Planting and Maintiaining a Thyme Lawn
By David Salman of High Country Gardens
Replacing an Existing Turf Grass Lawn
When replacing an existing lawn with thyme plants it is extremely important to completely kill the grass. Grass species like Kentucky blue grass or Bermuda grass that spread by runners can re-establish them selves and eventually overgrow the thyme. Use Round Up or Finale herbicides (non-selective herbicides that kill annual and perennial weeds, including the roots, without contaminating the soil) to kill the existing grass, roots and all, before preparing the soil. Follow directions on the labels carefully. Give yourself plenty of time; Round Up requires 10-14 days to thoroughly kill lawn grass. Once the grass is dead, it can be removed by using a sod cutter to strip the sod off or by roto tilling the dead grass and roots into the soil.
Proper Soil Preparation
Proper soil preparation is essential to successful perennial gardening in the West. In general, western soils are mineral, alkaline and low in phosphorous and organic matter (humus). When planting new bed areas, the following soil improvers should be added to correct the problems:
- Superphosphate 0-18-0: use 2 lb. per 100 sq. ft. of bed area.
- Bone meal or rock phosphate may be used instead, at rates recommended on the package directions. This is an essential nutrient for plentiful flower and strong root systems.
- Planter II Trace Mineral Fertilizer: use 2 lbs. per 100 sq. ft. of bed area. This organic soil builder boosts essential trace mineral levels and increases microbial activity in the soil to improve nutrient availability. (Available from our catalog.)
- Gro-Power 5-3-1: use at the rate of 10-15 lbs. per 100 sq. ft. of bed area. Gro-Power is a humus (compost) based fertilizer that adds much needed nutrients and beneficial microbes to the soil. Yum Yum Mix may be substituted for Gro-Power at the rate of 4 lbs. per 100 sq. ft of bed area. (Available from our catalog.)
- Compost: When available, add a well made, thoroughly rotted compost to the soil at the rate of one cubic yd. per 100 sq. ft. of bed area. If compost is used, the amount of Gro Power added to the beds can be decreased by half or eliminated altogether. The compost and soil minerals should be tilled to a depth of only 6" and not 12" or more as recommended for perennial flowerbeds. When using a granular fertilizer, such as Gro Power 5-3-1, to improve the soil, be sure to water it in 3-5 days before planting to avoid scorching the roots from contact with dry fertilizer granules.
Planting The New Thyme Lawn
Plants can be spaced from 6" to 12" apart for quick coverage. To remove thyme plugs from their tray, squeeze the undersides of the plug and push up on the bottom of the plug with your thumb. Thyme plugs often grow into the neighboring plugs. To separate the individual plugs grasp the stems of the plant at the soil line and gently tug to pull it from the others. You can use scissors to cut the stems apart if need be. New growth will quickly sprout from the cut stems.
When planting in hot, dry areas, be sure to work some Broadleaf P-4 into the individual planting holes at the rate of exactly 1/2 tsp. per 6"x 6" hole to improve transplanting success. With proper soil preparation, you can expect the plants to fill in and cover the area in approximately 6 to 8 months depending on weather conditions.
Different thyme varieties can be mixed to vary the blooming times and texture of the thyme lawn. When this is done, be sure to plant the different varieties in groupings of 5 of more plants, for best results. Reiter, Pink Chintz, Coccineus, and Albus, are the preferred varieties for use in a thyme lawn.
Watering a Thyme Lawn
After the new plants are in the ground, water in thoroughly. We recommend using the Root Stimulator Combination Pack to reduce transplant shock and promote root growth (available from our catalog). Depending on how hot the weather is, the plants will need a good soaking approximately once or twice a week, for the first two to three weeks. Once the plants begin to root out and grow, watering frequency can be cut back to a good soaking once every 7 to 10 days. (Yellowing foliage can be a sign of over watering.) Please remember, that frequency of watering will vary according to weather conditions. Always check the soil's moisture down a few inches before watering. When Broadleaf P-4 has been mixed into the planting soil, the roots will begin to grow into the Broadleaf P-4 granules after 2 or 3 weeks. At that point, watering frequency can be reduced considerably.
Once established thyme plants are rather xeric (drought tolerant); it is better keep thyme on the dry side and not over-water. Check soil moisture carefully before watering and be sure to water to a depth of 4 to 6 inches when the plants are dry.
Mowing a Thyme Lawn
The recommended thyme varieties for a thyme lawn are low growers that do not need mowing. However, to keep your lawn looking tidy after blooming, it can be mowed using a bagger mower to remove the faded flowers and to help the stems fill in any bare spots. Set the mower blade at the height that cuts off the flower tops but doesn't cut into the stems and foliage below. Don't scalp the plants!
Fertilizing and Maintenance
Fall is the optimum time to apply fertilizer. A single application of Gro Power 5-3-1 or Yum Yum Mix applied at the rate of 2 lbs per 100 sq. ft. in mid to late fall (Late Sept.-Early Nov.) will keep the lawn looking good. Be sure to water in the Gro Power 5-3-1 with a good deep soaking right after you spread it. If the plants have flowered heavily, and the foliage is a little thin after it's mowed, a light shot of Gro Power or a water-soluble type like Miracle Gro is recommended to help speed fill-in.
A light raking in the spring can be helpful in removing dead stems and foliage after a harsh winter. Then top dress with a thin 1/2 inch of finely textured compost or well rotted manure to help the plants spread to fill in bare spots and reinvigorate the whole lawn for the coming of summer.
Walking on a Thyme Lawn
Thyme plants are very tolerant of foot traffic. However, paving stones or flagstone pieces are recommended for pathways and other areas that have constant foot traffic, to avoid wearing a path through the thyme plants.
More InformationHigh Country Gardens has a full catalog of drought-tolerant plants for the Western garden. Visit their site at http://highcountrygardens.com.
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High Country Gardens
2904 Rufina St
Santa Fe, NM 87505 800-925-9387