How to Grow French Tarragon: Simple Steps for Thriving Herbs

With its long, light green leaves, and tiny greenish flowers, tarragon is an attractive addition to any herb garden. It is a popular choice among chefs due to the unique, rich anise flavor this herb adds to various dishes. While growing tarragon is easy, getting started is a little different than most herbs. In this guide let us walk you through, step-by-step, how to grow French tarragon so you easily can grow this plant in your garden.

French Tarragon Cuttings on wooden board

Tarragon, also known as Estragon, is a perennial herb that belongs to the Sunflower family. There are two types of tarragon commonly available: French and Russian. Hand down, French tarragon is the preferred variety for cooking due to its robust flavor. And that’s the variety we are going to discuss how to grow in this guide.

Russian tarragon, on the other hand, is a hardier plant but offers a less pronounced flavor. If you are looking for the intense licorice flavor of this delightful herb you are wasting your time with Russian tarragon.

Benefits and Uses for Tarragon

French tarragon is an aromatic perennial herb with a distinctive licorice or anise flavor, which can bring a unique taste to your culinary creations. In addition to its culinary uses, tarragon also offers several health benefits that you might not be aware of.

  • Tarragon is a versatile herb in the kitchen. It is the mainstay in French cuisine and pairs well with chicken, fish, and vegetables.
  • As a flavor in vinegars or delicious sauces, tarragon gives your dishes an extra layer of taste that will surely impress your guests.
  • Tarragon has a variety of health benefits since it contains beneficial vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

In addition to the anise flavor tarragon adds to foods, it also carries a light scent of anise which can make a meal smell heavenly.

Guide to growing french tarragon with photo of plant on left and tips listed on the right

Getting Started Growing French Tarragon

Tarragon is a flavorful herb that can be grown with relative ease in your home garden. This section will guide you through two different methods for getting started with propagating tarragon: growing from cuttings and growing from root divisions.

Note about Tarragon Seeds

If you find tarragon seeds for sale, they are most likely from Russian Tarragon. True French Tarragon produces few seeds and most of those are sterile. I think you will be disappointed in the results.

How to Grow French Tarragon from Cuttings: Step by Step

The most important step of starting this herb from cuttings is to be certain the plant you clip is French Tarragon. You can usually bite into a couple of leaves to quickly determine if it has a strong anise flavor. Once you’ve confirmed, then follow these steps:

  1. Choose a healthy tarragon plant: Look for a plant with robust growth and no signs of disease or pests.
  2. Take a cutting: Using a sharp, clean pair of scissors, snip off a 6-inch stem cutting from the parent plant. Be sure to choose a stem without flowers, as this will encourage better root growth. Don’t cut more than 1/3 of the stem so the mother plant stays healthy.
  3. Prepare the cutting: Remove the leaves from the lower half of the stem cutting to prevent rot.
  4. Root the cutting: Dip the cut end in rooting hormone and plant it in a container with moist soil or a seed-starting mix. Alternately you can root the stem in water, although for this particular plant I recommend using the first method which seems to give faster results.
  5. Monitor the cutting: Keep an eye on your cutting’s progress, and within a month, you should notice roots sprouting from the bottom of the stem.
  6. Transplant the cutting: Once your cutting has developed a sufficient root system, transplant the cuttings into individual 4-inch pots
  7. Move to the garden once roots are well established and your plant has healthy new leaf growth. Make sure you have suitable soil and plenty of sunlight.

By growing tarragon from cuttings, you can extensively expand your harvest of this delicious herb.

cutting of tarragon on white background

How to Grow French Tarragon from Root Divisions: Step by Step

Propagating tarragon from root divisions is the most successful and quickest way to grow new plants. The downside is that you are limited to creating 3 to 4 new plants every 2 to 3 years. Here are the steps to take:

  1. Identify mature tarragon plants: Choose a healthy, mature tarragon plant that’s 2-3 years old and shows good growth. The best time for dividing tarragon is during the early spring or fall.
  2. Dig up the plant: Carefully dig up the tarragon plant using a garden fork or spade. Tarragon has a shallow root so dig a wide circle to get as much of the roots as possible.
  3. Divide the plant: Gently separate the plant’s root ball into 3 to 4 smaller sections, each having an equal amount of roots and shoot growth.
  4. Prepare soil and planting site: Loosen the soil in the planting area and amend it with compost to improve its texture and fertility. Tarragon thrives in loamy soil with a pH level between 6.3 and 7.5.
  5. Plant divisions: Plant each root division in the prepared soil, spacing them at least 12 inches apart. Cover the roots with soil, with the crown of the plant at the same soil level as the parent plant. Water the planting site thoroughly.
  6. Maintain the new plants: Keep an eye out for any signs of stress or disease as your new divisions establish themselves. Ensure they receive appropriate water, sunlight, and occasional fertilizer to help them grow strong and healthy.

Now you’re well on your way to growing tarragon successfully in your garden. Once established, these plants will provide a bountiful supply of flavorful leaves for your cooking.

Nursery Plants

It’s usually easy to find high-quality French Tarragon at your local nursery. These gorgeous plants will save you a lot of time and effort in growing tarragon. Just double-check the label to ensure it says French Tarragon.

Large French tarragon plant in the garden

Where to Plant Tarragon

Sunlight Requirements for Growing Tarragon

Tarragon is most successful in locations with plenty of sunlight. However, this herb doesn’t like extreme heat, so in southern climates plant in a location with only morning sun or filtered afternoon light to keep temperatures in check. Tarragon will tolerate light shade as long as it is a bright location making it easier for home gardeners to grow.

Soil Selection and Preparation

To successfully grow tarragon, you’ll need well-drained soil with a pH level between 6.3 and 7.5. If your soil is heavy and clayey, add organic matter to improve its drainage and texture. For sandy soil, adding compost can help create more favorable conditions. Tarragon benefits from good drainage and organic matter in the soil.

Planting Tarragon

The best time to plant tarragon is during early spring after the danger of frost has passed. When planting, space the transplants about 2-3 feet apart to allow for proper growth.

Growing Tarragon in Pots

Tarragon is the perfect herb to grow in large containers on your patio or deck. That’s because plants grown in pots usually have better drainage when quality potting soil mixes are used. And because tarragon can tolerate light shade, it also grows well in kitchen window gardens where you can snip off leaves as needed. Just be prepared for it to grow a little tall.

Herbs to Plant with Tarragon

Other plants in the garden love tarragon as it tends to repel most pests. In your herb beds, sage, chives, lemon balm, parsley and rosemary thrive under similar growing conditions, making great companion plants to tarragon.

Caring for French Tarragon

Watering and Fertilizing Tarragon

Other than monitoring water needs, tarragon requires little attention once plants are established. Tarragon is tolerant and can withstand occasional periods of drought. However, to ensure healthy growth, it’s important to water the plant regularly. Be mindful not to over-water, as this can lead to root rot or other issues.

If you’ve prepared the soil well with compost and other organic matter, additional fertilizer may not be necessary. However, if your soil is lacking in nutrients, you can use a balanced fertilizer as needed.

Weeds can be a problem for tarragon. Tarragon is shallow-rooted and weeds will compete for the moisture and nutrients this herb needs. Mulch around the base of the plant to help retain moisture and suppress weeds.

garden slug on white background

Common Pests

Insects are rarely a problem on Tarragon. Occasionally slugs and snails will appear. You will want to use organic methods to dispose of slugs or hand-pick them off the plants.

Disease Management

Root rot is a common issue in tarragon plants that are grown in heavy, poorly drained soil. The best way to prevent root rot is to plant in well-draining soils. Monitor the plant’s watering needs closely, being careful not to overwater.

Dried tarragon in wooden bowl with springs of fresh tarragon next to it

Harvesting and Storing French Tarragon

To harvest tarragon, you’ll want to start by trimming your plant when it’s at its most flavorful, which is usually just before it begins to flower. This typically occurs during the summer months. Use clean, sharp scissors to cut the stems about 6 inches from the plant’s base. Take care not to remove more than one-third of the plant at a time. This will help promote new growth,

When harvesting, focus on collecting the fresh leaves, as these have the strongest anise flavor. Be gentle to avoid bruising the fragile foliage.

Storing French Tarragon

Tarragon is a herb that is best used fresh. That’s why many cooks move a small plant to their kitchen window for the winter. However, if keeping a live plant doesn’t work in your life or you have an abundance of tarragon you can preserve it in these ways:

Freezing French Tarragon

Freezing tarragon is the best way to preserve the anise flavor. You will find that once frozen the flavor isn’t as strong as fresh, so use extra leaves in your cooking. It’s very simple to freeze:

  1. Spread leaves out on a baking sheet.
  2. Place baking sheet in the freezer for 3 to 4 hours.
  3. Transfer the leaves to freezer bags. Make sure you squeeze out all of the air.
  4. And then return the bags to the freezer.

Don’t forget to label and date the bags. I’ve made that mistake more than once and it can be hard to figure out which herb is which when peering into the deep freezer.

Drying Tarragon

Drying tarragon is your choice of last resort. Although not ideal for retaining tarragon’s flavor, the leaves you dry yourself are far superior in flavor to the stuff you buy in the grocery. With tarragon, I recommend that you do not use the traditional method of hanging in bunches to dry. That method seems to overdry this herb, losing more of the flavor. Instead, use this flat lying method:

  1. Remove the leaves from the stem, they pop right off if you strip them in the opposite direction from their growth.
  2. Chop the leaves into 1/4 inch pieces.
  3. Lay the leaves out flat on either a screen or a lint-free towel and place them in a dark cool location.
  4. Tarragon dries quickly so don’t allow it to over dry. That’s when it loses the most flavor. Usually, 2-3 days of drying time is adequate.
  5. Store the dried tarragon in an airtight container, preferably in a dark place to preserve its flavor.

By using these techniques for harvesting, drying, and freezing tarragon, you’ll have a constant supply of this licorice-flavored herb to enhance your culinary creations.

Tarragon Lemonade in tall clear glasses
Refreshing Tarragon Lemonade

Using Tarragon in Cooking

French Tarragon’s Flavor Profile

With its light green leaves and aroma reminiscent of licorice, Tarragon adds a touch of finesse to your cooking. As a gardener, growing tarragon in your own herb garden ensures you have easy access to this flavor at its freshest.

French Tarragon in Savory Dishes

Don’t be afraid to experiment in your kitchen – tarragon works well with other herbs like chives and oregano.

  • Chicken: Enhance the flavor of your roasted or grilled chicken by adding a sprinkle of fresh tarragon to the seasoning.
  • Eggplant: Tarragon pairs beautifully with eggplant in gratins and stir-fries.
  • Fish: Complement the delicate taste of fish with a tarragon-infused marinade.
  • Potatoes: Elevate everyday roasted or mashed potatoes with the addition of chopped tarragon.

French Tarragon in Sauces and Dressings

Tarragon truly shines in sauces and dressings, adding an extra layer of depth and complexity. Some classic examples include:

  • B√©arnaise sauce: This luxurious French sauce, made with eggs, butter, and tarragon, is a classic accompaniment to steak and other meats.
  • Tarragon vinegar: Infuse vinegar with tarragon for a versatile condiment that can be used in salad dressings, marinades, and more.
  • Herb butter: Combine softened butter with tarragon and other herbs for a delicious spread or topping for cooked meats and vegetables.

Frequently Asked Questions about French Tarragon

Does tarragon come back yearly?

Yes, tarragon is a perennial herb, meaning it comes back yearly if properly cared for. It can die back during winter, but will typically start growing again in the spring.

Best place to grow tarragon?

Choose a well-draining spot in your garden with loamy soil that is rich in compost and has a pH level between 6.3 and 7.5. If you have heavy clay soil, consider adding sand and well-rotted manure to improve drainage. For sandy soil, adding compost can help improve its texture.

Is tarragon hard to grow?

Growing tarragon is surprisingly simple and requires very little care. By providing the right soil, location, and watering to your tarragon plants, they should thrive without much hassle.

How tall does tarragon grow?

Tarragon can grow to be anywhere from 2 to 4 feet tall, depending on the growing conditions and the variety of the plant. French tarragon, which is the preferred culinary type, tends to be a bit smaller, while Russian tarragon can grow larger but offers a less robust flavor.

This guide sharing how to grow French tarragon has armed you with the necessary knowledge and practical steps to successfully cultivate this aromatic herb in your own garden. We’ve covered everything from propagating to pest control. Now, you’re well-equipped to overcome common challenges faced by gardeners. Your herb garden is sure to be the envy of fellow garden enthusiasts.

Check out this guide to growing tarragon in your herb garden.
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