How can I save thyme?
December 16, 2009 10:38 PM   Subscribe

How can I, or rather my landlady, save some thyme that has just been brought in for the winter?

Thyme seems to do best growing out of a crack in bare limestone on a little-rained-on Mediterranean hillside. I've killed it when I've tried to grow it indoors in Scotland and in France. Now I'm in central New Jersey, and with the frost my landlady has just brought two pots (one 'ordinary', one lemon thyme) in from the garden. The lemon thyme is in the kitchen and is crisping and dying already (probably the central heating). The ordinary thyme is in my landlady's part of the house but I assume it's having the same trouble. What can we do to save them--should we just put them back out in the cold and not touch them till spring?

I like to add a sprig of thyme to my tea when I can do so without killing the plant. I can refrain from doing so until the spring if necessary.
posted by lapsangsouchong to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you're OK to go ahead and harvest it all now, you can freeze it. Lots of other links on this if this one isn't clear.
posted by Askr at 11:00 PM on December 16, 2009

That lemon thyme is almost impossible to kill. The leaves probably died in he frost and are just now crisping and falling off. If it were me I'd just make sure it had water and some sunlight, wait a bit to see how much died in the frost, then cut back the dead parts hard and allow it to grow back.
posted by fshgrl at 11:04 PM on December 16, 2009

Thyme should be very hardy. I grow it outside in the UK (snow, down to -5C), but have also grown it Pennsylvania where it survived -20C and possibly even lower. It's never occurred to me to take it inside.
posted by rhymer at 5:10 AM on December 17, 2009

I've had thyme planted around my sidewalk tree out front where it got dug up by squirrels and dogs pissed on it. And it still comes back. (Note: I do not use this thyme for cooking.)
posted by desuetude at 6:39 AM on December 17, 2009

Thanks for your responses so far. Desuetude, I'm glad you don't cook with that thyme.

Supplementary information/question. The thyme's in a small pot. The soil in a small earthenware pot sitting on the doorstep presumably freezes faster than soil in the ground, but is probably more likely to thaw if it gets a day's sunlight (and refreeze again). Will this greater temperature variability make a difference to how well the plant survives out of doors in cold weather--that is, would thyme that's planted in the ground be better off?
posted by lapsangsouchong at 6:49 AM on December 17, 2009

Is the pot glazed? Unglazed terracotta has a greater tendency to crack in below-freezing temps, since it's porous all the way through. Don't leave it outside.

Yeah, herbs planted in the ground overwinter better, since they're insulated by the earth. That doesn't mean that your pot of thyme is necessarily doomed.

I have a sunny concrete backyard, though, which keeps things a bit warmer for my containers. I group the plants I'm keeping outside together in a little huddle and stack some spare cinderblocks around them to provide a little more protection. I never had much luck bringing herbs in -- even in a sunny window they seem to complain about insufficient light.

Moral of the story, though, is that herbs are cheap. Give it a try leaving them outside, and if they don't come back, buy a new plant in early spring.
posted by desuetude at 7:36 AM on December 17, 2009

Thyme is very hardy. It would b totally fine in the ground, less so in pots as thawing and freezing are what rupture plant cells. I doubt it will survive after being brought inside in December, though. I would take my chance with the pot outdoors in a sheltered location- either under another plant or close to a south facing wall that will absorb and radiate heat.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:47 PM on December 17, 2009

Thanks for all these comments--the thyme is back out on the (south-west facing) doorstep. And perhaps in the spring we'll buy some more and plant it in the ground instead.
posted by lapsangsouchong at 1:53 PM on December 17, 2009

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