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How to Grow: Thyme and Oregano
When it comes to flavoring recipes, Mediterranean herbs are some of the most popular. While rosemary and basil get lots of press, don’t forget the low growing, perennial herbs, such as thyme and oregano. Oregano offers that robust flavor we associate with pasta sauces. Thyme leaves have fragrances such as lemon, orange and nutmeg depending on the selection. Both herbs compliments fish, meat, cheese and vegetables featuring beans and squash well. They are both beautiful plants with white or pink flowers
How to Use in Foodscaping
Most thyme and oregano varieties are hardy in USDA zones 5 to 9. Plant them along walkways, between stepping stones in a path, along the edge of a flower border, in rock gardens, or in containers where the fragrance can be appreciated. Creeping thyme, in particular, can take some foot traffic and still thrive.
Most thyme has silver-green small leaves and pink or white flowers. Common thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is most commonly used for cooking. Creeping thyme (T. serpyllum) is good for walkways. Golden lemon thyme (T. citriodorus) has golden leaves and a bright lemony fragrance. ‘German Winter ‘ thyme is the most cold tolerant
The most flavorful and common type of oregano to grow is Greek oregano (Oreganum vulgare). Most oregano plants have silver-green leaves and white flowers. ‘Golden’ oregano has golden colored leaves and a pink flower.
Plant thyme and oregano in a rock garden with other creeping herbs such as prostrate rosemary. Plant thyme along a walkway with other low growing creeping flowers such as alyssum. Grow thyme under open canopy trees, such as crape myrtle, as a ground cover. Thyme and oregano also grow well in containers.
It’s easier to purchase thyme and oregano plants than to start the seeds indoors. Plant thyme and oregano transplants outdoors after all danger of frost has passed in well drained, gravely, slightly alkaline soil in full sun. They don’t tolerate wet soils and will rot easily. Grow them in raised beds if you have heavy clay soil. Don’t grow these on highly fertile soils or the flavor will be reduced.
Pinch back young plants to promote bushiness. Pinch off flowers if growing mostly for the leaves. Stop pinching the foliage one month before frost in order for the plants to properly harden off. Some thyme varieties will self sow readily and you’ll need to thin out seedlings in spring. Cover plants in cold winter areas with bark mulch and remove the mulch in spring. Cut back plants by one-third in spring to stimulate less woody, new growth. If the center of thyme or oregano plants dies out or the plant gets too woody, in spring dig and divide the plant to stimulate new growth.
Harvest stems (sprigs) as needed once the plant’s established. Harvest to shape the plant and stimulate new growth. Strip the leaves off the sprigs for cooking and drying. Harvest just before flowering for the best flavor.
Excerpted from the book, Foodscaping, (CSP, 2015)