How to Grow Tarragon (Estragon)

This perennial herb is a popular in French cuisine

Fresh Tarragon in a herb garden

mrybski / Getty Images

Tarragon, also known as Estragon, is a perennial herb that you may be surprised to learn is part of the Sunflower family. It's a popular aromatic flavoring, especially in French cuisine. With hints of aniseed and vanilla, it goes particularly well with eggs, chicken and fish.

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)
Common Name Estragon
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)
Bloom Time Summer
Flower Color Light green leaves
Hardiness Zones 4 and above
Native Area Temperate Europe and Asia
Potted Tarragon on a patio from above
Tarragon can be grown in pots easily too. Liz Whitaker / Getty Images
Tarragon hanging to dry alongside other herbs
Tarragon hanging to dry alongside other herbs. Albina Yalunina / Getty Images

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.

Light

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.

Soil

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.

Water

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.

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.

Fertilizer

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.

Propagating Tarragon

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 see good success.

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 winter. You could cut the root ball in half and plant the division in fresh soil in containers or directly into the ground.

Harvesting

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 just need to make sure you stop picking leaves at least a month before the first frosts are due to arrive.

You can start harvesting once the stems reach about six inches tall. By keeping the top of the plant 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, 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. Make sure the container you select is generous enough in size to accommodate the spreading roots.

You should wait until early 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 want until its too far gone.