AM
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pianojuggler(z8b WA)

Elfrieda, if you have moss growing, it's likely that the area is too damp for woolly thyme to do well. It's a dry-climate Mediterranean plant.

Cleanqueen, my hunch is that you just need more time for your thyme. It can take a while (a couple of months) to really get acclimated to new conditions. This is especially true if the soil you have on the ground is very different from the medium the plants were potted in.

Over the past year and a half, I have started over 300 WT plants from two one-gallon pots (one of which was on the "distressed" rack at a local nursery). My basic approach is to divide them into pots and let them get well established before they go into the ground. I'm doing one small section at a time, and snitching cuttings from each established section to propagate more plants for the next section.

I would definitely see how they overwinter in your climate before investing a LOT of money in dozens of new plants. But, well established they should be hardy in zone 5.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2007 at 10:58PM
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I have a large patio area next to our swimming pool with 6' x 6' concrete slabs seperated by 4" gaps of soil in between each slab. My plan is to plant a low growing groundcover in the gaps. I have installed an underground watering system to water whatever it is we end up planting (to avoid surface puddles on the concrete).

I am wondering what my best planting option is. I live in the central valley of California where summer temperatures reach 110 degrees on occassion. The patio will get full sun & foot traffic. My biggest concern is the sun (& heat). Would woolly thyme be a good choice? Or is there a better option? I appreciate any feedback!

    Bookmark   July 25, 2007 at 1:13PM
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I am in the same situation. Are you planting only one ground cover. Or do you have ideas for mixing to create a color effect and different bloom times?

    Bookmark   September 22, 2007 at 4:15PM
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We live in the NorthEast, I am just a beginning gardener as this is our first house so please forgive me.

We have a dirt front yard that gets quite a bit of shade. I am not interested in having grass and a friend suggested Woolly Thyme which is how I found you all! Do you think it will work in my area? What other hardy ground coverings might do well?

Thank you in advance for your time and help!

    Bookmark   March 14, 2010 at 9:05PM
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Where can I find in northeast, Philadlephia area.... looked everywhere. Would really like a few flats as have a large area I want to do. Thanks.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2011 at 9:44PM
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rober49(5 St Louis)

i've had no luck with wooly thyme. my area is too damp. i went with english thyme & it is doing very well. my friend in santa fe, n.m. has great luck with w.t. so it does prefer a dryer climate.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2011 at 1:21AM
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I have woolly thyme in the front and sides of my house (sun/partial shade) and I just love it. It spreads beautifully... but a little slower in the shade it seems. This is the third year for it and it's doing great. The one thing no one mentioned is that it smells like Froot Loops cereal when you walk on it. You can really smell it, too. Yum!

    Bookmark   April 17, 2011 at 7:01PM
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Sorry to jump into the thread with a new question, but it's related.

Three years ago, I planted 2-3 dozen WT plugs in the spaces of a natural stone patio. They're doing great and filling in well. This Spring, however, I've been inundated with some nasty weed-- the leaves of which actually look like WT until it matures, then is grows stalks and a purple flower.

These weeds are everywhere and very difficult to remove without ripping up the WT too. I'm going to keep pulling, but is anyone aware of a herbicide that I might try that is not fatal to the WT?

Thanks for any help.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2011 at 8:05AM
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OK all you knowledgable gardners out there.... I have 675 sq foot of flag stone to plant wooly thyme in. I have already bought 3 flats of WT at $30 each so I'd really like for it to live! Full sun area about 3 inches between stones. We did install sprinklers with a timer so we should be able to regulate the right amount of water. The question is the soil? Stones are set in sand with several inches of drain rock underneath. Should I fill in with all sand between stones for planting or a sand soil mixture? I know it likes well drained soil. I saw a bag of "cactus/succulent" mix , but it's expensive and the stones are about 3 inches thick so we'd be talking lots of bags! I'm leaning toward mixing sand into topsoil that I can buy by the tractor scoop at the landscape yard rather than bags at the garden store. I really want this stuff to live and be happy so I want to do it right the first time! Any input would be appreciated. AND Mr. Herbicide in the last post....I'm sure anything that would kill a weed would kill your WT too! Happy pulling I really don't think you have any other option!

    Bookmark   May 14, 2011 at 4:47PM
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Cleanqueen: irish moss is neither irish nor moss. It wants full sun and hates drought, but I have it and it is doing just fine in my winters, in a fairly exposed location. It does not spread very quickly. However, it has no problem being divided up and spread around.

As for creeping thyme.. if you have patience, a single plant is enough for a whole lawn. Just keep dividing and planting.

    Bookmark   May 17, 2011 at 6:10PM
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Does it come in seed form ??
Pls send links to purchase seed form

    Bookmark   June 30, 2011 at 10:57AM
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I would like to try growing woolly thyme from seed. Does anyone know where to get seeds? I have scoured the web and so far no luck. Thanks!

    Bookmark   August 27, 2014 at 6:32PM
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