Although thyme is one of the easiest herbs to cultivate, it can be tricky to figure out its many ailments. Whether it’s dry, wilting, or suddenly dying, I’ve struggled with this before. Let me help you identify what went wrong and how you can treat it!
Thyme plants can wilt and die because of 1) overwatering, 2) underwatering, 3) inadequate sunlight, 4) transplant shock, 5) low temperatures, and 6) animal damage. Help prevent and control this by 1) providing sufficient moisture and 2) growing thyme in well-draining soil.
Nowadays, thyme is grown for more than just medicinal purposes. It can be used to flavor our food and decorate our lawns. Yet many of us still have a hard time growing it and finding out what it needs. Continue reading so I can help you save your thyme!
The stems and leaves of thymes will rapidly wilt and die in waterlogged soils. In severe cases, thyme can be removed from the wet soil, transplanted to new soil, and allowed to dry.
While thyme is a versatile plant, it cannot stand wet feet. Thyme, from my experience, is quick to suffer from improper watering.
You’ll be able to identify overwatered thyme plants when they turn yellow and wilt heavily. Over time, the leaves and stems will become brown, black, and rot away.
With a bit of luck though, you may be able to save it if you act quickly. Carefully uproot your thyme plant and remove the soggy soil from its roots.
If your plant still has some healthy roots left, you still have time! Otherwise, if all the roots are squishy and oversaturated with water, it’s beyond recovery.
Move the thyme plant to some fresh well-draining soil and let it dry, or dry its roots out beforehand with a fan. Over time, the plant should slowly bounce back.
Keep in mind, this is a last-ditch effort. This root disturbance can be the final straw, so use this technique carefully. It’s best to water your thyme plants properly, as you’ll find out later.
Underwatered thyme plants will become dry and brown. To prevent them from wilting and dying, water them deeply until water flows out of the pot once a week.
Unlike moisture-hungry plants, like basil, thyme plants grow best when allowed to dry between waterings.
Bear in mind though, some varieties handle drought stress better than others. Plus, regardless of what variety you grow, younger plants need consistent moisture to develop growth.
Established Thymus serpyllum, for instance, can survive up to 22 days without water.
Without sufficient water, the thyme leaves will become brown and crispy. Over time, the rest of the plant will follow, becoming dry and lifeless.
Remember, just because thyme plants are drought-tolerant does not mean they are cacti. Try not to leave them without water for more than a week max.
Cases like these are easier to correct than overwatering. Simply drench the soil until the water streams out of the drainage holes and the plant should perk back up in a few days!
Thyme plants become etiolated and wilt without sufficient light. Grow them with over 12 hours of artificial light or 6–8 hours of direct sun exposure. South or southwestern areas are best for this plant.
Many species of thyme need intense light to stay lush and vibrant. Grown in shady areas or under tall light-blocking plants, the plant will wilt and eventually wither away.
Find out the Best and Worst Companion Plants for Thyme!
Another issue with poor light is that the stems will become leggy, stretching toward the nearest light source. I’ve discovered that this can also happen to the backs of thyme plants receiving less light.
To solve this, simply move your thyme to a location with at least 6–8 hours of direct sunlight and rotate it every few days for nice and even growth.
Alternatively, indoor plants can be grown with over 12 hours of grow lights. Keep the lights around 6 inches (15 cm) away from the plant to prevent scorch and your thyme plant will quickly recover.
It is common for thyme plants to weaken and show signs of wilting after being moved. This transplant shock is normal and the plant should recover in days.
When your thyme plant is wilting after being recently moved or had its roots disturbed, it’s very likely suffering from transplant shock.
This is quite common, so don’t worry. Regardless, it never fails to frighten me when I check on a plant, only to find it wilted completely for seemingly no reason!
Since the plant is still adjusting, it is in a somewhat delicate state. Care for it as you normally do to mitigate the shock, and try to watch it daily.
After a few days, your droopy thyme plants should quickly brighten up!
Thyme plants are sensitive to temperatures lower than 3°F and will slowly die from the top down. Dieback is normal in the winter and the plant should grow back in spring. Protect thyme by covering them with blankets or bringing them indoors.
Mature thyme plants can survive temperatures as low as 3°F (-16°C) if kept dry. With that being said, survival can look different from plant to plant.
When they’re exposed to consistently cold winds, you may notice your thyme plants turning brown and dry from the top of their stems. This dying off will move down to the bottom of the plant.
Thyme plants exposed to cold temperatures can also turn purple. These cold conditions can encourage the plant to produce more anthocyanin, a natural purple pigment.
As alarming as this looks, this helps them stay close to the ground for warmth and protects them from frost. Your thyme plant should sprout back as soon as winter is over.
Learn more in our article: Herb Temperature Tolerance—Are Your Herbs Cold Tolerant?
But what if the plant was severely damaged? For further protection, you can keep your thyme plants indoors where the temperatures are much warmer.
This thick blanket from Amazon will shield outdoor thyme plants from the cold and help keep them alive!
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Healthy thyme plants can easily be killed by dog and cat urine or eaten by rosemary beetles. Animal urine causes thyme plants to turn black unless it is flushed away with water. Remove rosemary beetles to prevent them from destroying foliage.
When everything else is seemingly normal and your thyme plants are still suffering, it’s time to consider if the damage was done by pesky insects or naughty pets.
In my experience, two animals frequently attack thyme plants: rosemary beetles and common household pets.
Dogs and cats have a reputation for peeing on plants. As harmless as this may sound, this can sometimes kill thyme plants. If they are frequently urinated on, they will rapidly suffer from salt stress and turn black.
This is a major issue I see in many thyme plants, especially when they’re used for lawns. Thyme is also likely to succumb to rosemary beetles, a beautiful but deadly species that love to eat the foliage of thyme and rosemary.
If you suspect animal urine is killing your thyme, try to flush it out with water when possible and keep the animals away. This can be done by protecting the plants with some sort of wire or training the animals to do their business elsewhere.
Rosemary beetles are best picked off when seen rather than treated with pesticides. Not only are pesticides harmful for helpful insects like bees, it’s best to avoid exposing your edible thyme plants to any harsh chemicals.
Thyme plants can easily be kept healthy by 1) providing them sufficient moisture and 2) growing them in well-draining soil.
Most times, thyme plants are quite easy to grow and care for. If you’re struggling to keep it alive, it might be helpful to return to the basics. By following these 2 key things, your thyme plants should thrive and stay healthy for the long run!
Thyme grows best when it is watered with distilled water or rainwater. Wait for the first 2 inches of soil to become dry before watering it to encourage regular growth.
When its receiving water is almost non-existent or is enough to support marine life, you’ll have a hard time growing thyme.
If there is one thing you should avoid when taking care of thyme, it’s water stress.
In many cases, it’s best to water them when the top 2 inches (5 cm) of the soil has dried. Keep in mind that hotter climates will dry the soil out faster, while cold or rainy environments will leave the soil moist for longer.
Thyme plants aren’t picky when it comes to water. However, if white mineral deposits build up regularly in the soil, it may be best to switch to rainwater or distilled water.
Remember, any water high in sodium or minerals can easily kill your thyme plant. For an easy compromise, you can water your thyme plants with tap water and occasionally flush them out with rainwater to keep them healthy.
Growing thyme in stony and well-aerated soil is essential for healthy growth. A minimum of 50% of the soil must include grit for good drainage. Avoid soils high in organic matter or clay as they can retain too much water that can be fatal for thyme.
These plants are pretty low maintenance. One of the major things they need is light well-draining soil.
As mentioned previously, thyme plants are highly sensitive to overwatering. Potting mediums filled with peat, compost, or clay will hold heavy amounts of water.
This leaves the plant roots vulnerable to moisture suffocation, causing the above-soil growth to wither.
Instead, try to amend its soil with pumice, perlite, gravel, or even sand for sharper drainage. At least 50% of the soil should consist of grit to increase aeration and help excess water escape faster.
Grown in the right soil and conditions, your thyme plants should flourish and live with you for years to come!
Are thyme plants perennials?
Thyme plants are classified as perennials. This means these plants can live for years so long as they are given proper care, making them ideal for landscaping and kitchen use.
Do thyme plants grow back?
It is common for thyme plants to die back during the winter and return in the spring once growing conditions are more favorable. However, if there is no living tissue left or the plant has died due to other reasons, it is not likely for dead thyme plants to grow back.
Thyme plants that are overwatered, underwatered, given inadequate light, suffering from transplant shock, and exposed to low temperatures can become dry or wilted before dying. Pests such as cats, dogs, and rosemary beetles can also kill unprotected thyme plants.
Luckily, this can be prevented by growing the thyme plants in fast-draining soil with at least 50% grit and watering them with rainwater or distilled water whenever the top 2 inches of soil has fully dried.