Home > Herbs > How to Grow Tarragon

How to Grow Tarragon

Tarragon is a wonderful herb to add to your garden. It’s easy to grow, hardy, and drought-resistant, making it an excellent choice for both novice and experienced gardeners. It’s valued for its slender, aromatic leaves that are a staple in French cuisine.

Tarragon growing in a terracotta pot.

The low-down

Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) is a fragrant herb known for its slender, dark green leaves and distinctive flavor. It is a perennial herb belonging to the sunflower family, Asteraceae.

Key Characteristics

  • Leaves: Long, narrow, and slightly glossy.
  • Flowers: Small, greenish-yellow, and not very showy.
  • Height: Grows up to 2-3 feet tall.
  • Spread: Can spread about 1-1.5 feet wide.

Growing Conditions

  • Sunlight: Prefers full sun but can tolerate partial shade.
  • Soil: Thrives in well-drained, sandy loam with a pH of 6.0 to 7.5.
  • Watering: Needs light watering every few days. Avoid overwatering.

Usage

  • Culinary: Enhances the flavors of chicken, fish, egg dishes, and sauces.
  • Aroma: Offers a sweet, anise-like scent when crushed.

Varieties of Tarragon

There are two main types of tarragon: French and Russian.

French Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus)

  • This variety is the most popular for culinary uses.
  • It has a sweet, anise-like flavor.
  • Best grown from cuttings as seeds are not reliable.

Russian Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculoides)

  • Grows more vigorously and can withstand harsher conditions. Easier to grow from seeds than French tarragon.
  • Its flavor is less intense and slightly bitter compared to French tarragon.
  • Mainly for ornamental purposes
A thriving tarragon bush.

Propagation Methods

1. Cuttings

Take a cutting from a healthy tarragon plant. It should be about 4-6 inches long and have at least a few sets of leaves. You can dip the stem in rooting hormone if you have it, then place it in a glass of water.

After a few weeks, roots should begin to form. Once the roots are mature, you can plant the cutting in potting soil. Water occasionally and store the plant in a humid environment for 6-8 weeks.

2. Sowing Seeds

This method is generally used for Russian tarragon – French tarragon does not produce seeds reliably. Spread the seeds in March. It’s best to start them indoors using a seed-starting mix.

Keep the soil moist and warm. You can transplant the young plants outside once they’re strong enough.

3. Division

Another way to propagate tarragon is by dividing an existing plant. Carefully dig up the tarragon plant, being gentle with the roots. Divide the root clump into smaller sections, each with its stems and roots.

Plant each section in its pot or directly in the ground. Water well and keep an eye on the new plants to ensure they get established.

When to plant

  • Zones 5-7: Early spring planting is best.
  • Zones 8-10: Consider a fall planting.

Plant your tarragon in early spring after the last frost. This gives the plant a good start in warm soil. Tarragon prefers warm conditions and will thrive once the temperatures consistently stay above freezing.

Ideal Planting Timeframe:

  • Start indoors: 6-8 weeks before the last frost
  • Transplant outdoors: After the last frost has passed

If you live in a warmer climate, you can plant tarragon in the fall. This allows the plant to establish roots before winter.

Where to grow tarragon

Tarragon thrives under specific climate conditions, in certain soil types, and with the right amount of sunlight. Here’s what you need to know to grow healthy tarragon.

Climate Conditions

Tarragon prefers mild climates and can handle some drought. It grows best in hardiness zones 4 through 9. Avoid overly cold or wet environments.

  • Temperature: Ideal temperatures range between 60-70°F (15-21°C). Frost can damage or kill the plant.
  • Rainfall: Light rainfall is sufficient. Too much moisture can cause root rot. Ensure adequate drainage.
  • Humidity: Moderate humidity is best. High humidity might increase the risk of fungal diseases.

Soil Preferences

For tarragon to grow well, pay attention to soil characteristics. The right soil will significantly boost growth and flavor.

  • Type: Loamy or sandy loam is ideal. Heavy clay soils need amending with sand and compost.
  • pH Level: Slightly acidic to neutral soil (pH 6.3-7.5) is optimal.
  • Drainage: Well-drained soil is crucial. Overly wet or compacted soil can hinder growth. Adding compost or worm castings can improve soil quality.

Sunlight and Shade

Proper lighting is critical for tarragon’s health and flavor potency. It requires full sun to partial shade.

  • Exposure: Full sun is best, but it can tolerate partial shade. Ensure at least 6 hours of sunlight daily.
  • Intensity: Too much shade will weaken the plant and reduce flavor intensity.
  • Off-season care: During winter or off-season, indoor growth under grow lights can sustain the plant.

Spacing

Space tarragon plants 18 to 24 inches apart to allow ample room for growth.

Growing tarragon indoors

While tarragon is typically grown outdoors, it is possible to cultivate indoors with the right conditions.

To successfully grow tarragon inside your home, ensure that it receives plenty of bright, direct sunlight for at least 6 hours a day. A south-facing window or the use of grow lights can help provide the necessary light levels.

Tarragon also requires well-draining soil and adequate space for its roots to grow, so choose a large pot, at least 12 inches deep and wide, with drainage holes.

A French tarragon plant in a large terracotta pot.

Tarragon care and maintenance

To grow healthy tarragon, focus on watering, fertilizing, and pruning, to ensure your plants thrive.

Watering

Tarragon plants prefer slightly dry conditions, so avoid watering too often. Overwatering can lead to root rot and diminish flavor.

Water the plants lightly every few days, ensuring the water reaches the roots without making the soil soggy.

Check the soil’s moisture before watering your tarragon. Stick your finger into the soil about an inch deep. If it feels dry, it’s time to water.

Fertilizing Tips

Tarragon thrives in fertile, well-draining soil. If your soil is poor, consider using a balanced, liquid fertilizer every four to six weeks during the growing season.

When fertilizing, remember not to overdo it. Excessive fertilization can lead to lush growth without much flavor. Opt for organic fertilizers when possible to keep the soil healthy and sustainable.

Pruning and Maintenance

Regular pruning helps tarragon plants stay healthy and productive. Snip young, tender leaves from above the nodes to encourage new growth. This ensures you get the best flavor.

Pruning also prevents the plant from becoming too woody or overgrown. Remove any dead or yellowing leaves to keep the plant looking its best.

During the growing season, check for pests and diseases. Healthy, well-maintained plants are less likely to attract problems. Keeping the area around the plant weed-free also helps in reducing competition for nutrients and water.

Pest and Disease Management

Common Pests

Aphids are tiny green bugs that suck sap from the leaves. You can often find them in groups. To get rid of them, spray your plants with water or use insecticidal soap.

Spider mites are very small and hard to see. They can cause leaves to turn yellow. You might see tiny webs on the plant. To deal with spider mites, spray the plant with water regularly.

Cutworms are caterpillars that can chew through stems at soil level. These pests can be really damaging. Use barriers around the stems or pick them off by hand at night.

Disease Prevention

Tarragon can get powdery mildew if the air is too humid or if there’s overcrowding. Ensure good spacing between plants for air circulation. Avoid watering the leaves directly. Instead, water the base of the plant.

Root rot is caused by overwatering and poor soil drainage. Make sure your soil drains well and avoid overwatering. Adding compost can improve soil drainage.

Leaf spot is another problem you might see. It causes dark spots on leaves. Remove affected leaves and keep the area around your plant clean.

Monitoring your tarragon regularly will help catch any issues early. Using natural and preventive measures will keep your plants healthy and productive.

Harvesting and storing

Harvesting tarragon

You can begin harvesting tarragon once the plants have reached about 6 inches in height. This usually occurs around 60-75 days after planting.

To harvest tarragon, simply snip off the top 2-3 inches of the stems, making sure to leave at least one-third of the plant intact to encourage new growth. You can harvest individual leaves or entire stems, depending on your needs.

How to Harvest Tarragon: Step-by-Step Guide

Storing tarragon

Store fresh tarragon in the refrigerator for up to a week. To store, wrap the stems in a slightly damp paper towel and place them in a plastic bag or airtight container.

Alternatively, you can place the stems in a glass of water, like a bouquet, and cover the leaves with a plastic bag before refrigerating.

To dry tarragon, harvest long stems, tie into a bindle, then hang in bundles in a cool, dry, and well-ventilated place.

Once the leaves are crisp, crumble them and store them in an airtight container.

How to Store Dried Herbs