How to Grow Tarragon

Tarragon is one of a core group of go-to herbs that never lets me down. It has a unique flavor that's subtle but distinctive. With a faint hint of licorice -- less than fennel but more than basil -- it's refreshing without being overpowering. It keeps the same old fish, chicken and egg dishes from becoming too repetitive. It adds flavor notes to mustard, buttermilk, mayo and vinegar, so it can transform a sauce, condiment, dressing or dip, making it an easy herb to use in recipes and store in the fridge. Most dishes made with tarragon taste as good cold as they do hot, too.

If you're trying to cajole your family into eating more lean meat, using tarragon is one way to provide variety without having to invest much more time in the kitchen. I use it a lot during the holidays when I have leftovers I want to revamp with new flavors. Leftover turkey, roast chicken, shrimp, salmon and even vegetable dishes can gain a new lease on life with the judicious addition of tarragon.

How to Grow Tarragon

There are two basic tarragon varieties: French (Artemisia dracunculus sativa) and Russian (Artemisia dracunculus L.). It's the French tarragon you want for cooking. Russian tarragon has a much milder flavor and a distinctive bitter aftertaste. Be careful when you shop. Russian tarragon is hardier than the French variety and it's sometimes sold simply as "Tarragon" (no distinction) in large nursery outlets during the spring months. Look for French tarragon specifically.

French tarragon is winter hardy (Zones 4 through 9), and makes a nice addition to an herb patch. It has long, narrow, dark green leaves that look delicate and unique, if not spectacular. The plant is easy to care for, too. Some herb enthusiasts think it looks like a weed, but that's a little unfair. The leaves have an attractive spear-like appearance, and the plant is a beautiful, deep green.

Here's what you need to know to grow French tarragon:

French tarragon grows to a height of between two and four feet. It likes well drained soil but isn't fussy about soil amendments -- save the expensive soil additives for your vegetable patch.

Keep tarragon in a spot that enjoys full sun in the morning with dappled light in the afternoon. It can tolerate full afternoon sun in locations that don't get too hot. If summer is sweltering where you live, provide tarragon some shade during the hottest part of the day, and keep it well watered.

To make sure it overwinters successfully, mulch tarragon before the first hard frost.

How to Propagate French Tarragon

Tarragon is best started from cuttings in either spring or fall. Established plants can become root bound even when buried in the garden, so plan on starting new plants every few years. You can try digging up an established plant and separating it, but this strategy doesn't always work, so be prepared to lose most (if not all) of your transplants.

Harvesting Tarragon

You can start harvesting a few leaves from young tarragon plants when they reach 8-10 inches in height, or from late July for established plants. Tarragon doesn't dry well, so use it fresh in your summer recipes; cut plants back a few inches in fall and freeze your harvest.

Growing Tarragon Indoors

You can grow tarragon in a container indoors if you're lucky enough to have a spot that gets six hours of sunlight or more a day. Make sure to use a deep pot -- 10 to 12 inches is about the minimum you should consider. Tarragon sends out an aggressive root system and needs as much room under as it does above ground. If you have a potted tarragon plant growing or your deck or patio, you can bring it indoors during the winter months if you can provide good light.

Medicinal Uses for Tarragon

There are a number of medicinal uses for tarragon.  For details visit my post: Medicinal Tarragon

 Photo courtesy of Jennifer Brady at Flickr.


  1. Anonymous3:02:00 PM

    Good to know about the diffrent types.

  2. Mario H.2:00:00 AM

    I was growing tarragon for years and wondering why the taste was so lackluster. One day I saw a French Tarragon plant and I took a leaf to taste. What a difference!I didn't have the heart to tare out the Russian Tarragon to replace it with the French Tarragon. So now I have a French Tarragon that I use for cooking and a Russian Tarragon that I happily use as a salad green.

  3. I purchase tarragon plant last year call Texas terragon, what variety is it a member of?

    1. Texas tarragon (Tagetes lucida)is also known as Mexican marigold. It's a tarragon substitute that has a nice anise flavor.

  4. Thanks for the cultural info. I've tried tarragon three times--each time it seemed to take, only to decline and die after a month. Morning sun and daplled shade in afternoon, maybe that will help.

  5. What is the best way to harvest tarragon without hurting the plant? Will it branch out if you snip it above leaf nodes like other herbs such as basil? I have some growing in my Aerogarden, but I really don't know how to harvest it while keeping it healthy.

    1. You can start harvesting hydroponic/aeroponic tarragon when it's six to eight inches high. Snip it slightly above the leaf node and avoid taking more than a third of the plant at a time. Allow the plant to grow to its previous length before harvesting again.

      Enjoy your home grown herb!

      Good luck.


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