How to grow and care for tarragon

Popular in French cuisine, tarragon has a mild anise flavour that pairs beautifully with fish and chicken. Rarely available fresh in grocery stores, growing your own is the best way to ensure you’ll have this useful herb on hand when your need it.

What you need to know about tarragon

Name: tarragon, French tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus)

Height: 40cm

Foliage: herbaceous perennial with narrow lance-shaped leaves on slender stems.

Climate: cold temperate, warm temperate, arid/semi-arid climates. Not suited to areas with high humidity.

Soil: well-drained soil.

Position: full sun to part shade.

Flowering and fruiting: N/A

Feeding: apply an organic controlled-release fertiliser in spring and autumn.

Watering: minimal watering over winter, increasing as the weather warms and the days become drier. In pots, daily watering will be required throughout summer.

Close up of lonth tarragon leaves

Appearance and characteristics of tarragon

French tarragon is an unusual leafy herb with a short growing season. Sprouting in spring, tarragon grows during the warmer months before dying down again when the cool weather arrives in mid–late autumn. Grown from cuttings in early spring, potted plants are available from mid-spring, but get in quick, as stocks are usually limited.

French tarragon’s anise flavour lends itself to fish and chicken dishes, and is also a wonderful flavour in salad vinaigrettes. The long slender stems and fine foliage is easy to use whole or chopped, and is an important component of French cuisine.

Uses for tarragon

A seasonal herb, tarragon is ideal in pots, where it can be displayed when in leaf, and protected from accidental digging when it is not. Lanky and not overly ornamental or structural in the garden, tarragon is a purely culinary herb grown for its flavour. Be sure to test the fresh herb on the tip of your tongue—if it tingles, you’ve got the real deal.

How to plant and grow tarragon

  1. Plant in full sun or part shade in a soil enriched with compost and decomposed manure.

  2. If growing in pots, choose a deep pot that will accommodate the prolific roots for several years.

Select a premium organic potting mix and position in an area with morning sun and afternoon shade. 

Caring for tarragon

Being a short-lived perennial, tarragon requires very little maintenance, however plants should be replaced every 2–3 years. 

French tarragon prefers average watering, though pots will require daily watering throughout summer. Avoid wetting the foliage, as this can lead to fungal problems. Fertilise in spring with an organic controlled-release fertiliser for herbs and other edibles.

How and when to prune tarragon

Harvest regularly to encourage new growth and to keep plants compact. At the end of the season, cut to the ground and place a stake next to your tarragon to mark the area, protecting your plants against accidental digging.

Diseases and pests

In humid areas, plants will succumb to fungal disease. Avoid overhead watering and allow adequate air-flow around plants or grow in pots. In humid areas you could also try Mexican tarragon (Tagetes lucida).

How to propagate tarragon

  1. French tarragon does not produce viable seed, so can only be propagated by tip cuttings in early spring. These should be taken every 2–3 years to replace plants and keep them productive and healthy.

  2. Take a cutting approximately 7–9cm long. Pinch your finger over the lower half of the cutting and run it downward to remove the lower leaves.

  3. Dip this cut end in root hormone or cutting gel and insert into a pot filled with cutting mix. Repeat until you have at least 4–6 cuttings.

  4. Water regularly. The cutting should be ready to be transplanted into an individual pot in 4–6 weeks.

If you like this then try

Chervil: another popular French herb and ingredient in French cooking.

Chives: a milder form of onion suited to French cuisine.

Mexican tarragon: a herb with a tarragon-like flavour, but better suited to humid areas. 

Start planting today

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