Growing Thyme in The Northern Territory
Thyme is a drought-tolerant, hardy, perennial herb. It has a strong flavour and thrives in hot, dry conditions. It’s not ideally suited to the tropics, but with the right care, you should be able to get it growing well. Thyme can easily tolerate the Top End heat, but struggles if the soil is waterlogged or the humidity is too high. In the Top End, its best planted in pots or containers that can be moved indoors or undercover during heavy rains.
Like other woody herbs, thyme is a short-lived perennial and will need to be replaced after a few years; usually 3 or 4, depending on how well cared for your plants are. The good news is that thyme is easy to propagate from cuttings, so you can replace your plants when they start to look woody and tired.
There are many varieties of thyme with a range of flavours and appearances. Some grow upright and some creep along the ground. Almost all have pretty little flowers. The most common varieties are usually available at gardening centers, but there are many more available online. Thyme is easy to propagate from cuttings, so if you’re looking for more varieties, a friend’s garden in often the best place to go ‘shopping’.
Thyme doesn’t like rich or soaked soil. Don’t over-feed or over-water it.
Thyme can grow in variety of conditions, but will do best and be most vigorous in full sun. Thyme that is grown in more shaded conditions tends to be less vigorous and usually gets a bit ‘leggy’.
Thyme, like other Mediterranean herbs, prefers a poor soil. Don’t work in compost or manure. Thyme grows naturally on the Mediterranean mountainsides in gravelly soil, so if you’re planting it into pots, be sure to add some stones or grit for improved drainage.
Thyme has a better flavour if it’s grown in poor soil with less water, but if you need to plant it into a part of the garden with rich soil and higher water requirements, it will still be quite happy. It won’t develop quite the same intensity of flavour, but it can still thrive, have good taste, and look pretty in a spot with less than ideal soil requirements, as long as the drainage is good.
Thyme can be grown from seed, but the plants take a long time to become established, so they are usually grown from seedlings, small plants or cuttings. Thyme can be sown in trays or directly into the garden. Simple sprinkle your seed onto the soil, cover with 1cm of compost and press down gently to compact the soil. Keep the seeds warm and moist until they’ve germinated. Thyme can take anywhere from two weeks to a whole month to germinate, so don’t be discouraged if your plants take a while to appear.
Thyme is best planted during the dry season. The cooler, dryer weather gives the plants a chance to settle in and establish before the humidity rises.
Thyme is best planted from seedlings or semi-hardwood cuttings. Simply place your seedlings into prepared holes and water them in. Add a small amount of bonemeal to each hole to help your plants develop strong root systems.
Pick from your plants often. It’ll encourage them to grow more vigorously and to fill out. If you’re not picking regularly then your thyme will need to be pruned. The best time for pruning is just after the plants have flowered. You can cut them back reasonably hard to give them a nice shape, but remember, they are a woody herb and you need to leave some of the newer leaves on each stem so that the plant can regrow.
Don’t over-water. Water only when the soil is dry. Don’t forget about your thyme though. It needs so little water throughout most of the year that it can be easy to think of thyme as a plant that never needs watering. It’s important to check are your plants during long, hot, dry spells. They are very hardy and drought resistant, but they can still die if they go for too long without water.
Thyme does not usually need to be fertilized. Over feeding the plants will cause them to produce an abundance of leaves, but the flavour will be less intense. Feed lightly once a year when the plants flower.
Thyme does not need to be mulched. It prefers the soil to dry out between watering. If you want to mulch to keep the weeds out, then some small stones, pebbles, or gravel would make a good mulch.
You can harvest from your plants as soon as they are established. The very best time to harvest from them is just before they flower when their flavour is best. Simply pick stalks or use scissors to cut what you need. The leaves can be used fresh or dried. You’ll notice that your plants won’t grow much in winter, but as soon as the weather warms up, they’ll have a burst of vigorous growth. They appreciate heavy picking, but always be sure to leave enough of the plant to provide energy so that it can keep growing.