Many gardeners choose to grow tarragon because this herb has both culinary and medicinal purposes. There are three main varieties of tarragon: French, Russian and Mexican. Tarragon is also known as estragon. These perennial herbs are native to mild European climates. You can grow tarragon in USDA zones 4 and warmer, up to zone 8, except for the Mexican variety.
Tarragon Growing Conditions
When you grow tarragon you have to be sure to provide the ideal temperature for this plant. It grows particularly well in spring temperatures and doesn’t do well in hot or humid climates. Those that live in colder climates should mulch plants in winter to protect the roots when it dies and goes into dormancy.
The ideal temperature to grow tarragon is 70 F (21 C). Pick a place that doesn’t get too much direct sunlight in you live in an area that has hot summers. Planting early in the spring will provide the best flavor.
It is possible to grow tarragon in soil that has a pH between 6.2 and 8.0, but it grows best in neutral pH between 6.5 to 7.5. Grow tarragon in well drained soil that is sandy and light. Acidic or moist soil will reduce the flavor of the leaves, rot the roots and result in poor growth.
Like other varieties of artemisia, this plant is quite tolerant to droughts. Water it on alter days when the plant is young. Mature tarragon needs less water, so every couple of days is good enough. Artemisias do not need much fertilization; these plants grow best when they have low nutrient soil. If you want to add fertilizer, do it at the initial planting stage or yearly during early spring so it has energy after the winter.
This plant is not long lived, for best conditions and flavor it is best to dig it up and divide it every three to four years. The best time to do this is early spring. Doing so will get rid of the older, woodier roots and use the smaller roots and shots for the new growth.
Thankfully those that grow tarragon won’t have many pest problems. The aroma of this herb is disliked by most pests. It is also believed that it enhances the flavor and growth of other crops nearby. Don’t plant it next to herbs like oregano that spread quickly and can take over your tarragon plant. Sage, thyme, tomato, pepper or chives are good companion plants.
Tarragon is susceptible to spider mites and whitefly. Diseases like powdery mildew, downy mildew, white rust and rot can affect your plant if it doesn’t have good air flow or drainage. Cut any fungus infected leaves and spray it with an organic fungicide. Give your plants space to grow and plant them 2 or 3 feet apart. These plants can grow between 18 and 36 inches in height.
How to Reproduce Tarragon
It is only possible to grow tarragon by propagation or buying a plant. French tarragon barely flowers and it has sterile flowers. Only Russian tarragon can be reproduced by seeds. Tarragon flowers are tiny with a yellowish white or greenish color.
To grow tarragon you should cut about 5 to 6 inches (12-15 centimeters) off a young stem and remove the bottom third leaves. Dip the cutting in rooting hormone, however this will make your plant not be organic anymore. Place the cutting in moist potting soil. Late spring or early summer are the best times to get stem cuttings.
Another option is do a root division, which can be done late winter or early spring when the plant is dormant. Cut the root ball in half and plant the divisions directly in the ground or in a container. Be careful with the root system of this plant since it is shallow and quite sensitive, especially when weeding.
How to Grow Tarragon Indoors
It is possible to grow tarragon indoors because this herb is quite different than the rest since it does not need full sun. Tarragon seems to preform best in a diffused or lower light environment. Pick a place by kitchen window that has at least 24 inches (61 centimeters) of height of space to grow. This plant needs between six to eight hours of sunlight per day.
To grow tarragon you need a pot with good drainage. A clay pot is a good option since it allows excess moisture to evaporate. Make sure that the pot has drainage holes and is between 12 to 16 inches (31-41 centimeters) deep. Mix one part sand with three parts potting soil to increase draining.
Do not over-water your plant. Herbs that are grown indoors should always be on the dry side. Water your plant deeply, then allow it to dry out completely until the next irrigation. Provide your plant with humidity by misting it with water every few days. Feed your tarragon plant with fish fertilizer or seaweed extract every couple of months.
If your plant grows too big it is possible to move it outdoors by gradually hardening it over a period of two weeks. Take it out for a few hours per day until it gets used to being outdoors. Wait until early spring to transfer any potted tarragon outside.
Another possibility is cutting the rootball of tarragon in half and replanting the other part. Do not wait until your plant roots are over rooted before dividing them. Prune your plant to a growth node or remove entire stems to keep it to a suitable indoor height.
Varieties of Tarragon
French Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) is the variety of artemisia most used for culinary purposes. Its Latin name dracunculus means little dragon. The name is believed to have to do with the roots, which coil like sleeping snakes.
This herb has very high levels of essential oils which give it its taste and smell. It tastes quite similar to anise. This herb is one of the four “fines herbes” in French cooking, along with chives, parsley and chervil. Hollandaise and béarnaise sauces include this herb. It is also used in salads or when cooking chicken, fish, shellfish, cheese and eggs. French tarragon is also used to flavor vinegar.
Those who grow tarragon for culinary purposes should know that French tarragon is also called German tarragon. This variety does not reproduce from seeds, only from cuttings, since this plant produces sterile flowers. Cut flower buds if they appear to encourage the production of new leaves. Buy a plant in the nursery or get a cutting from a friend. Many people prefer to grow this plant as an annual and divide it every year in the spring to get the best flavors.
Russian Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus Inodora) is an easier plant to grow than the French variety. It is also a more attractive plant. However, it is less flavorful than the French variety. Light green leaves are coarser and thinner than French tarragon. This herb produces small white flowers late during summer.
You can grow Russian tarragon from seeds. Start them indoors before the last expected frost. Place a few seeds in the pot and thin them to pick the strongest one to leave in that pot or transplant them outdoors. They take between 10 to 14 days to germinate.
Mexican tarragon is a type of marigold, while French and Russian varieties are types of daisies. Leaves can be substituted for French tarragon. It is easier to grow this variety, since it can stand hot and humid summers. As well as colder climates with temperatures below 32 F (0 C).
How to Harvest Tarragon
Most people grow tarragon to use it in their kitchens, so they will be happy to know that this plant produces many leaves to pick. As a perennial, this plant can be harvested from mid spring to late summer. Just make sure to stop picking the leaves at least a month before the frosts start. The best time to harvest is late summer when the aromas and flavors are stronger. Make sure not to harvest more than one third of then plant, since over harvesting it may make it weak.
Let tarragon grow big enough for it to have stems up to 6 inches tall before harvesting. Pruning the top of your plant during the growing season will enhance its flavor and make it grow bushier.
Fresh tarragon leaves have better flavor, but they can also be dried. Keep leaves in a ziplock bag in your refrigerator for a few weeks.
To dry tarragon leaves you should tie them in loose bundles and hang them in a dry and warm place that has enough air circulation. Make sure to dry them as soon as you harvest them so they do not get discolored or moldy. It is best not to dry leaves in the oven or in a dehydrator since this will evaporate the plant’s essential oils. These dried leaves will last between one to three years.