Thyme plants droop or wilt because the soil is too moist around the roots as a result of over watering or slow draining soils, which can cause root rot. The symptoms of root rot are a drooping appearance and foliage that turns brown or yellow.
Whilst over watering is the most common reason thyme plant droop or wilt. Thyme can also droop because of small pots and containers which dry too quickly, transplant shock and because of too much fertilizer.
Some varieties of thyme (such as creeping thyme) do tend to naturally trail along the ground or down the side of pots which is normal for this variety.
Keep reading to learn how why your thyme is wilting and how to implement the solutions to prevent your thyme from drooping so that it grows healthy with a strong aroma and distinct flavour…
Watering Thyme too Frequently
The most common reason for thyme plants having a drooping or wilting appearance is because you are watering thyme too frequently rather then not enough.
If you are watering your thyme plant more then once a week you are watering thyme too often!
Thyme is a herb that originates in the Mediterranean region of Europe in countries such as Southern France, Italy and Spain.
Therefore thyme has specifically adapted to grow in well draining sandy soils with low to medium fertility, full sun and infrequent rainfall that characterise the Mediterranean climate and soil conditions.
Thyme plants preference for dryer conditions means that the roots are sensitive to over watering which promotes the conditions for root rot and other fungal pathogens.
Because of thyme’s adaptations to the dry Mediterranean environment, thyme is regarded as drought resistant and far more problems occur as a result of over watering rather then under watering.
The most common symptoms of a thyme plant that is over watered are:
- Drooping or wilting foliage.
- Leaves turning yellow or brown.
Both of these symptoms are signs of stress because there is too much moisture consistently around the roots rather then a lack of water which is often the mistake that gardeners make.
To revive thyme plants that are drooping the most important thing to do is to scale back the watering.
Thyme plants thrive when their soil is allowed to become somewhat dry between bouts of watering, so only water thyme when the soil is mostly dry to a fingers depth.
Of course watering frequency should differ from climate to climate but to make things clear, here is a table to use as a guide for how often you should water thyme plants in different conditions and climates:
|Climate and Conditions||How Often to Water Thyme|
|Potted or Container Thyme:||Water potted or container thyme once a week with a generous soak.|
|Thyme in Raised beds:||Water thyme once a week with a good soak unless there has been significant rainfall, in which case wait until the soil feels dry before watering again.|
|Thyme in Garden Soil:||When properly established, thyme plants often attain all the moisture they require from the environment without additional watering. Only water if it has not rained for more then two weeks.|
|Hot Climates:||Water consistently once per week with a good soak during Spring and Summer.|
|Temperate Climates:||Thyme is at greater risk of over watering and drooping in cool climates with high rainfall, so only water when the soil feels dry. Do not water if there has been significant rainfall and water once every week in hot weather if planted in pots.|
|Winter:||Thyme is at greater risk of drooping in Winter due to damp soils. Do not water thyme in Winter unless indoors or under cover in which case water once every 4-6 weeks.|
As long as you adjust the frequency of watering so that the soil dries out between bouts of watering then your thyme plant should have a healthy appearance rather then drooping or wilting.
Always water at the base of the plant rather then over head watering on to the foliage to reduce the risk of fungal disease.
Water with a good soak rather then a light watering as this only reaches the top few inches of the soil.
A generous watering encourages the roots to grow and establish whereas light watering results in roots that grow near the surface the soil to find water which prevents good root development.
It should be noted that the drainage of your soil is just as important as how often you water thyme in order to prevent the plant from drooping due to water sensitivity.
(For more information, read my article for how to revive a dying thyme plant).
Slow Draining Soils (Amend with Sand)
Another common cause of thyme plants drooping or wilting is because the soil around the roots drains too slowly.
In thyme native Mediterranean range the soil is relatively sandy or stony. These soils are particularly porous which allow excess water to drainage away from the roots quickly rather then the roots sat in consistently damp soil.
Soils such as clay or areas of the garden that are boggy or low lying retain too much moisture for growing thyme.
Potting mix that is entirely rich compost can also retain too much moisture for thyme plants which can cause the plant to droop or wilt as a sign of stress.
If the roots are in damp soil for too long then there is a risk of root rot or fungal disease so it is important to address the problem.
How to solve it…
The key to successfully growing thyme plants that do not droop or turn yellow or brown is to replicate the sandy soil conditions to which they are adapted by amending your soil or potting mix with horticultural sand or grit.
The sand or grit improves drainage and balances the nutrient profile recreating the soil conditions of thyme’s native environment
This can be achieved by adding roughly 30% sand to 70% multipurpose compost when potting your thyme plants or when you are preparing the planting area in garden soil.
Too much sand is better then not enough so do not worry about the accuracy of your measurements, just as long as the sand is mixed evenly.
If you have clay soil that retains moisture then I recommend planting or transplanting your thyme to a pot or raised bed.
Pots have favourable drainage conditions compared with garden soil and there is greater control of the soil profile and it is a lot easier to add compost and sand to ensure good drainage.
When transplanting your drooping thyme from slow draining soil, take a look at the roots.
- If the roots are dark brown and look rotten then snip away the diseased root back to healthy growth with a pair of pruners.
- Wipe the blades of the pruners with a cloth soaked in disinfectant after each cut to prevent potentially spreading any fungal pathogens from diseased root to otherwise healthy roots.
- Snip away any brown foliage back to healthy growth with disinfected pruners.
- Replant the thyme in a pot with new soil that has been amended with sand for improved drainage conditions.
- Water the thyme to mitigate transplant shock and leave the plant in full sun to recover which might take a few weeks depending on the severity of the root rot.
Following these steps gives the thyme the best prospect for recovery. However thyme can die if the drooping appearance is caused by extensive root rot so prevention of disease with well draining soils if often better then cure.
(If the leaves of your thyme have turned brown read my article why thyme plants turn brown).
Pot or Container too Small
Although thyme is a drought resistant plant that thrives in dry conditions, it is possible that your thyme plant could be wilting due to:
- The pot being too small.
- Pot made out of thin plastic or metal.
Pots have favourable drainage conditions which thyme plants prefer but if the pot is too small then there is less capacity for soil and therefore less moisture.
Small pots heat up in full sun much quicker then a larger pot which increases the rate of evaporation from the soil.
The soil in the pot can then heat so quickly, that the soil is dry before the roots have time to absorb any watering.
This dry soil can lead to a deficit of water for the thyme and the subsequent result is that the plant wilts or droops as a sign of stress.
Another problem is the type of pot your thyme is planted in.
If your plant thyme in a plastic or metal pot then soil can dry out too quickly and cause the thyme to droop.
Plastic and metal conduct heat efficiently which causes the soil to increase in temperature and the soil to dry out too quickly to the point where they soil can bake hard, rather then the porous texture that thyme plants require.
To counteract dry soil because of small pots, the answer is not to water the plant more frequently as this can cause problems associated with over watering (promoting the conditions for root rot).
Instead plant your thyme in a larger pot as this provides more soil, for better root development so the thyme is more resilient and has more access to nutrients and moisture when it is required.
Plant thyme in a pot that is at least 12 inches across for the optimal balance of soil capacity and root development for a healthy potted thyme plant that does not run out of water too quickly on the hottest days of the year so that the plant does not droop or wilt.
In terms of the material of the pot, choose a pot or container that is ceramic, terracotta or clay for growing thyme or any Mediterranean herb.
These materials are permeable so allow for better root respiration and they do not heat up as quickly as the metal pots so the soil does not dry out before the roots of the thyme can draw upon it to avoid drooping.
If your thyme is drooping or wilting just after you have planted it then it may be suffering from transplant shock.
Thyme from a garden center or nursery is cultivated often in green house conditions with precise temperature control, sunlight water schedule, in a certain humidity (low humidity is better) with the roots accustomed to the surrounding soil.
When you buy a thyme plant and plant it in your garden there is often a contrast between the conditions of the greenhouse where it was cultivated and the conditions of your garden.
This can often cause the thyme to wilt or droop in shock to the change in conditions.
Do not panic if your thyme as drooped somewhat after planting as this is fairly typical.
The best way to ensure that your thyme copes with and recovers from transplant shock is to provide it with the optimal growing conditions:
- Plant thyme in a appropriate pot.
- Ensure the soil profile has been amended to emulate Mediterranean soil conditions.
- Give the thyme a good soak straight after planting (then water thyme once per week for the first 4 weeks).
- Locate thyme in full sun (at least 6 hours).
Thyme is an adaptable plant that can cope with transplanting and varying conditions, so any drooping or wilting is likely to be temporary whilst the plant tries to establish in the new soil and adjust to the different conditions.
As long as thyme is watered appropriately, in a large pot and has a sandy soil mix, whilst in full sun the thyme should recover from its drooping appearance after a few days and thrive.
Too Much Fertilizer
Thyme is a herb that has adapted to low to medium fertility soil conditions.
The fragrance and taste of the leaves is at its strongest when in these soil conditions and an excess of nitrogen fertilizer can be to the determinant of the taste and promote foliage growth at the expense of flowers.
Thyme thrives in sandy soils which do not retain much moisture or nutrients, so the use of fertilizer is contrary to environment to which it has adapted.
Too much nitrogen (from fertilizer) results in:
- Leggy drooping foliage.
- A weaker aroma and taste from the leaves.
- Fewer flowers.
- Leaves may turn yellow.
Stop any application of fertilizer and trim back any leggy growth that is causing the thyme to droop with a pair of pruners.
This should give your thyme a chance to recover although it may take a few weeks.
It is a good idea to ensure that your thyme is planted in the right soil. Amend the soil with around 30% sand or grit and 70% compost for the optimal nutrient balance and to improve drainage.
Sand and grit are inorganic materials that do not contribute much nutrients to the soil and help to improve the soil structure. This helps to create the low to medium soil conditions that thyme plants and all Mediterranean herbs prefer.
(For more causes and solutions of yellow thyme plants read my article for why thyme turns yellow).
Trailing Varieties of Thyme
It should be noted that some varieties of thyme (such as creeping thyme, ‘Thymus praecox‘) naturally trail over the side of pots or raised beds. This is a specific attribute of the cultivar rather then the thyme plant itself drooping due to any problems with the conditions.
Creeping thyme is happy to trail along the ground or over the side of a pot as long as it is in full sun.
There are of course many varieties of thyme that should not droop (such as common thyme, ‘Thymus vulgaris‘) which is usually as a result of over watering.
- Thyme plants most commonly droop as a sign of stress because of over watering or slow draining soils. Thyme plants are adapted to dry soil conditions When there is too much moisture around the roots thyme plants can droop, and turn yellow or brown because of root rot.
- Scale back the watering to once per week and amend the soil with sand or grit to improve drainage.
- Small pots and containers and pots that are made from metal or thin plastic can heat up which dries the soil quickly and causes thyme to droop or wilt. Plant thyme in a pot that is at least 12 inches across and preferably made from terracotta, ceramic or clay to help keep the soil cool and reduce the rate at which the soil dries.
- Transplant shock can cause thyme to droop temporarily. Give thyme a good soak after planting and locate in full sun. The thyme should recover in a few days.
- Do not use additional fertilizer as thyme is a low maintenance plant that requires soil that is low to medium in fertility. Too much nitrogen results in thyme that droops, grows leggy and has a weaker aroma and flavour.
- Some varieties of thyme (such as creeping thyme) naturally trail along the ground or over the sides of pots.