By Jo Burns

The practice of companion planting has grown from the observations of gardeners who, over generations, have noticed that some plants thrive when planted together and others do not. Some plants are thought to benefit others by deterring pests or attracting helpful insects to the garden. Thyme and strawberries are plant allies, according to the companion planting list provided by the Michigan State University Extension program. MSU encourages gardeners to experiment with traditional companion plant pairings and weigh the benefits for themselves.

Remove weeds, large stones or other debris to prepare the soil. Add 2 to 3 inches or organic mulch and to the bed and work it into the top 6-inch layer of the soil with a rake or hoe.

Plant strawberries 12 to 18 inches apart in rows that are spaced about 3 feet apart. Bury the roots of the strawberry plant but do not cover the entire crown with soil. The crown is the middle section that supports leaf growth at the top and roots from the bottom. Place the strawberry plant so the crown is midway under the soil.

Position thyme plants 8 to 12 inches apart. Plant a border of thyme completely around the bed of strawberries as a deterrent to worms or plant thyme between the outside rows of berries and whatever crop they are next to. Thyme planted between strawberry rows, especially ground cover types like woolly thyme, will smother weeds and help keep the soil from drying out quickly.

Scatter a 1-inch layer of clean straw around the berry plants as a mulch. Mulching with straw reduces the need for water and provides a clean surface for growing berries to rest on.

When weeding and cultivating, take care not to push soil up around the crown of your strawberry plants.

Though thyme is classified as a perennial, you may have to replace plants through the years. In late summer, after your strawberries have finished blooming, severely prune any leggy or spent thyme plants by cutting them back to about 2 inches from the soil. Dig up the plant and slice its root ball in half with a sharp knife. Plant the new plants in pots and bring them indoors until spring. Place them in a sunny window and water regularly. By spring, you should have two fresh thyme plants to go back into the berry patch.