Tarragon, also known as Estragon, is a perennial herb that you may be surprised to learn is part of the Sunflower family.
There are actually two types of Tarragon. The French one is more widely available and has a stronger flavor than the Russian variety. The French variety (subspecies Sativa) is the one our advice will be centered around.
The plant has long, light green leaves and can grow to be a few feet high. Just one plant will generate a generous amount of leaves to pick.
Tarragon is native to mild European regions. It's hardy and easy to grow in a sunny or partially shaded spot in well-drained soil. It thrives in spring temperatures and doesn't do well in overly hot climates.
|Botanical Name||Artemisia dracunculus (Sativa subspecies)|
|Plant Type||Perennial herb|
|Mature Size||24 inches|
|Sun Exposure||Part Sun/Part Shade|
|Soil Type||Sandy, well-drained|
|Soil pH||Neutral (6.5 to 7.5)|
|Flower Color||Light green leaves|
|Hardiness Zones||4 and warmer|
|Native Area||Temperate Europe and Asia|
How to Grow Tarragon
Tarragon may not be the most attractive herb, but it's flavorsome, easy to grow, hardy and drought-resistant.
French Tarragon produces sterile flowers, so it can't be sown from seed in your garden. You'll need to buy a young plant or obtain a cutting from a friend or neighbor.
Planting up in early spring will help ensure the best flavor, and making sure your Tarragon doesn't get too much direct sun in hot climates is best. You'll also need to select a sandy, well-draining soil.
French Tarragon, unlike many other herbs, isn't a fan of direct sun in hot climates. Full sun is fine if you don't live somewhere too hot, but otherwise, select somewhere that will provide dappled or early morning sun only. Warm, rather than intense heat, conditions are what this plant does best with.
Tarragon doesn't like wet conditions. It's a drought-resistant herb and needs a well-drained, sandy, light soil for best growth. A rich, acidic, moist soil will result in poor growth, rotting roots and a reduced flavor.
How much you water your Tarragon will depend on the weather conditions and the maturity of the plant.
Young Tarragon will benefit from watering on alternate days if you're experiencing prolonged hot, dry spells. Mature Tarragon, however, should be fine with a light watering every few days. Check the top inch of soil before watering. If it's moist, no need to water, If it's dry, give it a drink.
These plants can cope in dry ground, and care should be taken not to overwater as this will diminish growth and flavor intensity. Although Tarragon will survive with little water, if it's left too dry, it can impact on the growth of the leaves.
Temperature and Humidity
This hardy plant is not too fussy about temperatures. It can still grow if a cold snap hits. The main thing is that Tarragon doesn't like intense heat and sun and it doesn't do well in high humidity.
In very cold conditions, you would be best to put mulch around the plant in winter to help protect the roots when it dies back and goes into dormancy.
Tarragon doesn't need fertilizer to do well. The best flavor is achieved when it's planted in low-nutrient soil. If you're going to use some, an all-purpose variety should only be applied in the initial planting stage.
French Tarragon can only be grown by propagation or by buying an established plant. This herb doesn't flower much and, when it does, the flowers are sterile. If you can get a stem cutting from an existing plant in late spring or early summer, you should have good success in propagating the plant.
For best results, select a young stem and cut a length of around five or six inches. Remove the leaves from the bottom third. The stem can then be placed in moist potting soil after being dipped in rooting hormone.
It's also possible to use root division techniques. This is best done in late fall or early spring. You could cut the root ball in half and plant the division in fresh soil in containers or directly into the ground. Because tarragon is a short-lived perennial, root division every three years helps continue your tarragon production in the garden.
Being a perennial herb, French Tarragon can be harvested up until the end of the summer (usually May through to the end of August).
You can start harvesting once the stems reach about six inches tall. By keeping the flower buds trimmed back during the peak growing season, this will help ensure that any leaves harvested will retain their best flavor, and it'll promote the most generous and bushy growth.
The leaves are best used fresh, but they also work well when dried or frozen providing they are not left for too long.
Being Grown in Containers
Tarragon can be grown in containers, but it usually only does well for around two or three years, as the serpentine roots grow quickly, and it will then need to be replanted into the ground or potted up into a larger container. Make sure the container you select is generous enough in size to accommodate the spreading roots.
You should wait until after danger of frost has passed in spring before transferring any potted Tarragon outside.
Letting the potted plants become overly root bound before dividing and replanting will diminish the flavor, so don't wait until it's too far gone.