Sunday, July 10, 2016

Plant Story--Thyme Lawn

When I retired, I had lots of thyme.

blooming thyme

That's because I removed the grass from my lawn and planted thyme in that space. I reasoned that the front lawn was never needed for a picnic or a croquet game and mowing was tedious. It has worked wonderfully. The small plants I planted have spread to cover all the space:

newly planted thyme lawn
The lawn just after it was planted.

thyme lawn all filled in
Mature lawn
In late May, they flower and my thyme lawn is abuzz in bees. Bees love the flowers!

The thyme lawn never needs mowing.  It does need weeding--dandelions, bluegrass and all the local weeds seed in. It also needs to be trimmed back: the plants would happily expand to cover the sidewalk.

Originally I planted two species of thyme (varieties of Thymus serpyllum and T. praecox) and a speedwell (turkish speedwell, Veronica liwanensis) since I reasoned that monocultures were unnatural. Eight years later most of the speedwells have vanished, outcompeted by the thymes. While nature rarely has a monoculture, it is not because the individual species have any objection to creating a monoculture. Most species will crowd out all others if the conditions permit.

But I weed. If I pull out the dandelions and bluegrass I can maybe keep a lawn of just the two species of thyme and a bit of speedwell. If I quit intervening, the lawn would doubtless become more diverse, with a variety of local weedy plants moving in. Some would be taller plants than the thymes which would shade them out except along the edges of the lawn. So I weed, and this year, removed the thyme immediately around the surviving speedwells, in order to help them stay in the lawn.

thyme and speedwells
Small purple thyme flowers and larger, bluer speedwell flowers
Some years all three plants flower at the same time, but usually the speedwell is first, then the tiny-flowered thyme and then the larger-flowered thyme. They make a grand display!

thyme lawn

Tired of mowing your lawn? Try thyme!

Comments and corrections welcome.

Kathy Keeler, A Wandering Botanist


  1. Lovely! Does it smell wonderful? I love your first sentence.

  2. Yes, the lawn does indeed have a lovely smell.

  3. Wow, that's amazing. My thyme grows straight up rather than spreading. Do you have to trim it to make it spread? I do have an oregano patch that is doing a great job of taking over the lawn all by itself. I love it.

  4. Some species of thyme creep, others are upright. I planted creeping thymes. No trimming needed.

  5. Replies
    1. Landscapers cut and rolled up the bluegrass turf (there's a machine for that). Likely they then treated the soil with a short-lived herbicine, though I don't remember them doing that. I laid pea gravel over the bed and planted small thyme plants a foot or so apart. I weeded out grass shoots that appeared.

  6. i was just browsing along and came upon your blog. just wanted to say good blog and this article really helped me.

  7. Would camomile and thyme be a good combination?

    1. Camomile doesn't grow well where I live but if it does well where you live, I think it would be a great combination.

  8. What is the time gap between the photo of the newly planted thyme lawn & the nature lawn? (Just planted a bunch of plugs today)

  9. I planted them in June 08. By March 09 I estimate about 60% of the gravel was covered, in May 09, 90%. I don't have a photo from 2010, but in May 2011 it was a green lawn with no visible gravel.