How I Grow Thyme From Cuttings (Thyme Propagation Tips)

Thyme is a must-have herb for me.

Easy to grow and oh-so useful in the kitchen. And it is not exactly cheap to buy fresh.

I start a couple of new thyme plants from seeds every season. Plants grow old, and some plants die and need to be replaced.

And I need my thyme.

Seed-starting is great, but I turn to cuttings to propagate a new plant when I need thyme NOW.

Why?

It is faster, and I know I can have an established plant this season.

Grow Thyme From Cuttings In Water

Propagating cuttings in water is relatively easy. But you should not expect every cutting to propagate successfully.

From my experience, you may lose as many as half the cuttings you propagate.

The same donor plant, the same glass of water and different results is a strange combination to strange but true.

But worry not.

This is easily solved by taking more cuttings.

Thyme cuttings in glass of water
Thyme cuttings in a glass of water

So, let’s get our gardening hats on and look at the 5-step process.

1. Start with an established thyme donor plant:

Take cuttings from an established, actively growing donor plant. You do not want the plant to be flowering.

Look for a branch with new growth and cut a sprig measuring about 15 cm (6 inches).

Freshly cut thyme cuttings
Freshly snipped cuttings

Cut the sprig at an angle using sharp, clean scissors. You want a precise and clean cut.

I recommend taking several cuttings. There is no guarantee that all cuttings will develop healthy root systems.

2. Strip the leaves from the cuttings

Next, strip off the leaves from the bottom part of the cuttings (5 cm/2 inches).

Run the sprig through your fingers, and the leaves should come off easily. Avoid using your nails, as you may scrape and damage the stem.

Use your clean scissors to cut the very top of the sprig. And I mean top, as in just a few leaves at the very tip.

Removing leaves from lower part of cutting
Removing leaves from cutting

Topping the cutting will promote root growth over the cutting developing new fresh leaves.

3. Place the sprig in a glass of water:

Pour 5 cm / 2 inches of water into a glass and place the sprig inside.

Submerge the cleaned stem, not the leaves on the top part of the sprig.

Place the glass in a warm but not hot place with plenty of light.

4. Replace the water every two days or so:

Keep the water fresh and always use room temperature water to avoid shocking the cutting.

5. Plant cutting in soil when you see strong roots:

Fresh white roots start forming after about In 1-3 weeks.

Replant the cutting into a pot with rich, well-drained potting soil. make sure your pot has drainage holes.

And there you have it.

These simple steps work; I have grown many new thyme plants this way.

The process requires patience; here in Zone 7, I have to use grow lights when there is not enough natural light.

Grow Thyme From Cuttings In Soil

I never propagate thyme cuttings in potting soil as it is messier, and I find water to be just as effective.

But there is one situation when you would have to use soil instead of water.

Enter Rooting powders, also known as Rooting hormones or Growth hormones.

If you are a fan of using rooting hormones, follow the steps above to prepare the cutting. But instead of placing the cutting in water, you would:

1. Coat the bottom 2 inches of the sprig with the rooting hormone: Wet the bottom part of the sprig and cover it with the hormone powder or gel.

2. Plant the cutting in potting soil: Using well-draining potting soil and a pot with drainage holes is key. Keep the soil moist but not wet.

Thyme does not like wet soil; your cutting will rot if you overwater.

Three Reasons I Never Propagate Thyme In Soil

I will keep it short and sweet:

  1. Propagating in water works great, and it is easier and cleaner
  2. Have to wait a year before using the plant
  3. Difficult to maintain ideal soil moisture

The “works great” part speaks for itself. Why change a winning recipe.

I have yet to find a rooting powder or gel that does not state that I have to wait for a year or so before I can harvest and consume anything from the plant.

This may work great for houseplants, but not when I am growing herbs for cooking.

Thyme is a Mediterranean herb and does not tolerate wet soil. You strive for even soil moisture. Finding that balance is tricky when you are propagating cuttings.

And if you overwater, as all the action is below the soil level, you will not know for weeks.

What does propagating mean?

Propagating is more or less the same thing as “growing”.

But propagating is the correct term when you grow new plants from stem cuttings, root cuttings, or leaf cuttings.

Thai basil cuttings with fresh roots in water
Thai basil cuttings

I am guilty of mixing the terms sometimes. And for me, propagating is a bit of a mouthful when “growing” works just as well.

Seed-starting vs propagating from cuttings

I am a big seed-starting fan and prefer to start my plants from seed.

Seed-starting is inexpensive, and I can grow what I want and not be tied to what’s available or in season at my local nursery.

But there are times when propagating from cuttings makes more sense.

And it usually comes down to time.

Growing plants from cuttings is a faster way to grow a new plant.

And when you replant a cutting, you are guaranteed to create an exact clone of the donor plant. Pretty cool.

Can all plants be propagated from cuttings

Let me put it like this.

I am yet to come across a plant that I cannot grow from a cutting.

The method of propagation may differ, but it works.

Different methods, you ask? [1]

Some plants are best propagated from cuttings. Here you have most herbs and plants like tomatoes and even peppers.

Basil and sage are my two favorite herbs to propagate from cuttings. 
Sage cutting in water
Sage cutting in water

And then you have plants that are propagated from root cuttings. Here you have your raspberries, blackberries and shrubs like lilac.

Other plants are propagated from leaves. Here we find houseplants like sedum and hoyas. But as they are not edible, who cares, right?

Useful sources:

[1] https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/plant-propagation-by-leaf-cane-and-root-cuttings-instructions-for-the-home-gardener

Mattias Magnusson: Hello, I'm Mattias, a passionate and experienced gardening enthusiast. I am the creator of MattMagnusson.com, your guide to year-round herb and veggie growing. Let's simplify green living, no matter your space or location.