Growing Red Creeping Thyme in Australia: Comprehensive Guide

Written By:
Scott Carroll
Published On:
January 25, 2024
Thymus serpyllum pink and red

Embark on a journey through the vibrant world of red creeping thyme. This ground cover transforms Australian gardens with its lush, scarlet beauty. This comprehensive guide unveils the secrets to cultivating this resilient herb, renowned for its versatility and charm. 

We’ve covered you, from ideal growing conditions to innovative planting techniques. Stay with us as we delve into the world of red creeping thyme, a plant that promises to add a splash of colour to your garden all year round.

What is red creeping thyme?

Red creeping thyme, scientifically known as Thymus serpyllum, is a low-growing, perennial herb that forms a dense mat of small, aromatic leaves. 

Adorned with tiny, vibrant red flowers, it creates a stunning, carpet-like appearance in gardens. This hardy plant, native to Europe, has adapted beautifully to various climates, making it a favourite in Australian landscapes. Its leaves, when crushed, release a delightful fragrance characteristic of the thyme family. 

Not just a feast for the eyes, red creeping thyme is also a culinary delight, often used to add flavour to dishes. Its resilience to foot traffic and ability to thrive in poor soil conditions make it an excellent choice for ground cover, rock gardens, and borders, adding beauty and practicality to any garden setting.

Benefits of red creeping thyme 

Growing red creeping thyme in Australian gardens offers a multitude of benefits:

  • Drought tolerance: Perfect for Australia’s varied climate, red creeping thyme is highly drought-resistant, requiring minimal watering once established.
  • Low maintenance: This hardy plant needs little care, making it ideal for novice gardeners and those seeking a low-maintenance landscape.
  • Aromatic foliage: The leaves emit a pleasant fragrance, enhancing the sensory appeal of your garden.
  • Attracts pollinators: Its flowers are a magnet for bees and butterflies, promoting biodiversity and aiding in the pollination of your garden.
  • Culinary uses: Red creeping thyme is ornamental and edible, adding flavour to various dishes.
  • Ground cover: Its dense growth habit suppresses weeds and covers bare spots, creating a lush, green carpet.
  • Erosion control: The plant’s mat-forming nature helps stabilise soil, preventing erosion in sloped or uneven areas.
  • Versatility: Suitable for rockeries, borders, and pathways, it offers creative landscaping possibilities.
  • Foot traffic tolerance: It can withstand light foot traffic, making it a practical choice for garden walkways.
  • Year-Round Interest: With evergreen foliage and seasonal blooms, it provides year-round visual interest in the garden.

Growing conditions for red creeping thyme in Australia

To ensure that your red creeping thyme flourishes, it’s crucial to comprehend the optimal climatic conditions. This drought-tolerant plant is known for its resilience and ability to thrive despite arduous circumstances. It fares best in regions with a Mediterranean climate, as it originally hails from Southern Europe.

Australia, specifically South Australia, Victoria and parts of New South Wales, possess precisely these dry summer subtropical conditions, making them an ideal choice. 

Nonetheless, red creeping thyme can triumph over less favourable climates with ample care. After all, this tough little ground cover didn’t earn its reputation for being almost indestructible without reason.

Sunlight and temperature 

Red creeping thyme covers full sun exposure for peak blossom production. However, it wouldn’t shy away from partial shade either. The balance between sunlight availability and temperature plays a key role here. While the plant relishes warm weather, extremes of heat can challenge its survival.

Temperatures falling within the 15-26 degrees Celsius range are considered ideal. Extremes below -5 degrees or above 30 degrees might impose stress on this hardy perennial unless well-watered and mulched to protect its shallow root system.

Soil type and pH levels 

When selecting a suitable soil type for your red creeping thyme, well-drained soil should be your top priority. Complementarily, sandy or gravelly soils yield excellent results due to their superior drainage characteristics.

Let’s now focus on pH levels—a plethora of plants, including red creeping thyme, prefer slightly alkaline soil conditions (pH 6-8). If the pH level of your garden soil doesn’t match this range, fear not, as one can readily amend soil pH using lime (to increase pH) or sulphur (to decrease the pH).

Watering needs and irrigation methods

Red creeping thyme doesn’t demand excessive watering. In fact, overwatering can be detrimental as it may promote root rot, a common ailment among plants preferring dry conditions.

The thumb rule here would be to water once weekly during dry periods, ensuring you deeply irrigate to encourage the roots to establish themselves firmly in their new home. As for irrigation methods, both manual watering and drip irrigation systems work well. 

I prefer drip irrigation because it effectively prevents the foliage from getting too wet, thus minimising susceptibility to fungal diseases.

Pink Thymus serpyllum

When is the best time to plant creeping thyme in Australia?

The most suitable time frame is early autumn or late spring when temperatures are moderate and conditions more conducive to plant growth.

However, the planting season for red creeping thyme in Australia primarily depends on your region’s specific climate. 

If we delve deeper into regional timings, warmer areas like the Northern Territory or Western Australia should aim for their planting period during the cooler months of April-June. However, in colder regions such as Tasmania or Victoria, focus on the warmer months from August to November.

Remember that establishing a healthy red creeping thyme requires a balance: weather that isn’t overly hot but not freezing cold. 

How to plant red creeping thyme

Planting red creeping thyme is a delightful venture, whether adorning an outdoor garden or brightening up a container space. This versatile herb offers a seamless blend of beauty and practicality, making it a splendid choice for various settings. 

Below, we delve into the methodologies for both outdoor and container planting, ensuring your red creeping thyme thrives in its new home. 

Outdoor planting: step-by-step methodology

Let’s take a look at how you can successfully plant red creeping thyme outdoors:

  1. Preparation: Find an open area with ample sunlight because red creeping thyme adores sun-drenched locations.
  2. Soil enrichment: Enrich your soil by adding some well-rotted compost or organic matter. This ensures that the plants receive all required nutrients.
  3. Planting process: Dig small holes (about 6 inches deep) and place each stem of the thyme in these respective spaces with favourable distances between them.
  4. Bedding down: Cover loosely with previously dug-up soil and lightly compact it.
  5. Watering: Shower your newly planted patches generously with water.

It’s important to note that despite being drought-resistant once established, this perennial needs water until its roots have firmly taken hold in the new environment.

Container planting: Step-by-step methodology

While outdoor planting is more common, growing red creeping thyme in containers brings unique benefits like mobility and space efficiency – perfect for urban dwellers with limited outdoor space. Here is a simple guide to doing that:

  1. Selecting your container: Opt for containers with drainage holes or drill some yourself to avoid the risk of waterlogging.
  2. Choosing the soil: Fill your container with well-drained soil, ideally a mix of quality garden loam and compost.
  3. Planting process: Make small holes (2 inches deep) in this soil and place your red creeping thyme in them, just as you would do outdoors.
  4. Watering: Provide ample moisture right after planting.

Keep your container somewhere it can get direct exposure to sunlight for at least six hours each day, and let it soak in indirect light during the other hours. Remember, these plants are complete sun-lovers!

Where is the best place to plant red creeping thyme?

The ideal spot for planting red creeping thyme is an area that receives ample sunlight as this herb flourishes in full to partial sun. We recommend choosing a location with well-draining soil, preferably sandy or gravelly, to prevent waterlogging. 

Elevated spots like slopes or raised beds are excellent choices, enhancing drainage and showcasing its cascading growth. Edges of pathways, rock gardens, or ground cover in sunny spots are perfect, allowing its aromatic fragrance to be enjoyed and its vibrant flowers to be displayed.

Companion plants for red creeping thyme in Australian gardens

As you engage in the rewarding journey of growing red creeping thyme, you must understand that plants aren’t solitary. 

Choosing suitable companions in your garden can significantly enhance their growth and overall health like humans supporting each other within a community. Here are our favourite companion plants to consider:

  • Sedums are exceptionally paired with your favoured red creeping thyme, flaunting similar sun-loving and drought-tolerant attributes. 
  • Roses are excellent companions due to their contrast in height and colour against the low-growing carpet of vibrant reds from our star plant.
  • Geraniums are also known to complement this robust ground cover exquisitely. Their delightful blooms are spectacular when paired with the beautifully textured leaves of red creeping thyme. It’s almost akin to nature’s own fireworks right at your doorstep!
  • Petunias could make another admirable addition to this blend, bestowing them extreme weather tolerance while forming an enchanting sea of colours on warm sunny days. 

Benefits of companion planting with red creeping thyme

The greatest allure behind thoughtfully planned companion planting circles around the mutual benefits these plant alliances offer. To begin with, having different plant types close together helps hinder soil erosion effectively, as their roots strengthen the ground beneath.

Moreover, certain plants deter unwanted pests that might gnaw away at others, like good neighbours looking out for each other! In our scenario, mint deters cabbage moths and aphids from roses while situated nearby. Thus, it facilitates stress-free cultivation even for beginners starting their gardening voyages.

These harmonious plant unions can also increase biodiversity within your backyard ecosystem, encouraging beneficial insects such as bees or butterflies, the unsung heroes responsible for pollination, to frequent your greenspaces more often.

Unquestionably, though, aside from these functional facts revolving around companion planting, an artistic aspect makes your garden a delight to behold: a riot of different shades and textures spread across, forming a captivating natural tableau.

Examples of successful plant combinations using red creeping thyme

To provide real-world examples, let’s consider the classic combination of roses with mint and our spotlighted red creeping thyme star. The thyme forms a dense, vibrant carpet at the base, while rose bushes rise majestically above it, almost like nature’s skyscrapers, with dazzling blooms adding charm up high. Meanwhile, mint steadfastly supports them by keeping intrusive pests at bay.

Combining Sedum “Autumn Joy”, English Lavender, and Red Creeping Thyme could be quite advantageous for perennial garden fans who are in for long-term commitments. You have three resistant species together, creating an all-year-round spectacle yet demanding minimal upkeep!

Should you desire an extended list:

  • Rosemary and sage: revered for their medicinal values and for being robust against most pests.
  • Diverse succulents: Complementing its drought-resistant characteristics perfectly whilst contributing to unique aesthetic designs.
  • Other thymes, Including woolly thyme mo,ther-of-thyme, or lemon thyme, offer variations in hue & aroma, making gardening a much more sensory and indulging experience!

Remember, as noted earlier, companion planting accentuates mutual growth over individualistic thriving. 

Therefore, approach each pairing thoughtfully, considering the specific needs and potential offerings when deciding companions for your new-found love in red creeping thymes!

Caring for red creeping thyme: Maintenance tips & tricks

Navigating the gardening world can sometimes feel like navigating a minefield, especially when dealing with pests and diseases. 

Caring for red creeping thyme is relatively straightforward, making it a joy for gardeners. Here are some essential maintenance tips to ensure your thyme thrives:

  • Watering: While established plants are drought-tolerant, young plants need regular watering. Ensure the soil is dry before watering again to avoid oversaturation.
  • Pruning: Light pruning helps maintain its shape and encourages denser growth. After flowering, trim back the plants to prevent them from becoming leggy.
  • Fertilising: Red creeping thyme requires minimal fertilisation. A light application of a balanced, organic fertiliser in early spring can promote healthier growth if needed.
  • Weeding: Keep the area around your thyme free from weeds, especially when the plants are young and establishing themselves.
  • Mulching: A thin layer of mulch can help retain moisture and suppress weeds, but ensure it’s thick enough to prevent moisture retention at the root level.
  • Dividing: Consider dividing the plants every few years to rejuvenate and propagate them. This prevents overcrowding and promotes vigorous growth.

By following these simple care instructions, your red creeping thyme will remain a beautiful and aromatic feature in your garden for years.

Handling common pests and diseases

Red creeping thyme, while robust, can occasionally fall prey to pests and diseases, especially in Australian gardens. However, these issues can be effectively managed with some vigilance and care.

  • Pests: Aphids and spider mites are the most common pests affecting red creeping thyme. These tiny insects can be controlled by spraying water and mild soap or neem oil, which acts as a natural pesticide. Encouraging beneficial insects like ladybugs into your garden can also help, as they feed on aphids.
  • Diseases: Root rot is a potential problem due to overwatering or poor drainage. Ensure your thyme is planted in well-draining soil, and adjust watering schedules during wetter periods. Fungal diseases like powdery mildew can occur, particularly in humid conditions. To prevent this, allow sufficient space between plants for air circulation and consider using a fungicide if necessary.

Regularly inspecting your plants and prompt action at the first sign of trouble can keep your red creeping thyme healthy and thriving, ensuring it remains a vibrant part of your garden.

Final thoughts 

In conclusion, red creeping thyme is a resilient, aromatic, and visually stunning addition to any Australian garden. With its low maintenance needs and ability to withstand diverse conditions, it’s an excellent choice for gardeners of all levels. 

By following the simple care guidelines and being mindful of common pests and diseases, you can enjoy the lush, fragrant beauty of red creeping thyme, enhancing your garden’s aesthetic and sensory appeal.


How long does creeping thyme take to establish?

Creeping thyme typically takes a few weeks to establish. With proper care and optimal conditions, you can expect it to spread within 2-3 weeks, forming a full ground cover in the first growing season.

Should I soak creeping thyme seeds before planting?

Soaking creeping thyme seeds before planting isn’t necessary. These seeds are small and delicate, so direct sowing or lightly pressing them into the soil is sufficient for germination.

Can you plant creeping thyme next to grass?

Yes, you can plant creeping thyme next to grass. It’s often used as a border plant or in-between stepping stones, where its low-growth habit complements the grass without overwhelming it.

What does creeping thyme look like in winter?

In winter, creeping thyme remains evergreen, retaining its colour and foliage, although growth slows down. In colder climates, it may brown slightly but typically revive with the return of warmer weather.

How long does creeping thyme last?

Creeping thyme is a perennial herb that can last for several years. With proper care, it can thrive and spread in your garden for about 5-6 years, sometimes longer.

How far apart do you plant creeping thyme?

When planting creeping thyme, space the plants about 6 to 12 inches apart. This spacing allows them to spread and form a dense mat without overcrowding.