The Ultimate Guide to Understanding, Caring, and Growing this Delicious Herb
Are you looking to broaden your gardening horizons? Looking for a plant that’ll saturate the air in your kitchen and garden with a deliciously sweet lemony scent? Then, lemon thyme or citrus thyme is the plant for you!
Rich in vitamins C, D, and B-complex, Lemon Thyme is a powerhouse plant packed with a nutritional punch. A herbaceous gift that keeps on giving, Lemon Thyme’s low maintenance and lemony flavor profile mean it’s loved by garden and culinary enthusiasts alike.
Read on to find out all about Lemon Thyme: the benefits of growing it, how to take care of it, how you can use it, and much more!
What is Lemon Thyme?
It is an herb that emits aromatic lemony citrus scents into the air. This plant grows as a woody shrub and has been sought after by chefs and herbal medicine manufacturers for centuries. The delicate minty, floral, and earthy flavors add depth of flavor to fish, poultry, sauces, and many other dishes.
You can grow lemon thyme easily and have it in your garden throughout the year. This little shrub is no more than 6-12 inches in height and spreads about 18 inches in width. It is an interesting plant that adds color and fragrance to the garden. It is easy to grow and maintain throughout the year.
The plant is multi-branched and has a woody base. The leaves are small and spear-shaped. The plant resembles common thyme, which has minty, earthy flavors. Lemon thyme has a more robust citrus aroma and flavor than common thyme: the leaves and green stems at the top burst with tiny leaves filled with limonene and thymol. The citrusy-flavored leaves can be harvested throughout the year.
It flowers throughout the summer. Lilac-colored blossoms appear at the top of the stems and have the same smell and flavor as the leaves.
Quick Facts About Lemon Thyme/Thymus citriodorus
Genus name: Thymus citriodorus
Common name: Lemon Thyme, Citrus Thyme
Plant type: Herb, perennial woody shrub
Origin: Southern Europe/Mediterranean
Size: 6-12 in tall with a spread of 12-18 in
Flower color: Lilac
Propagation: Seeds, root division, cuttings
Tolerance: Drought, humid heat, deer
Light: Full sun
Soil: Well-draining sandy soil
USDA Hardiness Zone: 5-9
Growing season: Spring and summer
How to Care for Lemon Thyme Plants
Growing this plant is simple. You can have these herb plants throughout the year if you lavish a little love and care on them now and then. All you have to do is to ensure plenty of sunlight, sprinkle a little water, and protect it from extreme frost and cold weather. It can be grown indoors as long as there is sufficient bright sunlight.
The best time for you to start growing lemon thyme is in the spring. The plants can be put in the ground or a pot. The plant needs bright sunlight and will flourish through the spring and even continue through fall and winter, provided sunlight is available.
Why You Should Grow Lemon Thyme
Well, to start with, it’s easy and environmentally friendly. Read on for more and many other reasons for growing this plant in your herb garden.
• With lemon thyme, you can’t go wrong! It’s a perennial, meaning it will return yearly, and the plants don’t die after flowering.
• The Lemon Thyme shrub is super-hardy. They even survive the winter and do well even in USDA hardiness zones 8-9, remaining evergreen.
• Woody stems and evergreen leaves will help you to grow plants through drought and freezing conditions.
• Where ever you live, you are a winner with this herb! The plant thrives almost anywhere.
• Most importantly, this plant attracts pollinators and repels harmful insects. Planting lemon thyme in your garden is an eco-friendly way to eliminate nasty garden pests harmful to your vegetables and other plants. Lemon thyme discourages the spread of Tomato hornworms, Whiteflies, Cabbage loopers, Cabbage maggots, and Corn earworms.
What more can you ask for? The plant is a must-have for any serious gardener.
Best Conditions for Growing Lemon Thyme
Ensure the following five growth conditions, and you will have Lemon Thyme in your garden year after year without much fuss.
The plant thrives in bright sunny locations. The more sun, the better it will grow. It can tolerate partly shady areas. However, it must be noted that the plant will not give the best foliage or the best aroma and flavor in anything but bright sunlight. The plant will do well on a sunny window sill or a patio with streaming sunlight.
You can water Lemon Thyme till the soil soaks up the water and drains the excess well. Then you can forget about the plant for a couple of weeks. It will require watering again only once the soil is completely dry to the touch—very low maintenance and so easy.
Thinking of soil, you can take a hint from its native soil conditions; the rocky limestone mountainsides of the Mediterranean. The conditions here are dry and sandy, and have the ideal alkaline soil perfect for Lemon Thyme. However, you don’t need to hunt for rocky limestone-rich soil as the plant adapts well to most types of soil as long as it is not too damp and drains well.
Like all herbs, you do not have to fertilize Lemon Thyme plants. They only need some good organic compost at planting time and occasionally after that. It is a good idea to add some compost at the beginning of the growing season in the spring to encourage profuse growth.
Summer temperatures are perfect for Lemon Thyme. They will reward you with luscious green leaves and a heavenly citrus fragrance when the plants’ peak in the summer. This is the time when they bloom tiny lilac flowers. Warm, dry weather is a must for these plants. In cooler temperatures, the plant will go dormant even though remaining green.
Propagating Lemon Thyme
You can’t have enough of a good thing. This certainly is true of Lemon Thyme. This is a versatile plant. It is widely used in cooking to enhance and garnish various dishes. It is also useful as an insect repellent, especially for mosquitoes. Many home remedies start with a few sprigs of Lemon Thyme.
This plant in your garden serves two purposes. One acts as a pollinator, and the other acts as a repellent of unwanted pests.
You can have a ready supply of plants and harvest sprigs if you know how to propagate. There are three ways in which this can be done.
• Growing from seed
The first step is to mix moist sandy soil with aged compost in a tray. Two or three seeds should be placed in a cell. Keep the tray warm with a domed cover. You can place it in bright sunlight or under a grow light. A heating mat will also help.
Once the seeds have germinated, remove the dome and allow air to circulate. Good air circulation helps create plants with a sound root system and robust growth.
Plant the plants in pots or outdoors when they reach three to four inches in height.
• Planting cuttings
This is the simplest way to propagate Lemon Thyme. Prepare a pot with a soil mix that drains well. Then cut sprigs from an existing plant. The sprigs should avoid the woody area of the stem and consist of the top half of the sprig. The leaves at the top should be left intact, while the leaves at the bottom should be removed carefully. Then the sprigs can be placed into the soil till parts of the stem are covered, leaving the other part exposed with leaves. The soil should be moist. The pot can be kept under a dome in bright sunlight or under grow lights. When the sprigs show new growth of leaves, they can be transferred to individual pots or outdoors as required.
• Division of roots
This, again, is another assured method of propagating Lemon Thyme. Old plant clusters can be divided carefully from the roots and planted in pots. The potting mix is essential and is the base for the growth of the plant divisions. The well-draining soil and the correct moisture will ensure that the plants grow into new healthy shrubs.
A Few Tips on Growing in Pots
1. Choose a pot of medium size. This is roughly a one-gallon pot. A pot of this size can be easily moved around to ensure optimum conditions.
2. Fill the bottom three inches with small rocks. This is done to help drain the soil in the pot. This way, the soil stays moist but not wet.
3. Although Lemon Thyme plants do not need fertilizing, adding some fertilizer along with the compost may be a good idea to replace the nutrients washed away by drainage.
4. Check on your plants and move them around to get the best sunlight and air circulation. Air circulation is important to herbs. Plants that are well-aerated grow more robustly and are healthier.
Pruning and Maintenance.
Showering a little love and care always pays when it comes to gardening. Clean around the Lemon Thyme shrubs. Remove dead sprigs and prune some branches to let in air and light. This is also an excellent time to add some compost to the plant.
Managing Pests and Diseases.
This plant can be troubled by ants and spider mites during the dry season. A light insecticide soap will take care of this. If the conditions around the Lemon Thyme plant are humid and damp for long periods or if soil drainage is insufficient, mold and root rot can set in. Well-draining soil will ensure that these diseases are kept at bay. When you find plants with diseases, remove them immediately before it spreads to other plants.
Did you know that there are around 350 varieties of thyme? And that there are also varieties of Lemon Thyme? Well, it’s good to learn about types of this plant. They are all edible and widely used in cooking. The variegated varieties add a distinct look to your garden and are popular as borders and edgings.
Lime Thyme: This is an exciting herb with a lime scent and flavor instead of lemon. It has lavender-pink flowers and bright green leaves.
Creeping Golden Lemon Thyme: This is a variegated plant with greenish-golden leaves. Lemon-scented spikes of lavender-colored flowers adorn the plant in summer. The leaves spread the scent of lemon around the plant and are ideal for rock gardens and borders.
Lemon Supreme: This plant is true to its name and produces an aroma and flavor that is more prominent than other varieties. It is known for its hardiness among varieties of Lemon Thyme. After mid-summer, the plant produces light mauve flowers.
Golden Lemon Thyme: This is distinct from the creeping variety and has variegated yellow-gold foliage. The lemon scent and flavor are less intense than other varieties of thyme. This is a plant valued for its look than its aromatic properties.
Silver-Edged Lemon Thyme: The name says it all. The green leaves are silver-edged and have a milder scent and flavor profile. Pink flowers grow in the summertime.
Orange Thyme: The Lemon aroma and scent is replaced with an orange-citrus aroma and flavor. This is a creeping variety of the Lemon Thyme family.
Uses of Citrus Thyme
Lemon Thyme or Thymus citriodorus and its many cultivars are widely used as ornamental additions to the garden, for medicines, for culinary purposes, and in the manufacture of personal care products.
In the Garden
Landscapers love this plant for its profuse growth, abundant flowers, and of course, its fragrance. It works well as ground covers or as plants. You will find that they do well between stepping stones giving out their lemon aroma when brushed against the plants.
One of the most important functions of the nectar-producing lemon thyme plant is as a pollinator. They are grown in butterfly gardens and apiaries.
In the kitchen
As an herb, lemon thyme is popular for what it adds to food in terms of aroma and flavor. Its uses range from a simple garnish to being added to soups, sauces, stews, beverages, and sweets. It is eaten raw in salads and herbal teas. Dried leaves are also available commercially.
The essential oil of citrus thyme is used in folk remedies, antiseptics, perfumes, skincare products, deodorants, and cosmetics. It is an ingredient in aromatherapy and respiratory aids.
Harvesting Lemon Thyme
Why are we talking about harvesting a few sprigs, which can be done at any time if you have the plant? Yes, you can cut off sprigs at any time. However, it will help you to get the best aroma and flavor from your plant when you know the best time to harvest.
All herbs have more essential oils in the early mornings. So to maximize the flavor and aroma, you can harvest sprigs in the early morning. The most robust scents are released when the plant is flowering; this is when it peaks in flavor.
Frequently Asked Questions. FAQ’s
What is Lemon Thyme good for?
This herb is good for adding to food and beverages as a herb. In addition, it is also useful as a beneficial plant in the garden and in the manufacture of personal care products.
Does Lemon Thyme like sun or shade?
These plants like bright sunlight, but they will grow in the shade bear in mind that they will not give out the same aroma and flavor as in full sunlight.
Does Lemon Thyme grow all year round?
Yes, it is an evergreen perennial. So, leaves can be harvested fresh all year round.
What can and can’t be planted together with Lemon Thyme?
Most other Mediterranean herbs do well with this plant, such as rosemary, oregano, marjoram, lavender, and thyme. The water intake of these plants is similar. However, herbs and plants that require more water, such as cilantro and basil, should not be planted together with Lemon Thyme.
Is Lemon Thyme creeping?
There are varieties of creeping Lemon Thyme that form a mat with its tight evergreen foliage. It also looks nice spilling over the edges of pots.
How long do Lemon Thyme plants live?
They will live for about three to four years. However, by propagating and nurturing new plants, you can have this plant for a very long period.
Does Lemon Thyme attract bees?
Yes, its abundant nectar attracts bees easily.
Does Lemon Thyme repel mosquitoes?
Yes, it does repel mosquitoes. Crushing the leaves of a few stem cuttings and rubbing them on your skin will keep unwanted bugs away.
Is Lemon Thyme invasive?
Most members of the mint family are prone to being invasive if left alone. Lemon Thyme spreads underground through runners and can take over garden space quickly.