Light requirements: Full sun to part shade.
Planting: Space 18 to 24 inches apart.
Soil requirements: Plants grow best in light, well-drained soil on the dry side. Amend heavy clay soils with organic matter and/or sand to improve drainage, or grow plants in raised beds.
Water requirements: Plants are drought tolerant, but will be fuller and flower best if soil provides adequate moisture. In containers, irrigate whenever the top inch of soil is dry.
Frost-fighting plan: Mexican tarragon is perennial in zones 9 to 11. A hard freeze (temperatures below 28º F) can kill established plants. In zone 8, plants frequently resprout from roots following a hard freeze. Use a frost blanket to protect newly planted seedlings from late spring frosts or prolong the growing season in fall. In colder zones, grow as an annual or in a container you can bring indoors for winter.
Common issues: In poorly draining or heavy soil, plants often succumb to root rot. Otherwise, Mexican tarragon rarely suffers from pests or diseases.
Growing tip: Stems that fall over and touch the ground take root, causing plants to spread. If flowers are allowed to set seed, plants will reseed.
Harvesting: Pick leaves at any point in the growing season, although flavor is most intense just before plants bloom. Flower petals are also edible. To harvest, snip leafy stems to the length you desire. Stems rapidly produce new growth.
Storage: Keep a few stems in water at room temperature to enjoy fresh clippings for a few days. Wrap unwashed stems in a barely damp paper towel and slip into a plastic bag. Store stems in the lowest part of your refrigerator. Use within 4 to 5 days. Dried leaves don’t taste as good as fresh. Preserve in herbal vinegars or by freezing.
Plant thyme in your herb garden, at the edge of a walk, along a short garden wall, or in containers. As a special garden treat, put a few along a walkway and between steps, and your footsteps will release its aroma. It even makes a pretty patch of small ground cover. Growing thyme provides an anchor in an herb garden in areas where it is evergreen in winter. Thyme is also perfect for containers, either alone or in combination with plants that won’t shade it out. The flowers open in spring and summer, sprinkling the plant with tiny, two-lipped blossoms attractive to bees.
Quick Guide to Growing Thyme
- Plant thyme in spring once chances of frost have passed.
- Space thyme plants 12 to 24 inches apart in a very sunny area with fertile, well-drained soil with a pH close to 7.0.
- Before planting in-ground, improve your existing soil by mixing in several inches of aged compost or other rich organic matter.
- For best results, feed regularly with a water-soluble plant food.
- Keep soil moist and water when the top inch of soil becomes dry.
- Once thyme is established, harvest as needed but avoid pruning more than one-third of the plant at a time.
Thyme is easily dried, refrigerated, frozen, or preserved in oil or vinegar. The tiny leaves air-dry quickly. Add thyme to butter or mayonnaise to taste. Use thyme in dried beans, meat stews, and strong vegetables such as cabbage. Thyme is also great with any slowly cooked soup, stew, vegetable, meat, or sauce. Use lemon-flavoured varieties in teas, on seafood, or in just about any dish calling for a lemony zing.