Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is an evergreen herb that gives off a rich, herbaceous scent. Thyme is a versatile plant that has a lot of uses. It’s an excellent groundcover plant for ornamental gardens, adds flavor to a variety of culinary dishes and its oil can be used to treat a variety of medical issues.
During the summer, thyme boasts dainty clusters of pink or white flowers dispersed throughout its green foliage. These flowers are rich in nectar so attract a variety of pollinators.
Practicing companion planting will help keep this aromatic herb happy and healthy. However, choosing the right thyme companion plants can be a little tricky, as not every plant will make a suitable companion.
This article explains all about companion planting and I have listed some of my favorite companion plants for thyme, as well as those to steer clear of.
Companion Planting Explained
Companion planting is a traditional practice that dates back over 10,000 years. It was first developed and used by Native American Tribes to grow crop plants. This method involves growing one or more species of plant close together.
The aim is that the plants will provide mutual benefits to one another. With crop plants, the main goal is to increase overall yield. This can be achieved through a combination of benefits such as reducing pests, attracting pollinators, or improving soil health.
Companion planting relies on the natural benefits of plants, eliminating the need to use chemical-based compounds. As such, this method is organic and eco-friendly. Due to its success, companion planting has been adopted worldwide and is even used in ornamental gardens.
One famous example that beautifully illustrates how companion planting works is the “Three Sisters” method. It’s used to grow squash, sweetcorn, and beans.
The squash plants shade the ground with their large leaves, helping to keep the soil cool and moist. Sweetcorn grows tall, creating a sturdy structure for the beans to cling to as they grow. The beans fix nitrogen into the soil which can be taken up by the squash and sweetcorn.
The benefits derived from companion planting will vary depending on what species are used. This growing technique can be advantageous to gardeners, wildlife, and the environment.
Some of the biggest advantages of companion planting are:
Pest Control: Some plants release chemicals or scents that repel insects, keeping them away from your main crop. Others actually attract pests and can be used as sacrificial “trap crops” by being more attractive to pests than the plants you are trying to protect.
Surrounding crops with other plants can also confuse pests by creating visual barriers, reducing the likelihood of an attack.
Enhances Flavor: Certain species are able to improve the flavor of edible crops. Many herbs have been found to enhance the taste of fruits and vegetables. For example, chamomile is known to improve the taste of cucumbers, cabbages, and onions.
Attracts Beneficial Insects: Pollinators are an essential part of our ecosystems. Colorful and scented flowers are most appealing to pollinators and will attract them to your garden. Other plants entice predatory insects that will prey on common garden pests.
Provides Shade and Shelter: Tall, leafy plants are excellent at providing shade to smaller plants that require protection from the sun. Other plants serve as windbreaks, sheltering more delicate species from harsh weather conditions.
Water Retention: Ground cover plants can be interplanted between crops to reduce evaporation and soil erosion. Large leaves will keep the soil cool and retain moisture. Additionally, dense foliage also suppresses the growth of weeds which would otherwise be in competition with your crops for resources.
Improves Soil Health: Nitrogen is essential for plant growth. Legumes take nitrogen from the air and convert it into a fixed form in the ground, increasing the nitrogen content of the soil.
Before you go out and purchase your companion plants, there are a few things you need to consider. Just because two species make for an aesthetic pairing, doesn’t mean they will be compatible.
The best companions will have the same growing conditions. For example, a plant that thrives in the full sun would make a bad companion for one that needs to be predominantly in the shade.
You should also think about the behaviors of each plant. A rapidly growing plant, such as mint, can easily become invasive and steal space and nutrients from slow-growing neighbors.
Especially in ornamental gardens, aesthetics is very important. Consider the seasonality of each plant. Companions with different blooming seasons can elongate the period your garden is in bloom.
Similarly, depending on the colors, dimensions, and textures of your chosen species, you can create either a contrasting or complementary display.
Best Thyme Companion Plants
Thyme can be difficult to grow from seed, so most people opt to grow this herb from cuttings or the vegetative stage. Once established, thyme is easy to maintain and is very hardy. Thyme grows best in a warm and sunny location. The more sun it receives, the more flavorful it will be.
Thyme favors sandy, well-draining soil that has a neutral to slightly alkaline pH. This herb is fairly drought, shade, and cold-tolerant. Thyme is hardy across USDA zones 2 to 10. Below, I have recommended some of the best companion plants for thyme:
Fruit and Vegetables
Strawberry: Thyme and strawberries are a great combination for controlling weeds. Planting thyme between strawberries will help suppress weed growth as well as keep the soil moist. Additionally, thyme repels marauders that destroy strawberries.
Tomato: The aroma produced by thyme deters hornworms from attacking your tomatoes. Thyme also improves the flavor of tomatoes.
Lettuce: Thyme improves the flavor of lettuce and keeps pests at bay.
Blueberry: Thyme attracts pollinators such as butterflies and bees that will pollinate your blueberries.
Cabbage: The pungent scent of thyme will keep pests away from your cabbage. Thyme also attracts ladybugs which prey on aphid pests and act as pollinators.
Potato: Wasps are attracted to the smell of thyme and are one of these herbs’ main pollinators. Wasps are predatory insects and feast on beetles that attack potatoes. Thyme also enhances the taste of potatoes.
Eggplant: Eggplants are susceptible to lots of pests including moths, hornworms, beetles, aphids, and spider mites. The fragrance of thyme acts as a natural pest deterrent. Thyme also enhances the growth of eggplants.
Pepper: Thyme helps to keep pests such as whiteflies and spider mites away from your peppers and also boosts their taste.
Beetroot: By planting beetroot near thyme, its growth can be enhanced, and it will be somewhat protected from pests like cabbage loopers.
Sweetcorn: Pests including corn earworms will be deterred by the fragrance of thyme and their growth will also be improved.
Onion: This root vegetable has similar growing conditions to thyme. Like thyme, the scent produced by onions acts as a natural pest repellant.
Lavender: Thyme and lavender both thrive in hot and arid climates. Pests like slugs and whiteflies are deterred by the scent of thyme. Lavender also attracts a variety of pollinators.
Sage: Like thyme, sage favors slightly arid soil. The scent of sage repels garden pests like carrot flies, snails, and beetles.
Rosemary: A classic pairing, rosemary, and thyme thrive under the same growing conditions. Both plants have insect-repelling properties to help protect your crops from pests.
Oregano: Thyme and oregano have similar growing requirements. Thyme provides the oregano with shade and helps to keep the soil moist.
Chamomile: This herb grows best under similar conditions to thyme. Chamomile also attracts beneficial insects such as parasitic wasps and hoverflies to your garden.
Flowering Annuals and Perennials
Marigold: The fiery marigolds add a splash of color to the green thyme. Both thyme and marigolds have insect-repelling fragrances.
Nasturtium: These flowers can be used as trap crops to keep pests away. The colorful flowers attract beneficial insects and are also edible.
Rose: The colorful blooms of Knock-out Roses make superb companion plants and look striking against thyme plants. The scent of thyme helps deter aphids and blackflies from your roses.
Worst Companion Plants for Thyme
There are a few plants that you should keep as far away from your thyme plant as possible, as they can induce detrimental consequences on the growth and health of thyme. Plants to avoid include:
Chive: This herb flourished in moist soil whereas thyme flourishes in sandy or loamy soil that is on the drier side.
Basil: Thyme grows best in arid soil whereas basil requires moist soil to thrive.
Fennel: Fennel makes a poor companion to many herbs and vegetables. It releases allelopathic chemicals and is highly aromatic.
Parsley: This herb needs moist soil to grow well but thyme favors dry soil.
Cilantro: Thyme requires arid soil, but cilantro needs moist soil to thrive.
Mint: Being a fast-grower, mint requires a lot more water than thyme.
Ben's horticultural interest grew when graduating from Hertfordshire University in 1997. Having contributed to numerous publications including Better Homes & Gardens, Garden Design Magazine, and The English Garden. He is also the author of Propagating Houseplants Made Easy.