Growing thyme from cuttings

Propagating Thyme Plants: Thyme Seed Planting And Rooting Thyme Plants

Thyme is an herb steeped in history with a wide range of uses not the least of which is culinary. Thyme was used by ancient Egyptians for embalming, as incense by the earliest Greeks, and as a ward against nightmares and even as a gift to foster courage among warriors during the Middle Ages. With such a plethora of applications, it is a “must have” for the herb garden. So how then, does one propagate thyme?

Propagating Thyme Plants

Thyme propagation can be accomplished in a number of ways. It is a hardy little plant most commonly grown for its essence of thymol, which gives a distinct flavor to foods in cuisines from French (herbs de Provence) and Lebanese to Italian, Greek, Turkish, Portuguese and even the Caribbean. This herb may be sprouted from seed with additional propagating of thyme plants accomplished via root division, cuttings and even layering.

Thyme Seed Planting

Thyme plants can handle deep freezing conditions and are tolerant of drought. As such, they are easy herbs to grow in most regions. This member of the family Labiatae (Thymus vulgaris) will not only thrive in the herb garden, but als0 does well in containers and some varieties are especially suited to tight areas among pavers in well-trod patios or walkways.

Thyme plants thrive in hot, sunny areas of well-drained soil (pH of 6.3) and should be sown by seed in the spring in a seed tray or directly into the garden. Keep young plants moist and thin to 6 inches (15 cm.) apart. Hardy in USDA zones 5 through 9, thyme will grow to around 12 inches (30.5 cm.) tall for upright cultivars and 10 to 12 inches (25.5-30.5 cm) across.

Thereafter, in most climates, the plant will grow as a perennial and, once established, requires very little watering and no fertilization.

Rooting Thyme Herbs

This little shrub-like herb may easily be divided or propagated through cuttings for supplementary plants. Propagate from root division during the spring months. Divide the little bush into smaller sections and make sure that each section has roots attached to it.

Cuttings may also be taken in late spring for propagation of additional thyme plants. Take your thyme cutting at a node on the stem at a point where the leaves attach. This is where the root formations are most viable. Remove the lower leaves and then push the cut end into a container of moist soil mix or vermiculite or perlite. Keep the pot in a warm, shaded area and keep slightly damp.

Layering of thyme plants will also result in an easy propagation of the herb. Simply bend a stem down to the ground, remove the leaves from the stem and cover it with soil. Water the bent section in lightly. To facilitate rooting, cut a small lesion just below a node on the buried stem. The mother plant will nourish the layered section until roots form on the bent stem, at which time it may be severed from the mother and, voila, a brand new thyme plant is formed. At that time, the plant may be moved into a container or other area of the garden.

Useful in potpourris and sachets, as an antiseptic, in wreaths and floral arrangements, as well as in a variety of culinary creations from vinegar to herbal butter, stuffing, soups, breads, and teas, this herb is an easy plant to cultivate and propagate and integral to the herb garden.

Thyme is one of the most precious herbs in the garden. The aroma, taste, and benefits of this plant justify its global popularity.

Gardeners all around the world have mastered the art of growing thyme, and today you can easily grow this plant at home with all the information you have about its growth.

One of the most important aspects about thyme gardening is its propagation.

Since propagating any herb from seeds isn’t always the best idea, stem cuttings are widely used instead to cultivate thyme efficiently.

As with any other gardening activity, however, growing thyme from cuttings requires attention and a bit of effort on your part.

In this article, I will cover all the details of this process so that you can grow thyme from cuttings forever.

When to Take Thyme Cuttings

Taking the right thyme cuttings might be one of the most important steps in this activity. If you take your thyme cuttings when the stem is still too young, it might not be able to root or survive after rooting.

On the other hand, thyme stems turn woody as the plant grows older. Woody stems can be very hard or impossible to propagate.

You also don’t want to take your cuttings from a plant that has fully grown its flowering buds because it wouldn’t support rooting properly.

That’s why you need to focus on two points here:

  1. Your thyme cuttings should be established and mature stems
  2. They should be soft, green, and preferably have no flowering buds

Some experts recommend that you cut your thyme when the plant or stem has grown at least two inches tall, but it’s preferable to wait for your plant to grow taller than that.

That height range usually indicates that your cuttings are able to support the rooting process and transport nutrients efficiently.

The first time I tried to propagate thyme from cuttings I failed badly because I took stems that were too young.

So, although the softer the stems the better, you also don’t want to take cuttings that can’t handle themselves.

How to Take Thyme Cuttings

Before attempting to take cuttings, make sure you’re using sharp pruning shears.

Any tool that isn’t sharp enough can create unwanted tears in both the cuttings and the plant. This will make them more susceptible to diseases and pests.

Also, as you take off the cuttings, you might accidentally damage the growth nodes and destroy your cuttings’ chances of propagating, so you need really sharp and workable scissors.

The first principle to keep in mind when taking cuttings is to never take off the whole stem. You want to keep enough foliage for the plant to be able to reemerge again.

It’s advisable to always take ⅔ or ¾ of the stem, keeping at least two or three sets of leaves at the bottom.

Second, since the aim of this activity is to propagate thyme, we need to focus on obtaining growth nodes at the bottom of our cuttings.

For this reason, once you have found the desired stem in your plant, you should cut just below the node from where the leaves are emerging.

Take as many cuttings as you want, but make sure not to destabilize the plant. In any case, it’s preferable that you don’t cut more than ⅓ or ½ of the total number of the plant’s stems.

Propagating Thyme Cuttings

Now that you have your stem cuttings, it’s time to turn them into independent plants!

Prepare the Cuttings

First of all, you need to make your cuttings eligible for rooting. To achieve that, remove all of the leaves at the bottom of each stem and keep at least two to three sets of leaves at the top.

As such, you allow the cuttings to initiate the process of rooting once environmental conditions are favorable.

It’s important not to remove all the leaves or else your plant will not be able to maintain itself once it has fully rooted.

Preparing the Growing Medium (Soil or Mix)

In this stage, instead of using regular unmodified potting soil, I prefer to take a step further and adjust it a little bit.

Experience has shown that adding perlite or sand to the soil helps thyme root faster. Maybe this is explained by the fact that thyme naturally grows in dry areas where the soil lacks moisture.

Mix equal parts of sand or perlite with any high-quality potting soil of your choice.

I cannot overemphasize the importance of using premium potting soil. Low-quality soils have a bad texture and are full of pests and diseases.

At this point, your cuttings are very sensitive, so they need a smooth and clean medium in which to grow.

Fill the medium-sized containers or pots with the prepared mix up to the rim just after you moisten it with some water.

Immersing the Cuttings

You have almost reached the last step of this activity. It’s time for you to introduce your cuttings to their growing medium.

Use a stick, your finger, or any thin tool to create holes in the soil that are a bit wider than each one of the cuttings.

Immerse half or more of each cutting in each one of holes. Firm the soil around the cuttings so that they appear to be standing strong and steady.

Cover the containers with a plastic bag or bottle to trap the moisture around your cuttings. This is a very important step if you want a high rate of propagation.

Optional: Use a Rooting Hormone

If we’re following the traditional method, a rooting hormone isn’t really necessary.

Nonetheless, I really recommend using it to boost your chances of successful propagation.

Rooting hormone exists as powder or gel. You can find it in many different online stores, or you can purchase it from your local nursery or store.

Simply dip the bottom of each cutting into the powder or gel before immersing them in the growing medium.

Congrats! You have successfully prepared the whole set for your cuttings to grow, and now it’s time to learn how to care for them on a regular basis.

Looking After Your Cuttings

Moisture and Humidity

Fully grown plants are far better at trapping and using water than fresh cuttings that haven’t rooted yet. That’s why you need to be very careful not to keep the plants in a dry atmosphere.

In fact, cuttings need humidity levels of around 70%–80% to root properly.

So, besides sealing the containers, you should also monitor the moisture levels of the soil and the closed environment of your cuttings.

If you feel things are becoming dry, moisten the mix immediately. Remember that excessive and reckless moistening, in this case, can be catastrophic.

Cuttings are naturally prone to rotting, and “wet” mediums can make this far more likely. Avoid drenching the soil, and use a spray bottle to make the process of moistening more controlled.

Sun and Temperature

In any case, your cuttings should never be exposed to direct sunlight. On the other hand, shade or indirect sunlight can be tolerated.

However, even if thyme cuttings don’t love intense light that doesn’t mean they don’t love warmth.

Actually, it’s important to ensure that your “plantings” are in a warm area, especially during the day.

Air Circulation

Since our cuttings are sealed with plastic bags, that means the air isn’t circulating well inside. Bad air circulation is associated with an increase in pests and diseases.

You shouldn’t worry a lot about that though. All you need to do is allow your cuttings to breathe for a few hours each day by uncovering the containers and letting them sit in a well-ventilated place.

After following these steps, your thyme cuttings will become fully rooted after four to six weeks and ready to be transplanted to new containers.

Enjoy growing your thyme, and don’t forget to share your questions and thoughts in the comments below!

Start an Herb Garden for Pennies

I just moved to a new part of the country and had to leave my herb garden behind. It’s not the first time that I’ve been “herbless” and had to start over again. It can get expensive to start again and since I think being herbless is just wrong, I need a way to frugally build up my herb garden again. I have a great way to remedy my dilemma for only a little bit of money. Follow along as I teach you how to propagate herbs from cuttings. It couldn’t be simpler.

While I could go down to the local nursery and purchase all new plants (and I may purchase some of the more unusual ones) the main way I plan on getting my starts is to ask other gardeners. I’ve found that gardeners love to share, and in the fall people will be pruning back their herbs anyway.

The best way to increase your garden holdings is to ask and then learn how to make new plants from cuttings. You can also go to nurseries and look for closeout plants.

You only need a few cuttings from each plant to be successful.

Which Plants Can You Use to Make Cuttings?

This simple technique, once mastered can be used on any perennial plant that has a stalk. With only a few exceptions. Taking stem cuttings does not work on plants that come right out of the ground in a big clump, like aloe and hosta, bulbing plants like garlic or chives, and grasses or annuals. Those are best propagated by division or seed.

That still leaves a lot that it will work with. Propagation by stem cuttings works fantastic on these herbs:

  • Lavender
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme
  • Oregano
  • Mint
  • Basil
  • Marjoram
  • Sage
  • Winter Savory
  • Summer Savory
  • Scented Geraniums
  • Monarda
  • Sweet Woodruff
  • Lemon Balm
  • Lemon Verbena
  • Pineapple Sage

Softwood Cuttings

There are three kinds of stem cutting you might take – softwood, semi-hardwood, and hardwood. It will depend on the maturity of the plant which you use. The best time to make softwood cuttings is from the spring to late summer as plants are still growing. Clip off a stem of rosemary and you can tell a softwood cutting, the end 3 inches is probably very green and pliable.The softwood section will root the quickest, sometimes only requiring water to root.

Semi-hardwood Cuttings

Next on the stalk is the semi-hardwood section. It is still somewhat pliable but is turning brown. You may get this section to root in water but success most likely comes with rooting in soil or sand. This is best done after the active growing season, usually in the summer or early fall.

Hardwood Cuttings

The hardwood part of the stalk will be last years growth and will resemble a stick. You’ll know it because the stick will not bend, but only break. Rooting this part of a stalk will require rooting hormone and soil or sand. Of course, not all plants will have this stage of growth. If you look closely at a mint plant you will see that it is only a softwood stem. All plants that winter over above ground will have a hardwood part of the stalk.

How to Propagate Herbs From Cuttings

Take cuttings from several stalks of the plant you want to propagate. I made my cuttings about 10 inches long. You should use sharp garden shears and clean them with rubbing alcohol after each plant. You don’t want to spread disease!

Make new cuts based on the way the stalk looks – separating softwood and semi-hardwood sections.

Cut below a leaf and remove two sections of leaves at the node. The joint on a stem where a leaf starts to grow is a node. The area of stem between joints is the internode. This section is where the roots will begin to emerge. You should be careful to pinch off the leaf, never tear it away from the stalk. It will ruin the node and may introduce disease. I just pinch these off with my fingernails (clean hands of course.) You could also use a knife or clippers, but I find these cumbersome for the small job.

Now your cuttings should look like this – ready to go into the growing medium. You can use a soil / sand mix in a used 6 cell plant tray or just use fresh water.

The greatest threat to your small cutting is the loss of water through the leaves that remain. To minimize this, you can create a mini greenhouse around the plants. This will provide high humidity while the stalks produce roots.

Place your cuttings into a small jar of water and cover it with a plastic bag. No leaves should be in the water. Your cuttings need to be in a well light area but not in direct sunlight. Keep an eye on it and change the water once a week or as needed. That’s all there is to it! In 3-4 weeks you will have roots growing from the node areas and you can plant them into potting soil.

Learn the art of how to propagate herbs from cuttings. Knowing this one simple trick will save you a ton of money as you plan your new herb garden.

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Learn How To Avoid And Repair Transplant Shock In Plants

Transplant shock in plants is almost unavoidable. Let’s face it, plants were not designed to be moved from place to place, and when we humans do this to them, it is bound to cause some problems. But, there are a few things to know about how to avoid transplant shock and cure plant transplant shock after it has occurred. Let’s look at these.

How to Avoid Transplant Shock

Disturb the roots as little as possible – Unless the plant is root bound, you should do as little as possible to the rootball when moving the plant from one location to the next. Do not shake the dirt off, bump the rootball or rough up the roots.

Bring as much of the roots as possible – Along the same lines as the tip above for plant preparation, preventing shock means when digging up the plant, make sure as much of the roots as possible is brought up with the plant. The more roots that come with the plant, the less likely transplant shock in plants will set in.

Water thoroughly after transplanting – An important transplant shock preventer is to make sure that your plant receives plenty of water after you move the plant. This is a good way how to avoid transplant shock and will help the plant settle in to its new location.

Always make sure the rootball stays moist when transplanting – For this transplant shock preventer when moving the plant, make sure that the rootball stays moist in-between locations. If the rootball dries out at all, the roots in the dry area will get damaged.

How to Cure Plant Transplant Shock

While there is no sure-fire way to cure plant transplant shock, there are things you can do to minimize the transplant shock in plants.

Add some sugar – Believe or not, studies have shown that a weak sugar and water solution made with plain sugar from the grocery store given to a plant after transplanting can help recovery time for transplant shock in plants. It can also be used as a transplant shock preventer if applied at the time of transplanting. It only helps with some plants but, as this will not harm the plant, it is worth a try.

Trim back the plant – Trimming back the plant allows the plant to focus on regrowing its roots. In perennials, trim back about one-third of the plant. In annuals, if the plant is a bush type, trim back one-third of the plant. If it is a plant with a main stem, cut off half of each leaf.

Keep roots moist – Keep the soil well watered, but make sure that the plant has good drainage and is not in standing water.

Wait patiently – Sometimes a plant just needs a few days to recover from transplant shock. Give it some time and care for it as you normally would and it may come back on its own.

Now that you know a little more about how to avoid transplant shock and how to hopefully cure plant transplant shock, you know with a little plant preparation, preventing shock should be an easier task.

JARS v45n4 – Tips for Beginners: How to Transplant a Container-Grown Plant

Tips for Beginners: How to Transplant a Container-Grown Plant
Steven Feryok
Hopewell, New Jersey

You are probably wondering what’s so complicated about taking a plant out of a container and putting it into the ground. My intentions are to make this procedure clear and help you avoid complications later.

These plants have not yet outgrown their containers.
Photo by Steven Feryok

First, when you are selecting a container-grown plant, pay attention to the container size in relation to the plant. The container should be large enough to hold a root system without over-crowding it. If possible take the plant out of the container to see if there are more roots than medium.

A good understanding of soils is the key to transplanting and good gardening. Ericaceous plants, such as rhododendrons, prefer a rich medium of organic matter and ample drainage. If possible, check the acidity of the soil or pH level (approximately 5.5 pH is optimum). Ifs very important if lime is needed to increase the pH to apply it at planting time. Limestone does not leach through the soil as readily as other elements so incorporate it in the root zone. Superphosphate (which promotes root growth and bud set) and gypsum (which keeps the soil friable for drainage and oxygen) should be added at this time. For those individuals who have sandy soil, gypsum is not necessary. Fertilizer is not needed at this time unless you are doing a whole new bed. Wait about three weeks when new regenerated roots will be growing out into the soil.

Figure 1. A severely pot-bound plant is cut vertically with a garden spade.
Illustration by Steven Feryok

Root Laceration
To achieve a greater success in transplanting a container-grown plant, the roots need to be severely lacerated. This will give the plant a chance to regenerate new rootlets, which then spread out into the surrounding soil. In most pot-bound container plants, there is a mass of roots at the base of the container. By hand or with a garden spade remove the mass. If the whole container is lined with roots it is best to tear the roots apart by hand. If the roots are very compact and dense, it is necessary to take the garden spade and cut through the bottom half of the ball vertically. The purpose is to expose more root area and promote root regeneration. The roots will now be able to grow out into the soil. Even with these measures some plants are too far gone.

Figure 2. The plant on left has been lifted out of container.
The plant on right is split and reshaped.
Illustration by Steven Feryok

The Hole
The hole should be wider than the ball so that the roots radiate outwards. Large rooted plants should be arranged so that no roots are tangled or lay to one side. Once a plant’s roots are placed, that is the way they are going to stay.

Figure 3. Dig a shallow hole wider than the root ball and reshape it for planting.
Illustration by Steven Feryok

This is very critical to the survival of the plant. Apply water at the base of the plant. Soilless media dries out quickly; therefore, a thorough soaking is necessary until the plant is established.

Figure 4. Spread the roots out in the hole,
being careful to avoid large air pockets.
Illustrations by Steven Feryok
Figure 5. This plant is properly placed
in raised bed. Take care not to stomp
with feet and compress air out of soil.
Let watering compress loose soil.

Mulching plants will keep the shallow fine rooted plants cooler in the summer heat and act as insulation during the cold winter. Do not use peat moss as a mulch because when it dries it will shed water instead of absorbing it. Use any course material such as woodchips, bark, pine needles, etc. Course textured mulch will allow water to pass through to the roots below.
If planted without following the above procedure, the plant may look normal. But when it becomes stressed by drought or severe winter the plant will start to deteriorate. Insects and disease will attack. In a few growing seasons the plant either dies or is retarded in growth. For the most part you should have greater success with your container plant if you follow these suggestions.

Steven Feryok, a member of the Princeton ARS Chapter, was born and raised in the nursery industry and has been growing plants in the field and in containers for years.

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