Thyme is a hardy perennial that is relatively easy to grow. Harvesting thyme is relatively simple, and thyme is a hardy plant that will recover quickly if harvested correctly. This article has all the details on how to harvest thyme without damaging the plant, so it keeps growing.
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Thyme, or Thymus vulgaris as it’s scientifically named, is a Mediterranean herb that is a member of the mint family. It is a perennial that can be harvested throughout the summer, and is easy to care for in your home herb garden. The leaves and flowers can be used in cooking.
If you grow thyme at home you may be wondering how you can harvest it without damaging the plant to ensure it continues to grow and thrive for years to come.
Once mature, it is a hardy plant that you can harvest from multiple times over a season if the right care is taken.
All you need to know is the best time of year, and the right way to harvest it to encourage growth. If you do this, just one or two full-size plants can provide ample fresh thyme throughout the summer, as well as a batch for storage in the fall.
Scroll down for the printable step-by-step guide to harvesting thyme, or read on for all the details.
When to harvest thyme
When is thyme ready to harvest?
The size of the plant is the most crucial factor in determining when to harvest thyme. If you just planted fresh seedlings this year, wait until they reach a height of several inches and begin to bush out before harvesting any significant amount.
The key is to ensure that your plant is healthy and growing vigorously before you harvest it.
You can pick a nursery plant as soon as new growth appears after replanting or repotting it. In contrast, a cutting-propagated plant should be allowed to form roots (around 6 weeks) and then begin to bush out before harvesting. And a seed-propagated thyme plant should be allowed to grow for around 12 weeks before picking a few leaves or sprigs, but may need to wait 12 months or more before taking a significant harvest.
You can harvest from mature thyme plants at any time, but for multiple harvests wait until your plants have recovered the growth you removed at the last harvest. If you just need a sprig or two for your recipe, it is fine to pick it any time.
What time of year to harvest thyme?
You can harvest from your thyme plants all year if you live in an area where it is evergreen. However, spring and summer are the best time to harvest thyme. This is because the softer new growth has be best flavor, and also because the plant grows back more rapidly, allowing you to harvest again sooner.
During the spring and summer, I recommend trimming the plant at least every two weeks to encourage fresh growth. During the pruning process, I also gather all of my cuttings and either store them fresh or dry them.
>> Related post: How to dry thyme
The best season to harvest a large crop of this fragrant, evergreen herb is in the summer, just before flowering (or just as the plant begins to flower). This is when the aromatic oils are at their highest, and you can best retain the herb’s flavor. Once the plant has flowered you will find its aroma starts to fade.
The end of the summer is the perfect time of year for harvesting a large batch to dry and store for use in the colder months when your thyme plant becomes dormant.
If you just need a few sprigs you can pick thyme at any point during the year. Keep in mind, though, that the thyme plant grows most vigorously in the spring and summer, so those are the best times to harvest.
In the winter, you can still take a few stems for the kitchen when dried thyme just won’t do, but don’t expect it to grow back until the springtime.
If you live in a cooler climate, you may want to bring your thyme indoors once the weather starts to cool so you can continue harvesting throughout the winter.
>> Related post: How to grow thyme indoors
How to harvest thyme without damaging the plant
When harvesting thyme, use a small set of sharp and sterile garden shears or scissors to prevent disease.
Don’t take more than approximately one third of the total plant at a time and let it regenerate before cutting it again. The time it takes to regenerate will depend on the season, which is why I recommend only taking a significant harvest in the spring or summertime.
Thyme, like many other herbs, will actually benefit from regular harvesting. To harvest thyme so it keeps growing, take a few inches from the tops of your plants regularly allowing it to regrow before taking more.
This will provide you with plenty of this fresh herb for cooking, and keep your plants in good shape.
Which parts of the thyme plant to harvest
Look for branches with a length of at least 8 inches. Branches with fresh green growth will have the best flavor.
To keep your thyme plant happy and healthy, never cut more than a third of the plant off at a time. Instead, cut a 4 inch thyme sprig off each stem, leaving the remainder of the stem length (at least 4 inches) to encourage it to grow back quickly.
Try to make the cut just above a growth node (leaf pair), as this encourages the plant to branch out as it regrows.
Then, before harvesting the same part of the plant again, let the branches grow back to around 8 inches in length.
If you want to take a thyme cutting to propagate a new plant, only take softwood cuttings.
>>Related post: How to grow thyme from cuttings.
How much can you harvest at one time?
Never take more than a third of a thyme plant at a time. To guarantee that the plant thrives and produces new sprigs, leave at least 2/3 of the plant intact. Allow the plant to regrow before harvesting more.
Even if you aren’t harvesting thyme for use, you should prune it a few times a year to keep it healthy. Remember not to prune thyme or take a large harvest too close to winter because it will not regrow quickly.
Instead, harvest your last crop at least two weeks before the first frost is expected, to give it time to recover and grow back before winter arrives. More prominent, fuller thume bushes have a better chance of surviving the winter.
How to store thyme after harvesting
There are a few options available for storing fresh rosemary, and they include:
- Stand the sprigs in a glass of cool water (like cut flowers). They should stay fresh for a couple of weeks.
- Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container with damp paper towels.
- Store in the freezer for a few months.
- Make herb-oil cubes: pick the thyme leaves off the stems and place them in an ice-cude tray. Cover with olive oil and store in the freezer. They will last for a few months.
- It is also easy to dry fresh thyme if you want to store it for the long term. If dried and stored correctly it should last for up to two years. See our articles on how to dry thyme, and how to store dried herbs for more info.
Step-by-Step Tutorial: How to Harvest Thyme
- Sharp secateurs or scissors
- Choose the thyme sprigs to harvest - select a branch that is 8 inches or longer [Note 1].
- Use secateurs or scissors to cut the top 3-4 inches from the branch.
- If you’re not harvesting in significant quantities, you might want to start with the longer, overgrown branches.
- If you taking a large harvest, don't harvest more than a third of the plant to ensure it remains healthy and can grow back after harvesting.
- Once you have harvested your thyme sprigs, give them a quick rinse under cool water to remove any dirt and pat dry with a paper towel to remove any excess water.
- The best time of year to harvest thyme is when it is most active, usually in the spring and summer.
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