Don’t let its reputation for being tricky to master scare you off; growing tarragon is actually easy once you know a few secrets about it. Unlike other herbs that can quickly take over your garden, tarragon keeps to itself and rarely spreads beyond its boundaries. In fact, this herb is so reluctant to expand itself that the plant rarely produces seeds. But that’s no reason to stay away from this French favorite, as tarragon is delicious when cooked with eggs, poultry, fish, and cheese. Once you start incorporating this peppery, licorice-tasting herb into your favorite recipes, you’ll soon see the appeal of keeping a bountiful supply to keep your spice rack stocked.
When and Where Should You Grow Tarragon?
Tarragon might not be the easiest herb for the gardener to grow, but if you avoid growing from seed you’ll bypass most of the difficulties. When started correctly, tarragon will produce great smelling leaves for up to five years, ensuring your dinners are anything but bland.
You can grow tarragon just about anywhere. Because it is naturally a perennial, tarragon should be planted in a place where it can grow undisturbed for several years. This herb grows best in full or partial sun, though it might require some shade protection in especially hot climates.
Understanding Seed Germination for Tarragon
Of the three main types of tarragon (Mexican, French Russian) only Russian tarragon reliably forms seeds, meaning that it is the most likely type you’ll be growing if you choose to grow from seeds. Though its flavor profile pales in comparison to French, Russian tarragon is still a great choice if you prefer your herbs to be mild.
Growing From Seed
In order to grow tarragon from seed, start your seeds indoors a few weeks before the last frost date. You can germinate the seeds on a damp paper towel and then plant them into seed starting trays. Because tarragon tends to have a low germination rate, this ensures you don’t waste your time planting seeds that will never sprout. For best success, move your sprouted trays of plants outside after the threat of frost has passed and the temperature is consistently above 55 degrees F.
Growing From Cuttings
Growing tarragon from cuttings is an entirely different game. In order to ensure success, it’s usually best to purchase at least three starts for every plant you want to have. You can take your cuttings from a mature plant or buy them from a nursery.
The best time to divide tarragon is in the spring right when new shoots are coming out of the ground. In general, you can plan on collecting between three and five tarragon shoots from each mature plant. When dealing with a cutting, be especially careful not to damage the plant roots, as they are delicate and harming them might stunt the plant.
Another propagation method is to take four to eight-inch cuttings off young plants in the early morning. Make each cutting just below the plant node and remove the lowest third of leaves before dipping the cut end in a rooting hormone before placing it in a warm, moist potting soil mix. Keep the plant moderately wet with a light misting until roots begin to sprout, at which time the plant can be transplanted into your garden bed.
Growing Tarragon in Containers
Because tarragon is naturally a perennial, many gardeners in colder climate zones have lots of luck growing their plants in pots that can be moved indoors during colder weather. Not only does this keep your tarragon toasty, it also ensures that you can move it where needed to get the maximum amount of sunlight to truly thrive.
Preparing a Tarragon Bed
When grown outside, tarragon isn’t especially picky about its growing conditions. In general, the herb likes rich, well-drained soil that maintains a pH level just around average. The fleshy root of the French tarragon plant enjoys loose soil where it can really spread out, but good drainage is essential. Tarragon tends to be susceptible to root rot when it stays too wet, so if you have heavy, wet soil it’s probably best to plant it in a pot instead. It’s also good to fertilize the bed before planting with at least an inch of organic compost to ensure that there are plenty of nutrients for the plant to access as soon as it starts growing.
Moving Tarragon Outdoors
When your tarragon is ready to be planted outside, thoroughly bury each root bulb and keep each plant at least a foot away from its neighbors. Tarragon roots don’t like to be disturbed, so be especially careful not to disrupt them in the transplanting process. Water your plants immediately after transplanting and keep them well hydrated throughout the first few weeks.
Once established, tarragon needs little babying and can even thrive in less than ideal conditions, including poor soil and droughts. Getting your plant to that point without killing it in the process is the key to success with tarragon. Even the need for fertilizer goes away after the first few months, as the flavor of tarragon actually improves when it’s slightly stressed.
Just remember, if you want this plant to come back year after year, it pays to mark its position in the winter, lest you accidentally dig it up or damage its roots when it dies back!
Watering and Mulching Requirements
Tarragon needs minimal attention after it gets fully established. Keep the plants well watered at the beginning, but give your watering can a rest in later months. The best method is to let the soil dry between waterings to ensure the herb can flourish without risk of developing root rot. In order to protect your plant through the winter, you can cover it with a thick layer of mulch in the fall to ensure it doesn’t suffer from frost.
Companion Planting and Rotation Considerations
There are no real concerns over what plants grow well next to tarragon, so don’t be afraid to plant it anywhere you think it best fits. Many gardeners enjoy it as a border plant or an accent in the midst of other flowering herbs.
Common Pests and Diseases for Tarragon
Tarragon tends to have few pest problems, though it’s well known for attracting bees and butterflies. The main disease that tarragon suffers are usually caused by too much water, like root rot and powdery mildew. You can keep the rates of disease down by mulching around the base of your plants in order to keep moisture near the surface and away from the roots.
Harvesting and Storing Tarragon
One big benefit of growing tarragon is that it can be harvested throughout most of the growing season. You can start harvesting leaves from your young plants about six to eight weeks after transplanting, and these leaves are best used fresh in your favorite manner of cooking. Harvest tarragon in the early morning for peak flavor, and be sure to use garden shears to make neat snips on plant stems that don’t leave an opening for diseases to come in. Both the leaves and flowers can be harvested from each plant, and they can either be stored in a cool, dry place for immediate use or dried or frozen to be used later.
One of the best ways to store tarragon is to snip off stems at the base and let them dry bunched together in a cool, dry place. Keep them away from heat, as it can cause some of the flavorful oils to dissipate. Once fully dried, store your leaves in an airtight container until they are ready to be used.
Saving Tarragon Seeds
It’s difficult to get tarragon that produces viable seeds, so most gardeners have more luck dividing their mature plants in the spring or collecting root tips to start the next generation of their tarragon.
Choosing the Best Tarragon Seeds for Your Conditions
Though French tarragon is by far the most popular to put to culinary use, there are two other types that are popular to grow: Mexican and Russian. Below is the information you need to know about the differences between the three species.
- Mexican Tarragon: Typically grown as an annual, this type of tarragon produces yellow-orange flowers and is better for medicine than when mixed in food. Mexican tarragon also tastes more strongly of anise than French tarragon. It’s usually a smart choice for climates that are too warm for other types.
- French Tarragon: The most popular form of tarragon, this type grows without flowers and has a strong, peppery flavor that is a favorite in French cooking.
- Russian Tarragon: Because it produces its own seed and thrives in poor soils, Russian tarragon is an easy type to cultivate. However, its flavor is lacking compared to French varieties and takes a lot to add a strong taste to recipes.
Additional Growing Tips for Tarragon Cilantro
Need some extra help getting your tarragon established in your garden? The following tips might help you out.
- Once your plants are fully established and starting to flourish, pinch back the longest stems in order to encourage the plant to grow bushier.
- French tarragon is the most susceptible to fungal diseases, so it’s not as well suited for tropical environments as Mexican tarragon.
- When it comes to water, less is more for your tarragon. Give your plants plenty of water in their first few weeks and let them dry out between waterings afterward in order to encourage the most robust flavor.