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I Give Up On Creeping Thyme

Welcome to My Green Vermont - A Blog by Eulalia Benejam Cobb.
By Eulalia Benejam Cobb

Between our driveway and the main front door of the house, there is a stone walk.  Nobody uses the main front door, which leads into a proper entrance hall.  Instead, they use the second-best front door, which is closer to the driveway, is sheltered by a porch, and leads right into the living room.

The stone walk to the main front door consists of big slabs of local slate laid in a graceful curve across the lawn.  Although nobody uses that walk, everybody sees it, and the spaces between the slabs used to be a breeding ground for dandelions, ground ivy and various other weeds.  Every couple of weeks in the summer I would spend hours crouched over the broiling slate, pulling weeds up by the roots.

Then someone advised me to plant creeping thyme  in the dirt between the slabs.  The thyme would bloom and look pretty, I was assured, and form thick mats that would keep weeds at bay.  This sounded wonderful to me, and I went right out and spent $90 on tiny thyme plants.  Not only did the little plants root right away, but they bloomed–some blue, some pink, some white.  That first year, my never-used stone walk was the most adorable spot on the property.

While the thyme was getting established, it behooved me to keep it free from weeds, and this I did faithfully, working just as hard as I had before I planted it.  Winter came and went, and when the snow melted there was the creeping thyme, thicker and healthier than ever, spreading like spilled gravy over the stone slabs.  And it was forming mats, all right, but through those mats all the old foes–dandelions, ground ivy et al.–were sprouting undeterred.

Figuring that the thyme needed help while it formed the ultimate weed-deterring mats, I weeded it.  But pulling the weeds that came through the mats was entirely different from the kind of weeding I was used to.  Now, if I dug up a weed, I was likely to root up a goodly portion of the precious thyme along with it, so I had to be really careful.  Eyebrow tweezers would have been just the thing, but I have a sense of proportion, so I struggled on with my regular weeder, trying to spare the thyme while making sure I got each weed by the root.

It was a nightmare.  It was fussy and imprecise and impossible, and it took twice as long as when the thyme wasn\’t there.  But the thyme was lovely when it flowered pink and blue and white again, and one of my friends noticed and admired it.  So I saw it through until the fall.

When the snow melted a couple of weeks ago, there was the thyme, undeterred by the extra-long winter.  But so were the weeds:  the dandelion\’s yellow blooms, the ground ivy\’s deep blue dots were all over the supposedly weed-snuffing thyme.  I got out my weeding tool and tried to uproot a few of the invaders.  But it was no use.  The thyme carpet itself was making it impossible to get at the bottom of the weeds.

Reader, I got upset.  I threw down my weeding tool, snapped off my gardening gloves, stomped my left foot.  I looked around.  There was the newly-emerald field, the bright blue sky.  There was the red-winged blackbird, and the honeybee.  I had rhubarb to cut and spinach to pick and dogs to entertain.  What price a pristine thyme-walk?

I got out my weed whacker and decapitated the yellow dandelions and the blue ground ivy and the blades of grass.  The thyme was too close to the ground to be affected much, and if that enables it to win against the taller weeds, great.  If not, too bad.  You know what Emerson said about a foolish consistency.  My mind may be half gone, but it is not little.

19 Responses

  1. Eulalia, did you dare to stomp your left foot? Such passion in you! I would not fear Emerson's hobgoblins were I you. Your mind seems fully intact. I believe creeping thyme is the bane of us all…and they say it's more valuable than money.-Paul

  2. I tried this on a rock patio we inherited. it was all weeds (mine are indian strawberry and wild violet) and I tried creeping thyme. The violets were too much for it, frankly. And I instead took up the rock patio and put a deck over it.

  3. Oh Lali, yes the aggressive plants will keep coming but you'll see that thyme is one of them and can withstand. The weed whipper is a fine answer and then you need to alter the perception that sees a problem.

  4. Thank you for this post. I have had a similar experience and wish more folks new that creeping thyme is FAR from maintenance free. So glad to know I'm not the only one who has struggled to keep it looking reasonable.

  5. I'm not sure but, it would seem to me that some weed preventer, (Preen) sprinkled in the thyme might keep all those weeds from sprouting. And yes, I have struggled with this \”maintenance free stuff\”

  6. This thread is a bit old, but I was glad to find it. For 10 years I have been hunched over picking out the weeds from my woolly thyme in a rather large patio of stones. This year, I had shoulder surgery and just couldn't face it. I had a guy weed eat and it looked OK, but now the weeds are back with a vengeance, yet there is a ton of thyme still. I am thinking we are just going to have to break down and mow it. My husband is saying \”spray it all with weed killer, to heck with the thyme\”, but I must have several hundred dollars worth of thyme! Oh dear. Dilemma dilemma.

  7. I love my Elfin Thyme. I replaced my two sod areas (about 500 sq feet) with Elfin Thyme and it is beautiful. No more weed wacker and mowing and no more mo and blow gardeners. There were way more weeds when I had sod and now there are no weeds when the Elfin thyme grows together and I am a totally organic gardener and use pumice and very low nitrogen vegan compost. It has little purplish lavender magenta flowers and the California blue bellies love sunbathing on top. The bees love them too! I believe Thyme probably does better in Coastal California than in the ice cold winters of Vermont.

  8. I know this is an old article, but I found it while searching for ways to keep weeds and grass out of a Thyme lawn. You see, this happened to me when I lived in Colorado. I removed all of my grass and put in a Thyme lawn. Quite expensive. And what you describe is exactly what happened. I had to give up on it. Now, putting in new landscaping in a new home, the thought cropped into my brain again. And maybe there was a way to prevent it from happening. Maybe someone had found a way to have a Thyme lawn for more than 2 seasons. But I found your article and it snapped me back to my reality. I don't have another Thyme lawn in me…not the physical, not the financial. Thank you for the reminder!

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