Using Thyme For Lawn Substitute: Growing A Creeping Thyme Lawn

Plants of Creeping Thyme with purple flowers in garden in summer.
Image by annalovisa

By Amy Grant

Xeriscaping is becoming increasingly popular in an effort to reduce our dependence on water use. Many gardeners are choosing to replace water thirsty turf with plants that are drought resistant. An ideal choice is using thyme for lawn replacement. How do you use thyme as lawn substitute and why is thyme a terrific alternative to grass? Let’s find out.

Thyme Alternative to Grass

A creeping thyme lawn is not only drought resistant, but it generally requires much less water than traditional turf grasses too. It is hardy to USDA zone 4, can be walked upon and will rapidly spread to fill in a space. As an added bonus, thyme blooms in a long-lasting profusion of lavender hued flowers.

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The downside of planting thyme as lawn replacement is the cost. Planting a creeping thyme lawn with plants set 6-12 inches apart can be pricey, but then again, if you have looked into reseeding or of laying sod for an entire turf lawn, the cost is fairly comparable. That’s probably why I usually only small areas of creeping thyme lawn. Most people use creeping thyme to fill in pathways and around patio pavers – smaller areas than the average lawn size.

Most varieties of thyme are tolerant of light foot traffic. Some cultivars to try in your thyme lawn include:

  • Elfin thyme (Thymus serpyllum ‘Elfin’)
  • Red creeping thyme (Thymus coccineus)
  • Wooly thyme (Thymus pseudolanuginosus)

You can also alternate varieties or create a pattern by planting a different type of thyme around the border of the pseudo-lawn.

How to Plant Thyme as a Lawn Substitute

The biggest problem with using thyme to replace grass is the work it will take preparing the site. It takes some doing to rid the area of all the existing grass. Of course, you can always go with the easy, albeit not so eco-friendly method of multiple applications of Roundup. The next option is good old-fashioned, back breaking digging up of the sod. Consider it a work out.

Lastly, you can always make a lasagna garden by covering the entire area with black plastic, cardboard or lots of newspaper layers covered in straw or sawdust. The idea here is to cut off all light to the grass and weeds underneath, basically smothering the plants. This method requires patience, as it takes two seasons to completely kill off the top and even longer to get all the roots. But, hey, patience is a virtue! Till the area when the process is completed and remove any big chunks of rock or root before attempting to transplant the thyme plugs.

When the soil is ready to be worked, add some bone meal or rock phosphate along with some compost to the soil and work it in, down to about 6 inches since thyme has short roots. Prior to planting, make sure the thyme plants are damp. Plant the thyme plugs about 8 inches apart and water in well.

Thereafter, say goodbye to fertilizing, thatching, regular watering and even mowing if you so desire. Some people do mow the thyme lawn after flowers are spent, but it’s okay to be a little lazy and leave the area as is.

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