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What Is Elfin Thyme?

By M. Haskins
Updated May 16, 2024
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Elfin thyme is a creeping variety of thyme that usually grows no more than 1-2 inches (2.5-5 cm) high, with small glossy, green, fragrant leaves and tiny purple or pink flowers. This plant is a hardy, low-maintenance herb that can be used as groundcover, as an ornamental plant on rockwalls and in rock gardens, and can also be planted between pavers or bricks. It is resistant to drought and heat, and is able to withstand foot traffic well enough to be planted as a substitute for lawn grass. It grows best in full sun, but can be grown in shady areas as well, though it will not spread as much and tends to form clumps rather than groundcover in the shade. The leaves of elfin thyme are quite fragrant and can be used as an herb for cooking, but the plant is more commonly grown just as an ornamental garden plant.

There are many different varieties of thyme. Some, like elfin thyme, are mainly planted for their ornamental value, while other varieties, like Thymus vulgaris or common thyme, are usually grown as herbs for cooking. Thyme is originally native to Europe and Asia, and common thyme grows wild in many areas around the Mediterranean. Elfin thyme can actually refer to two very similar types of thyme, one that goes by the scientific name Thymus Serpyllum and one that goes by the scientific name Thymus praecox. They look similar and are difficult to tell apart, and have almost identical growing habits and requirements.

The best place to plant any kind of elfin thyme is in well-drained soil and in a spot where the plant gets at least five hours of sun per day. It usually spreads to a width of about 4-8 inches (10-20 cm), and it is recommended to space the plants six inches (18 cm) apart. In ideal growing conditions, the plants will form a dense, thick mat of leaves that is both deer- and rabbit-resistant. Elfin thyme is hardy enough to survive cold winter weather and frost.

Thyme, including elfin thyme, is generally a deciduous herb, shedding its leaves in the winter, but in milder climates the plants can keep their leaves year round. Once established, elfin thyme is a low-maintenance plant that does not require fertilizer or frequent watering, and will thrive in hot, dry conditions. For this reason, it is often favored in xeriscaping, a form of landscaping or gardening that uses no irrigation.

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Discussion Comments
By burcinc — On Aug 18, 2013

I bought an elfin thyme from the nursery last month. I planted it right away in my garden where it gets full sun. I watered it once a week.

After three weeks, the leaves turned brown and the plant literally died. What could I have done wrong?

The weather is very hot and dry right now, could that be the problem?

By literally45 — On Aug 17, 2013

@MikeMason-- I'm sure that elfin thyme (thymus elfin) has some type of medicinal value but it's not used for that. Elfin thyme looks different from other types of thyme I've seen. It has many tiny leaves and is very short. There isn't much that can be done with those leaves.

Elfin thyme is best for decoration. It covers bald spots on the soil, and between rocks very well. I have some planted into ground as well as in pots and they look lovely.

If you want thyme for the medicinal value, buy regular thyme or Spanish thyme instead.

By stoneMason — On Aug 17, 2013

Most thyme varieties have medicinal value and can be used for home remedies. Does this apply to elfin thyme as well?

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