Woolly thyme ground cover

Growing Woolly Thyme: Information On Woolly Thyme Ground Cover

& Becca Badgett
(Co-author of How to Grow an EMERGENCY Garden)

There are plants you just want to touch and woolly thyme plants (Thymus pseudolanuginosus) are just one of them. Woolly thyme is a perennial herb, with medicinal and culinary uses in addition to ornamental use. Try growing woolly thyme in the cracks between paving stones, along a gravel path or as part of a xeriscape or drought tolerant garden. The herb doesn’t mind a bit of rough handling and can be trod upon with no ill effects. In fact, when stepped on, woolly thyme ground cover emits a pleasant fragrance. Here is more information on how to grow woolly thyme so your toes can enjoy the soft furriness and your nose the sweet scent of this magical little plant.

Woolly Thyme Plant Information

Thyme is one of the more hardy herbs perfect for hot sunny locations. Once established, it tolerates dry conditions and spreads slowly, eventually creating a thick mat of foliage. Tiny leaves on woolly thyme ground cover are green and often edged with gray to silver. In summer the plant adds a bonus and produces sweet little pink to purple flowers. The plants are low growing, rarely getting higher than 12 inches and spreading out to 18 inches in width.

Woolly thyme plants are perennial and survive in USDA zones 4 to 7 but

sometimes up to zone 9 with sheltered locations during the heat of the day. Little is needed from the gardener with woolly thyme care. This almost self-sustaining plant is a treat for the unmotivated or the just plain too busy gardener.

Growing Woolly Thyme

Thyme is a member of the mint family and as tenacious and sturdy as other members of the group, so when planting woolly thyme, put it in an area where spread is desirable. Woolly thyme plants can be easily started from seed indoors or from small plugs that are readily available at your local nursery. Keep in mind, however, that those started from seed could take up to a year before they are ready for transplant outdoors.

This herb prefers full sun, but will perform in partial shade. When growing woolly thyme ground cover, plant in well draining soil. Preparation of the soil is important. Rake out rocks and impurities and ensure proper drainage. If your soil is suspiciously boggy, amend it with generous amounts of sand or gravel worked into the top 6 to 8 inches.

Plant the thyme in early spring after all danger of frost has passed for the best results with spacing of 12 inches. Don’t worry if they look sparse at first. It will soon fill in to a thick carpet of softness.

Woolly Thyme Care

Once established, woolly thyme is drought resistant and care is minimal when plants are grown in soil with the right drainage. Woolly thyme ground cover may become snack food for aphids and spider mites. Protect it with frequent spraying of an organic horticultural soap. Other than that and the occasional supplemental watering in the hottest months, the herb is best ignored. It is almost a “plant it and forget it” type of herb.

Woolly thyme care doesn’t necessarily include fertilization, although an all purpose food may help specimens that are not responding to pruning or that are turning brown. More likely, browning of this plant is because of poor soil drainage. Remove the plant if possible, and amend the soil or plant in a different area.

Learning how to grow woolly thyme successfully and how to properly care for woolly thyme will include clipping and trimming. Trim back edges of the woolly thyme plant to encourage it to grow thicker. Be sure to use the clippings for cooking, potpourri or in the bath.

Hardy herbs are one of the best kept secrets for the novice gardener. Woolly thyme ground cover complements upright herbs and can help keep weeding to a minimum by shading out their seeds. Woolly thyme also grows well in mixed containers, cascading down the sides of the pot. Woolly thyme attracts pollinators too. In fact, bees will line up to sample the sweet flowers.

Creeping Thyme

Popular Uses of Elfin Thyme

Fairy Garden by Melissa of the Inspired Room

As already mentioned, creeping thyme has become a popular choice for fairy gardens like the one shown here from the inspired room. The two species of thyme most often referred to as Elfin Thyme are Thymus serpyllum and Thymus praecox. There are several varieties of both as well as a number of other species being sold to Fairy Gardeners due to their small size and pretty little flowers.

Traditionally, creeping thyme has been used as an evergreen ground-cover and often used in rock gardens and in between stepping stones. It is a “stepable” – meaning that it can be used in an area of the garden that receives moderate foot traffic.

From everything I’ve read, the creeping thymes are edible but they vary greatly in their culinary usefulness. Their scent, and one would therefore presume their flavor, varies with the seasons and the climate of where it is being grown. If you plan on harvesting leaves for drying, the best times are early and late summer; right before the flowers bloom.

Growing Creeping Thyme

Creeping Thyme Botanical Drawing

All of the species of thyme currently being sold as creeping or elfin thyme require similar soil conditions. They prefer dry to medium, well-drained soil. All thyme tends to rot in moist or wet soil particularly during the winter months. (Actually, the leaves will all turn black and the plant will die a slow and lingering death if you over-water. Just ask me. I know.)

Thyme is. however, fairly good drought tolerant. One source suggested a thin layer of gravel be placed around the plant to help protect the foliage from wet soil.

They are considered deer tolerant but as we all know that seems to depend on what your resident critters might deem tasty as opposed to what the experts say. I did notice a site from England mentioned a number of species as being “noted for attracting wildlife” but it wasn’t clear if that meant bees and butterflies or something that would make a meal out of your thyme plants.

I’ve seen varying reports on where these plants do best. Most species of creeping thyme seem safe for anyone in Zones 5-8 but there are a few requiring warmer temperatures or that can handle slightly more cold. They originally grew wild in the more temperate areas of Europe and a few species have become naturalized in the American northwest to the point of becoming invasive.

Though only discussed on one of my sources, it would seem that most species and varieties of creeping thyme are considered “cultivars” and while some can be grown from seed, they are not thought to remain true. They suggested propagation by cutting and division to retain the characteristics of the parent plant. Spring and early fall are the suggested times for dividing the creeping thymes. However, divisions may not stand up to a late spring or early fall frost. Starting plants from seed is possible but the germination rates are somewhat low.

Additionally, thyme is generally a slow-growing herb which makes these smaller species and varieties even a more popular choice for miniature gardens.

Creeping Thyme Varieties

While the plants being sold as creeping thyme or elfin thyme are quite similar in growth habit and produce lovely little flowers, it might be helpful to know which is which before investing in one or more of these charming herbal plants.

Perhaps due to their ability to hybridize, it would seem even the experts have some trouble determining which plants belong categorized under which species. I found a number of sites (some by botanical gardens and universities) that seem to use wild thyme and mother-of-thyme as the common name for a number of different species. I also noticed some of the details of the plants’ growing habits can vary between sources. Making it even more interesting is that several varieties of creeping thyme small, and even taste, like other herbs. The good news is that most creeping thyme generally requires the same growing conditions but the color of the flowers and the overall size of the plant can vary. Your best bet might be to wait until the plants are flowering to make your purchase if the color of you Elfin thyme truly matters to you.

Thymus serpyllum

Thymus serphyllum photo courtesy of J.F. Gaffard

Thymus serpyllum is also known by the names Breckland thyme, mother-of-thyme, wild thyme, mauve creeping thyme, pink chintz or creeping thyme. Of the two varieties of creeping thyme generally sold as Elfin, serpyllym has the brighter colored flowers which are generally lilac to purple or pink.

Serphyllum blooms between July and August. Several sources mentioned it does well into USDA Hardiness Zone 4 (winter temperatures 1 or 2 degrees within freezing). Plants rarely exceed 3 inches tall and the leaves are generally .2 to .3 inches (about the thickness of 5 dimes).

Thymus serphyllum grows wild in the rocky soils of southern Europe and North Africa. While all thymes are known for being good nectar sources, serphyllum is an important nectar source for honeybees. Wild thyme honey is a delicacy in Greece.

You can purchase 5,000 Seeds, of Creeping Thyme (Thymus serpyllum) from Amazon.com. (Keep in mind these are slow-growing plants that tend to have a low germination rate. A number of people reported a 50% germination rate which seems great for something not generally recommended to grow from seed.)

Thymus praecox

Thymus Praecox photo courtesy of Wikipedia user Jutta234

Thymus praecox is listed as usable for cooking. However, with a scent more similar to oregano, it might not provide the flavor you would expect.

Praecox has a number of subspecies and cultivars. It is slightly less cold-tolerant than serphyllum but blooms from June to September. The flowers are generally purplish white.

“Pink Chintz” was originally classified as a subspecies of thymus praecox but has since been reclassified as Thymus serphyllum ‘Pink Chintz’. I would suspect this species may be found in stores under all three names, I guess the one to look for is “Pink Chintz” as that is the only part of the name that hasn’t changed.

Pink Chintz

Pink Chintz has salmon-pink flowers and blooms in early spring. It has fuzzy leaves and only grows 1-2 inches tall (it’s the lowest growing of the widely used thymes) and can spread to 18 inches wide. Not only is it one of the earliest blooming thymes, Pink Chintz may be the most drought tolerant.

One grower suggested shearing the plant down to half an inch and after it flowers, trimming it lightly back to get rid of spent blooms and maintain a neat appearance.

Wooly Thyme

The last pretty pink thyme flower before my creeping thyme died from over-watering. I also learned the hard way that creeping thyme is not a good choice for terrariums.

Formerly known as Thymus lanuginosus but now classified as a praecox subspecies, wooly thyme is now called thymus pseudolanuginosus or thymus praecox subsp. britannicus. It is just one of several species of creeping thymes that possesses hairy or wooly leaves.

It is native to southern Europe and generally grows only 3 inches tall but my sources have it spreading anywhere from 12 inches to over 3 feet. It has pale pink flowers that bloom from June to July but is hardy only to Zone 6. The plant I had did not grow very far off of the ground – think short-piled carpet. The flowers formed along the branch and did not send up ‘flower spikes.’

It is officially listed as being able to grow in Zones 5-8 but it might prefer a protected location when planted in Zone 5.

Wooly thyme appears to be the least fragrant and suitable for culinary uses among the creeping thymes.

Caraway Thyme

Thymus herba-barona

Caraway thyme is a species of thyme that has a strong caraway scent. It’s real name is Thymus herba-barona and is native to Corsica, Sardinia, and Majorca. This species of creeping thyme can actually be used as a substitute for caraway. You might also notice that the leaves of this plant are a bit more elongated than the other varieties of creeping thyme. Depending upon the size of your fairy garden, caraway thyme may not offer that “elfin” look that so many desire.

The flowers are a pale lavender. It grows to about 4 inches tall and spreads about 12. Colonial Creek Farm (a family-owned nursery with a 4.7 rating on Amazon) offers caraway thyme plants in 3 inch pots.

Caraway thyme has been traditionally used as a seasoning for barons of beef in England which is the source of inspiration for its scientific name. It is also used with soups and vegetables and is said to compliment garlic well.

Thymus caespititius

Thymus caespitius photographed by Wikipedia user Ixitixel

Thymus caespititius or Cretan Thyme is another low-growing, creeping thyme. It grows up to 4 inches tall and 1 foot wide. It is far less cold-tolerant than many of the other varieties being a native of Portugal, northwest Spain and the Azores. There was a bit of conflict on how hardy this plant is. One source listed it as safe in Zone 7 (a UK site) and Wikipedia listed it as being hardy only in Zones 9-11.

Cretan thyme flowers from July to August with flowers that range in color from rose or lilac to white. The leaves smell a bit like tangerines and are considered quite edible.

Lemon Thyme

Thymus citriodorus photo courtesy of Wikipedia user Wildfeuer

Lemon thyme or Thymus x citriodorus is perhaps the most edible of all of the creeping thyme species we’ve discussed. The leaves are generally eaten raw and are prized for their delicious lemon flavor. It is hardy only to Zone 7, does not like the shade and can tolerate fairly strong winds. Lemon thyme grows to an average height of 4 inches and spreads to about 12. The flowers range from a bright yellow to the more commonly occurring shades of pink and purple. The flowers bloom from July to August.

It is believed that lemon thyme is actually its own species rather than a hybrid or cross. While scientists used DNA studies to determine that, it would seem the huge difference in foliage color would be a clear indication that this is a totally different plant. But, then again, I’m just a little ole backyard gardener, what do I know?

There are a number of citriodorus cultivars that have varying foliage colors and possess various citrus fruit scents including lemon, lime, and orange. One option is Lemon Thyme Plant from Hirt’s Gardens. It has green and white variegated leaves. We also have a short article on Silver-Edged Lemon Thyme.

Dividing Creeping Thyme

The best time of year to divide creeping thyme is in the cooler spring months. (Fall division is not recommended.) Creeping thyme grows out from the central root system and where the new branches touch the ground, they often will root. Using a knife or sharp-edged trowel, cut rooted sections from the parent plant, taking care not to disturb the base plant overly. Plant the cuttings with plenty of good quality soil and water. Be sure to also water the parent plant after you are done trimming. One well-known plant expert also suggested putting a bit of compost in the holes where you removed pieces from the parent plant.

One way to encourage branches to set roots is to ensure they make contact with the ground. Sometimes gently pinning branches down will promote root growth.

Growing Creeping Thyme Indoors

Amongst all of the sources I reviewed, no one mentioned how well these plants grow indoors. It would seem a number of the different species of creeping thyme would be perfect for Fairy and Elfin Gardens designed for indoor use. The problem is that these plants originated in the Mediterranean and require large amounts of natural light. I found only one person who reported to be able to successfully grow thyme indoors. They had it in a sunny window and used a plant light. They weren’t specifically talking about a creeping variety so it wasn’t clear if they were growing a more traditional upright plant or a creeping variety.

More Info on Thyme

When most gardeners discuss thyme, they are generally talking about thymus vulgaris a plant that grows about 12 inches tall.

Thymus: Thyme

There are 350 species of thyme. Historically, thyme has been associated with courage, strength, happiness, and well-being. Most are frost hardy, small, aromatic evergreen perennials that flower late spring to mid summer.

Creeping or mat forming types generally are used as groundcovers, while the small shrub forms are used for culinary purposes.

Thymes do best in sunny locations with well-drained soil. It is a good idea to pinch off old flowers to encourage new bushy growth. All species are drought tolerant (once established) and flower colors vary from white to pink and mauve. Blooms are also attractive to bees and butterflies.

Ground Cover varieties:

Thymus pseudolanuginosus: Wooly Thyme

Evergreen 1-3 feet tall, and 3 feet wide, forms low-spreading mat of wooly leaves, sparse scented pink flowers bloom in early summer. This variety is often planted between rocks.

Thymus praecox ‘Album’: White Thyme

Light green leaves and white flowers in summer.

Thymus serpyllum ‘Elfin’: Elfin Thyme

2 feet tall, 5 feet wide, with rounded dark green leaves and lavender flowers in a summer.

Thymus serpyllum ‘Pink Chintz’

1 foot tall, 1.5 foot wide, salmon pink flowers.

Culinary Varieties:

Thymus vulgaris: Common Thyme

Grows to 1 foot tall and 2 feet wide with gray-green narrow to oval leaves. The blooms vary from white to lilac in late spring or early summer. Great for containers or herb gardens. The leaves can be used fresh or dry for seasoning fish, poultry stuffing, soups, and vegetables.

Thymus x citriodorus: Lemon Thyme

Grows 1 foot high, 2 feet wide, with ovate, medium green leaves with lemon fragrance. ‘Lime’ similar type to Lemon but has lime green foliage that is great in the gardens as an accent plant. Both varieties are great for seafood dishes. (variegated shown)

Thymus herba-barona: Caraway-Scented Thyme

Fast growing variety that stands 2-4 inches high, two or more feet wide. Forms a dense mat of ovate, dark green leaves with caraway fragrance.

Thymus camphoratus: Camphor Thyme

An adorable thyme that grows into a tight bun 6-9″ tall and wide. Dark green leaves have a camphor like fragrance that is great in potpourris. Purple flowers in summer.

Thymes are delightful evergreen plants that can add color, flavor and year-round interest in the garden or containers. Optimal conditions for successfully growing thymes are full sun, minimal water and good soil drainage. With these requirements in place, thymes can create a beautiful ground covering carpet, charming boarder or subtle evergreen accent in containers.

Creeping, ornamental thymes are commonly used for ground covers which withstand moderate foot traffic, and are drought tolerant. Several varieties such as ‘Pink Chintz’, ‘Elfin’ and ‘White’ grow only 1-3″ tall and are great for paths, hillsides and as a bark replacement in garden beds. Groundcover thymes mix well with Herniaria ‘Green Carpet’, Sedum and Scleranthus ‘Gnarled Cushion’.

Wooly thyme offers a distinctive fuzzy, grey texture and color to the landscape. It looks fabulous in large areas, and almost mimics the look of water as it tumbles down gentle slopes. ‘Highland Cream’ and Golden creeping thymes are brightly colored and are fabulous trailing accents in containers.

Some of the colorful upright thymes such as ‘Silver Posie’ and ‘Lemon Varietaed’ also add lovely, fragrant tufts to mixed planters or a low growing boarder to garden beds. A combination of thyme and sunroses (Helianthemum) is delightful edging a sunny rock wall.

Some of our newer favorite varieties are Thymus camphorates and Thymus neicefii ‘Juniper’ because of their unique foliage, tight growing habit and stunning clusters of mauve flowers in the summer.

In the herb garden, thyme is easy to grow. The hardest part is growing enough since thyme mixes well in so many culinary dishes and is a good medicinal too! English thyme is the typical variety grown for cooking, but there are several other varieties such as winter thyme and French thyme that are almost indistinguishable in flavor.

For unique thyme flavors try Caraway (strong caraway), Doone Valley (strong lemon), Lime (mild citrus), Oregano (oregano & thyme blend), and Spicy Orange. Culinary thymes can grow sufficiently with four hours of direct sun. They often get leggy after three years when they can be sheered back and rejuvenated, or replaced. Most culinary thymes grow 6-12″ tall and combine very well with other culinary herbs such as parsley, sage, thyme and lavender.

Eight shade-loving herbs to grow

Herbs that don’t like their soil to dry out in summer tend to do well in shade.


They produce better leaf crops if they’re not subjected to midday sun, and are less likely to bolt into flower. Avoid sun-loving Mediterranean herbs, such as rosemary, thyme and oregano, but give everything else a try. With care, most will produce enough leaves for you to add to your favourite dish.

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  • Top 10 herbs for wildlife

Discover eight herbs that can be grown in shade or partial shade, below.

Herbs that don’t like their soil to dry out in summer tend to do well in shade.


Use mint for tea, or add it to salads and other dishes – there are lots of delicious varieties to try. This herb enjoys shade, but its flavour may be less intense than in sun. Buy in small pots to plant out in spring/summer.

Shoots of mint 2


With delicate leaves that have a light, unique flavour, dill works well in salads. It’s also a good substitute for parsley and tarragon in sauces. Sow direct in spring for summer harvests.

Delicate dill foliage 3


Both the flat-leaved and curly types of parsley benefit from being grown in partial shade. Sow seeds in spring or autumn, and take care to protect young plants from frost. You can use the leaves and stems in soups, stews, sauces and salads.

Curly parsley 4


This perennial herb is very useful in the kitchen. Sorrel leaves have a refreshing, sour taste that works well in salads, soups and sauces. Sow direct outdoors in spring and pick the leaves regularly.

Red-veined sorrel leaves 5


This annual herb has a mild aniseed flavour. Keep chervil well watered and out of hot sun to avoid plants going to seed. Add finely chopped leaves to chicken and fish dishes, as well as to salads.

Tiny white chervil flowers 6


Decorative and delicious, chive leaves and flowers have a mild onion flavour. A fresh bunch of chives is perfect for lots of dishes, from herb butters to filled baked potatoes.

Pink chive blooms 7


Lovage is a hardy perennial forms a large clump, with leaves that have a strong celery kick. You can use the leaves to make a lovage-infused oil, or in fish dishes and soups.

Advertisement Lovage leaves 8


Grow coriander from seed for its refreshing citrus-like leaves. The flowers and seeds are also edible. Try using the leaves in curries, koftes and burritos.

Coriander foliage

Feeding and watering your herbs

Apply general-purpose liquid fertiliser to keep your herbs leafy, plus an occasional dose of liquid seaweed, as the trace elements improve flavour.

Most vegetables and flowering plants need sunny locations to do their best. But shady areas in your garden need not be bare, or without excitement, if you grow a wide selection of shade loving herbs.

Many herbs do equally well in the sun and in the shade, but some, especially the tender ones, are partial to shade, at least during the hotter part of the day. The following herbs can be successfully grown in shady areas of your garden.

1. Parsley (Petroselinum neapolitanum / crispum)

Parsley is a Mediterranean herb that has become popular as a culinary herb in almost every part of the world. It is a biennial plant that grows a rosette of leaves in the first year and sends up a flower stalk the following year. However, it is often grown as an annual, with the leaves or the entire plant harvested for the table in the first year itself. The root can be used as a vegetable in stews and soups. The leaves act as a breath freshener when chewed. A poultice of the leaves can be applied to insect bites and bruises for pain relief.

Parsley comes in two varieties, the flat-leaved Italian parsley (Petroselinum neapolitanum) and its curly-leaved cousin (Petroselinum crispum). The more flavorful Italian parsley is commonly used in cooking while the crispy, beautifully ruffled leaves of the other are used for garnishing dishes.

Parsley needs moist soil rich in organic matter to do its best. Although it can grow in full sun, light shade is better for the lush growth of the leaves. The herb is grown from seeds, but it has a long germination period, thanks to the furanocoumarins present in the seed. Parsley thrives in USDA zones 5-9, preferring a temperature range of 70 to 85. However, it is very cold hardy, remaining green even in freezing temperatures.

2. Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum)

Commonly called Chinese parsley, this herb with intense flavor is loved by some, but hated by others, who reportedly feel a soapy taste. Cilantro is nothing but the annual plant that gives the spice coriander once it flowers and sets seeds. However, there is a world of difference between the fresh, slightly citrusy flavor of the leaves and the spicy-sweet seeds.

Coriander belongs to the same Apiaceae family as the Italian parsley, and has similar growth habits and cultural requirements. It is easily grown from seeds, and thrives in rich, moist soil containing plenty of humus. The older leaves can be harvested regularly as the plant develops more tender leaves from center of the rosette, or the entire plant can be pulled up and used finely chopped.

Cilantro can be grown in USDA zones 4-10. Although it can grow in full sun where ample soil moisture is present, there is the risk of the plant bolting––or developing flower stalk that marks the end of its vegetative growth. It also results in bitter leaves. Partial shade helps maintain the taste and flavor of the herb and ensures a steady crop of larger leaves.

3. Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)

This perennial, clump-forming herb is a member of the onion family, but its leaves, rather than the underground bulbs, are used in cooking. The leaves are thin and grass-like, and impart a mild, onion-like flavor to soups, potato and egg dishes. The pretty little flowers that come in purplish pink can be used as an edible garnish. Chives may aid digestion and relieve gas. Its presence may act as a deterrent to many garden pests

Chives can be successfully grown in USDA zones 3-10. Start it from seeds or by divisions of the clumps. Once established, they faithfully come back year after year, enlarging their clumps in the process. Rich, well-drained soil is ideal, although they can survive in less than ideal conditions too. They prefer some moisture in the soil, but waterlogging should be avoided.

Chives can thrive in full sun, but light shade, especially during the afternoon, is preferred. Shade-grown chives may not develop as many flowerheads, but that is a good thing since self-seeding is a big problem with this herb. Snip off the lower leaves and any flowers that come up.

Read Next: 12 Compelling Reasons To Grow Chives & How To Use Them

4. Mint (Mentha spp.)

Common mint with its bright green, quilted leaves and fresh aroma and flavor is a delight to have in the garden. It should be ideally planted close to the house and along walkways where its fresh fragrance can be enjoyed every time someone brushes against it. However, many gardeners prefer to grow this perennial herb in containers since its spreading habit can be a nuisance.

Mint is easily propagated from seeds and cuttings, and thrives well in well-drained, moist soil. You can find mints that grow in any USDA zone. For instance, Peppermint ( Mentha x piperita) is ideal for USDA zones 3 to 8, while Spearmint (M. spicata) is perfect for zone 5 to 9 and above. Mint likes light shade, especially when grown in warmer areas. It tends to grow leggy, but frequent pruning helps the herb remain bushy. It will give you plenty of leaves to make digestive teas and pretty garnishes for years to come.

Read Next: 21 Brilliant Ways To Use Mint Leaves

5. Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)

There are several types of thyme, but the commonly cultivated variety is the English thyme. It has a highly branching and spreading hab, and bears tiny leaves and pink or purple flowers. The spicy flavor of thyme is welcome in many meat dishes. It is especially good with vegetables like cabbage that have a strong taste and flavor. Sprigs of fresh thyme form part of bouquet garni, but you can use just the leaves and discard the woody stems.

Thyme grows well almost anywhere, and can be cultivated as a perennial up to USDA zone 9. It can survive drought and light freezes, but requires some protection in winter. It does well in sunny locations, but prefers some shade, especially in warmer areas. It forms a neat groundcover around the bases of trees in the garden, enjoying the shade.

If you start with a sprig planted in spring, it will soon spread to form an aromatic carpet, providing you with more herb than you can use up. But the leaves can be frozen or dried for winter use. Frequent pruning keeps the plants healthy and green.

Read Next: 18 Brilliant Ways To Use Thyme

6. Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus)

Among the different types of Tarragon, the highly aromatic French Tarragon is commonly used as an herb and deserves a place in the garden. It is a slender plant with long, narrow leaves that have an anise-like flavor. Although tarragons are flowering plants belonging to the daisy family, French Tarragon rarely produces flowers. They are sterile anyway, so the herb has to be grown from either stem cuttings or root divisions.

Tarragon loves rich, well-draining soil, but poor soil intensifies its flavor. It should be watered not more than once or twice a week; the rhizomatous roots can rot in wet and waterlogged conditions. The herb thrives in warmth, but cannot stand very high temperatures. It does well in places that get full morning sun, but requires afternoon shade, especially in warm areas. Harvest the young stems for fresh herb or freeze or dry them.

7. Angelica (Angelica archangelica)

Angelica is a tall herb that has a celery-like flavor and can substitute celery in dishes. Candied stems of Angelica used to be a popular cake decoration. Angelica has medicinal value too. The candied stems are often given to children to relieve digestive problems and cough.

Angelica can be grown in USDA zones 4-9. This sweet flavored biennial herb prefers woodland conditions, requiring ample shade and soil moisture to do well. You need fresh seeds to grow Angelica because they lose their viability pretty quickly. The plants produce only leaves in the first year. These large leaves are highly divided into leaflets which give them a lacy look. The tall flower stalks with fewer leaves come up in the second year, carrying large umbrellas of tiny, nectar-filled flowers.

You can plant Angelica in the shade of shrubs and trees where it can enjoy the dappled shade and the slightly acidic soil. It needs plenty of space to grow and spread out, so it is fine to grow it in a remote part of the garden and gather the leaves and stem as and when required.

8. Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum)

It is another shade-loving herb preferring cultural conditions similar to Angelica. However, it is a ground hugging perennial plant that can be enjoyed closer home. They are usually grown for the air-freshening smell of the pretty leaves and the pure white, starry flowers that can brighten up the darkest corners of the garden.

Sweet Woodruff can be grown from seeds or divisions in USDA zones 4-8 and overwintered with some amount of protection. Give it a shady location with rich, well-draining soil and it will soon send out runners to cover the entire area with sweet-smelling ground cover.

Use Sweet woodruff in small quantities to flavor soups, syrups and wine, or for making a relaxing tea. A poultice of the leaves can be applied on sprains, hemorrhoids, and swollen joints to get pain relief.

9. Shiso/Red perilla (Perilla frutescens)

This colorful herb with anise-like flavor deserves to be grown more often. Commonly called Beefsteak plant or Red Chinese basil, this purple-colored plant belonging to the mint family can be used as a flavoring and coloring agent in pickles and in rice and vegetable dishes.

Red Perilla can be grown from seeds and planted in moist areas with rich soil and some amount of shade. It does well as an annual in USDA zones 3-11, but areas with high humidity are preferred. Pinch off the growing tips to promote branching and to prevent the plant from flowering and setting seed early.

10. Downy Rattlesnake Plantain (Goodyera pubescens)

This woodland orchid is a medicinal herb native to the Eastern United States. The entire plant consists of an underground rhizome and a ground hugging rosette of beautifully veined leaves from which arises an occasional spike of small, white flowers . A tea made from the leaves is used as a toothache remedy and the slightly wilted leaves can be applied to skin sores and burns for pain relief and faster healing.

Downy Rattlesnake Plantain can be grown in USDA zones 4-10 as long as its woodland habitat can be replicated. Give it a shady location, preferably under an evergreen tree, and provide light, well draining soil, to which some peat moss or leaf-mold has been added.

11. Ginger (Zingiber officinale)

This herb gives the ginger root used as a spice in cooking and as a medicinal herb to treat nausea and digestive problems. The ginger root is actually a branching rhizomatous underground stem which send out top growth every now and then.

Ginger is a woodland plant of the tropics, and it can be grown successfully as a perennial in USDA zones 9-12. Elsewhere, treat it as an annual, providing a warm, sheltered location. It is propagated by division of the rhizomes.

When planted in early spring, with at least one or two growing buds or ‘eyes’ to every section, they sprout new leaves in a few week’s time. Mulch it well to keep in moisture and provide warmth. The plants complete their growth by the end of fall, the leaves dying out naturally. The rhizomes can be dug up and stored in a cool place to be used as fresh herb, or dried to make ginger root powder.

Read Next: How To Grow Ginger & Ways To Use It

12. Wild ginger (Asarum canadense)

This herbaceous plant with beautiful, heart-shaped leaves is commonly used as a groundcover in shady areas. The rhizomes spreading underground beneath the thick leaf cover can be used in cooking to impart a spicy flavor to dishes. Native American Indians used wild ginger to treat cold and fevers.

Grow wild ginger anywhere in USDA zones 2-8, but give it moist, slightly acidic soil, preferably in the shade of tall trees. You can plant small sections of the rhizome, each with an eye or two, in late fall or early spring. They will sprout soon and send out stolons to spread and cover the area with their attractive foliage.

13. Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria)

This European native has become naturalized in many parts of the United States and has come to be known as Queen of the Prairie. The large, feathery clusters of flowers that appear from June to August are quite charming, but the herb is mainly grown for its sweet-smelling leaves and shoots.

The leaves and stem can be used to flavor jams and jellies, wines and vinegars. The plant has medicinal properties too, thanks to its high salicylic acid content. In fact, this plant extract was the original basis for the preparation of acetyl salicylic acid which came to be known as aspirin. A tea of the leaves or flowers can be used to relieve headaches, but shouldn’t be given to children, asthmatics and those who are allergic to aspirin.

Grow Meadowsweet in moist and shady locations in USDA zones 2-8. It prefers rich soil with good amounts of compost added to it.

14. Anise (Pimpinella anisum)

Anise is a European herb that has become a favorite all over the world. It is a delightful plant with lacy, aromatic leaves and large umbels of white flowers, ideal for growing in the shade garden. The leaves can be used as a flavoring herb and the fennel-like seeds as a spice in many sweet and savory dishes.

You can grow it in USDA zones 4-9, but the seeds have to be sown in situ because the seedlings do not like to be transplanted once they start developing the taproot. Start them as early as possible in well-drained soil in a shady spot because they need at least 4 months of warmth to complete flowering and produce anise seeds.

15. Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)

This aromatic herb with a lemony scent has both medicinal and culinary uses. The leaves can be used to flavor fish and chicken, but since it loses most of the flavor in cooking, you should add them towards the end of the cooking process. Leaves can be used as a garnish for cold drinks and salads. Medicinal uses include a digestive tea made by steeping leaves in warm water. It can control bloating and vomiting. The calming tea relieves a headache and restlessness too.

Grow lemon balm in rich, moist soil. It loves sun and warmth, but it can thrive in partial shade as well. It can be grown as a perennial in USDA zone 9-10, but may not survive cold winters elsewhere unless overwintered indoors or under heavy mulch. Frequent pruning keeps the plant bushy and prevents early flowering.

Read Next: 12 Brilliant Ways To Use Lemon Balm

So, if you have shady places and in need of some green and color to fill the space, consider some of the above herbs. Not only are they fun to grow, look great, but will also reward you with great seasonings for your meals and therapeutic needs.


Tasty, good-looking, versatile and tough as boots, thyme has got to be one of the easiest culinary herbs around. Prized for its antiseptic qualities (try thyme tea for a chest cold, you’ll be amazed!), thyme is an excellent plant for vegie patch borders, dry spots and pots.

Planting Time: All year

Position: Full sun

Water Needs: Low

Difficulty: Easy

How Long: Thyme is ready when you are.

Whichever of the 350 thyme species you choose to plant (loads of which are available at your local nursery); all will thrive in a sunny, hot, dry spot. Thyme is a low growing (no more than 25cm) herb that spreads, so allow 20cm between each plant.

Thyme needs well-drained soil, a raised bed with a little bit of compost through it is perfect. Thyme responds well to mulch through the warmer months, but many gardeners, especially those in temperate and cool areas, remove this mulch over the colder months to allow the soil to warm.

A more low maintenance plant you couldn’t wish for! Thyme will respond well to a drink of worm wee or compost tea during spring and after flowering, but that’s it.

As for watering, with thyme it is almost unnecessary. In fact, thyme has more issues with over watering than under watering. Keep well away from thirsty plants and during warmer weather, a drink once a week should be more than sufficient.

Thyme, like many culinary herbs, can be picked as required. A perennial, thyme in the right spot should kick on for years and years. Cut back after flowering to promote vigorous, bushy growth and experiment with varieties for unusual flavours and flower colours.

Oh, and here’s a hot tip: the leaves of the common thyme Thymus vulgaris (or lemon thyme Thymus citriodora) can be steeped in boiling water for 15 minutes, strained and mixed with lemon juice and honey to make a fantastic medicinal tea, especially for sore throats. Should be avoided by pregnant women.

Thyme pic © Elaine Shallue (SGA)

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