How to Harvest Thyme Without Killing the Plant? (My Best Tips)

Thyme is a wonderfully aromatic herb used in a diverse range of dishes. Its intense flavoring can team up with lighter meats such as chicken, lamb, and fish; it can also form dry rubs, medicinal tinctures, and teas.

This easily grown, green beauty is supremely versatile. Using it for food is not its only benefit either. It can also offer some amazing medicinal benefits. It can boost immunity, lower blood pressure and provide antifungal/antibacterial qualities.

But making sure that you know how to harvest thyme without killing the plant is also quite important. Cutting the stems an inch above their base to encourage growth is the simplest way to harvest larger amounts.

On the other hand, smaller amounts will require a little more precision. Let’s dive deeper into harvesting thyme without killing it, shall we?

How to Harvest Thyme Without Killing the Plant? 
Harvest Thyme Without Killing

How do you know when Thyme is ready to harvest?

The best time to harvest thyme is just before it flowers. This way, the more robust oils are still extremely potent within their leaves. Thyme will usually start to flower at the later end of summer.

Of course, it’s safe to pluck a smaller amount of leaves during the spring and summer.

How do you know when Thyme is ready to harvest?
How do you know when Thyme is ready to harvest?

Alternatively, you can visually judge by the width of your plant once it starts to fill out to around 4-5 inches in diameter and 8-10 inches in height; it’s perfect for harvest regardless of the amount you require.

What are the Perfect Growing Conditions for Thymes?

When used strategically, thymes can even ward off pests, including insects and bugs. So it’s important to know about the perfect growing conditions for it.

Like all other plants but herbs, they need to meet the right growing conditions to produce great quality yields. Thyme is no different. As long as the balance of these conditions is perfectly measured, it’s difficult not to see optimal results.

If just one of these conditions is slightly off, it can cause the plant to either grow abnormally ory, die. The optimal growing conditions are as follows. 

What are the Perfect Growing Conditions for Thymes?
Perfect Growing Conditions for Thymes


A thyme plant doesn’t mind the cold weather. If anything, you could almost call it frostproof. It has been known to grow commercially and thrive in countries such as Russia, Poland, and even Siberia. They generally prefer milder conditions in locations that offer full sun for longer periods during the day.

The Mediterranean regions are a perfect example of this, with countries such as Spain, Greece, and Morocco. The best-suited air temperatures are between 68-86°F (20-30°C), and soil warmth should be above 65°F (18°C).


6-8 hours per day of full sunlight is optimal for a thyme plant. This amount of sun will help dry out any excess moisture that can lead to root rot. If you plan on growing your thyme in a garden, planting it in the open without any light obstruction is a must. This will only stunt their growth, giving less yield.

Soil Quality

Adequate drainage is very important for a thyme plant as it is rather common that they suffer from root rot. Something light which keeps the roots well aerated and penetrated is ideal.

Thyme prefers a more sandy or loamy type of soil than moist soil. They can even thrive in rocky gravel if needed. The soil’s pH level should be neutral to slightly alkaline at around 6.5-7 to achieve optimal results.


Thyme can grow super fast if allowed the space to do so. It bushes both upwards and outwards. With this in mind, the distance between plants should be around 12-24 inches.

If you plan to grow in pots, then larger pots are better as they permit the thyme to grow some real girth. More girth means larger harvests and more consistent long-term returns.

Watering Schedule

The watering schedule for a thyme plant should be adjusted according to the season in which it is growing at the time. When growing in the warmer summer months, more frequent watering is required. Once a week is optimal during these times.

Spring and fall growth requires less water; 2 times per month is ample for these milder temperatures. In the winter, once a month is enough for the thyme plant to thrive while receiving enough water to produce full harvests.

How to Harvest Thyme Without Killing the Plant?

The key to any successful and sustainable long-term harvest is consistency. The best way to achieve this is to encourage regrowth wherever possible.

This means not cutting away as much as possible in the hope that it will magically grow back the same. Rather, taking a bit more of a strategic approach will ensure that much wanted continual growth. 

How to Harvest Thyme Without Killing the Plant?
How to Harvest Thyme Without Killing the Plant?

Choosing the right time

Harvesting thyme is not only simple but quite enjoyable as you’ll be able to smell that wonderfully strong aroma. The best time of day to harvest this herb is usually in the early mornings. Mornings bring out the essential oils, which are at their peak flavor.

The leaves are more full and fresh at this time also. Most plants have had the chance to rest and recover overnight from their growing period, so they are bursting at the seams during the morning.

Harvesting Decisions

The harvesting process of a thyme plant doesn’t require in-depth instructions, but there are a few things to consider. Before using your thyme leaves, it’s worth deciding on just how much you need for your specific purpose.

This initial decision will help you determine which pruning tactic you should use. Thyme is extremely easy to harvest as the leaves almost fall off the stems with minimal force. You can either pluck off smaller amounts on the go or go all in and harvest larger amounts to store for later use.

Harvesting Smaller Amounts

You can pick it at will if only a smaller amount of thyme is needed. Thyme grows surprisingly slower than other herbs, so consider this when choosing patches to remove. You can usually start picking when the plant reaches 10 inches (23–25 cm) tall.

Harvesting Larger Amounts

Harvesting large amounts, on the other hand, requires a little strategy. Ideally, it’s best to get a bit of a visual gauge of the desired amount of leaves you need. Cut the leaves and stem down to just above a node (part of the stem that grows new stems/leaves).

If you cut above a node, it will speed up the regrowth process. On the other hand, if you accidentally cut below a node, your plant will be forced to regrow the node first, then the stems and leaves. This often takes longer and is generally not as plentiful. Never cut more than a third of the plant at a time. It will go into shock and struggle to recover.

Alternatively, If you plan to clean out your plant toward the end of its season, you should prune it down to a few inches from the soil. Then let it grow fully before harvesting in that same area again. An optimal strategy would be to start outside the plant and work towards the middle.

This will allow your thyme plant time to regenerate while providing a decent yield during the waiting process. Additionally, if you have more than 1 plant, you can rotate or cycle from plant to plant to allow even more time for regrowth. 

How to Harvest Thyme Without Killing the Plant?
How to Harvest Thyme Without Killing the Plant?

Don’t Forget:

Remember, the key to harvesting any plant long-term is giving them everything they need, including time to regrow. This includes making clean cuts and maintaining a regular growth essentials schedule. These conditions are water, fertilizer, soil, and light, among other things. 

*Tip – Water and fertilize your thyme plant after a large harvest to ensure that it has adequate supplies to regenerate as fast as possible.

How do you dry, store and use Thyme?

The next step after harvesting thyme without killing is deciding what to do with it. Let’s look at the simplest way to clean it up, so it is ready to store, either fresh, frozen, or dried. It’s worth mentioning that each method has a different lifespan. 

How do you dry, store and use Thyme?
Ways to dry, store and use Thyme

How to clean thyme?

Thyme is one of the easiest herbs to clean up as its twiggy stems generally keep the smaller leaves from detaching as you grab a bunch in your hands! I use thyme religiously in my cooking, and when I clean it, I try using only natural cleaning solutions.

I mix 3 tablespoons of cider vinegar with 6 cups of water in a bowl. You can, purchase other mixes if you want to be thorough,, but it’s hard to know what they add in them these days. I use what I like to call the ‘dunk and swish’ method.

You dip/dunk a whole bouquet of thyme into the solution and swish them around. Finish off by rinsing gently with clean water and drain it in a colander or salad spinner if you have one.

How to dry thyme by hanging?

If you have the time, the most thorough and sure-fire drying method is by hanging. Simply take 5-10 sprigs (depending on size) and tie them together at the base using some string or thin rope. Find a dry, airy spot like in a garage or covered balcony.

It can’t be somewhere moist as the process won’t work. Tie the sprigs up and let them hang upside down for 7-10 days. Remove them after this period and check that you can crumble the thyme between your fingers.

If you can, they are ready to be stripped off the stems (if you choose to) and added to your favorite herb shaker bottle. Alternatively, put them in an airtight container for later use. Dried thyme can last anywhere between 1-3 years if stored correctly.

How to dry thyme using an oven?

When drying any herb using an oven, the basic principle is to bake it at a low temperature for a long period to prevent burning it. Layer out your thyme on some baking paper. Try to only have one layer, so every piece gets the chance to dry out without being smothered. 

Set the oven to low so around 200°F (90°C), and have the thyme baking away for a minimum of 1.5 hours. After this time, check on the status. It is ready to remove and pack down for storing if it is crumbly. If it is still a little springy, leave it for 15-minute intervals until complete.

How to dry thyme using a microwave?

It is possible to dry your thyme by using a microwave. I don’t like it, as the idea of nuking something natural to speed up a process just doesn’t sit right with me. But for convenience, here’s a method that you can try that is proven to work.

Lay some paper towels out on a dinner plate. Lay some thyme sprigs on the paper without overlapping, slowing down the process. Cover the sprigs with another folded sheet of paper towel. Put the plate in the microwave and set it high for 30 seconds.

Check the process to see if you can crumble the thyme with your fingers. If not, throw it back in the microwave for 15-second intervals, checking after each interval is complete. Proceed with storing it as you would with the other methods mentioned above.

How to store fresh thyme in the refrigerator?

After you have cleaned your thyme, you may want to store it fresh. As thyme is quite a robust herb, you can throw a bunch of sprigs in either a resealable container or rolled up in a damp cloth and sealed in a plastic bag. They will keep this way for 2 weeks.

Alternatively, you can fill a glass or jar ¾ full with water and sit some sprigs there as you would with flowers. You will get at least 1 week out of this storage method.

How do you dry, store and use Thyme?
How do you dry, store and use Thyme?

How to store fresh thyme in the freezer?

Lastly, you can also store thyme in the freezer. One method is to remove the leaves from the sprigs and add them to ice cube trays. Fill the herb-filled cube compartments with water and freeze them for later use. They are great for flavor bombs in soups and stews.

Alternatively, you can roll up the sprigs inside paper towels and add them to a sealable container or plastic bag. Then pop them into the freezer. Either of these methods will give them 3-4 weeks extra life. 

*Tip – Add a label with its name and date for any herb you store. This will let you know how long it has left or how long it has lasted so you have a better idea for future batches.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Does thyme grow back after cutting?

Thyme will grow back after cutting. It’s a perennial herb that will grow like crazy from spring onwards. Cutting the heads off all stems and branches is a good idea to encourage regrowth and discourage flowering. This will also strengthen the plant, pushing it to focus its energy on bushy leaves instead of flowers.

How many times can you harvest thyme?

You can harvest thyme as often as you like as long as you leave enough foliage to encourage regrowth. A freshly planted thyme must establish itself first, so waiting until it reaches 4-5 inches in diameter and 8-10 inches in height to begin harvesting is optimal.

Then simply pick the upper leaves at will, allowing time to regrow. Or trim longer stems down to a few inches from the base and allow them time to regrow before picking again.

How long do thyme plants live?

Thyme will live for around 6 years, as long as optimal growing conditions are fulfilled. It has also been known to grow for even longer in some cases. This lovely aromatic herb is a perennial, so it grows back in full each year within those 6+ years.


Whether you’re a MasterChef, alternative medicine enthusiast, or pest eradicator, thyme has the gift to help satisfy your needs. The beauty of this herb is that it is so easy to grow and maintain.

As long as you allow a plant like this adequate sunlight, water, food in the way of fertilizer, well-draining soil, and the warmth it requires, it will just keep giving.

With all of these conditions met, you have a 6-year herb churning machine as long as you know how to harvest thyme without killing it!

We hope that this article has been helpful.

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