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A How-to Guide to Growing French Tarragon

How to Grow Tarragon. – The hardest part about growing tarragon is finding the right kind! French tarragon is the true tarragon used to flavor vinegars and to impart its unique anise-like taste to eggs, fish, tomatoes, and more.

Learn how to find real french tarragon plants, how to grow french tarragon and how to care for them in your garden or indoors.

[clickToTweet tweet=”Tarragon, also known as estragon, is a species of perennial herb in the sunflower family. ” quote=”Tarragon, also known as estragon, is a species of perennial herb in the sunflower family. It is widespread in the wild across much of Eurasia and North America, and is cultivated for culinary and medicinal purposes.” theme=”style5″]

How to Grow Tarragon: How to Find, Plant and Care for French Tarragon

Pic of How to Grow Tarragon - (How to Find, Plant and Care for French Tarragon)
How to Grow Tarragon (How to Find, Plant and Care for French Tarragon)

The Quest for French Tarragon

Béarnaise sauce uses it. The French herb blend known as fines herbes has it. A soup’s bouquet garni, a bundle of (usually) fresh herbs tied together with kitchen string, often contains it. It flavors eggs, fish, turkey, and tomatoes with panache.

Entrecote with Bearnaise sauce and Vegetables. (How to Grow Tarragon)
Entrecote, Bearnaise sauce, Vegetables. (How to Grow Tarragon)

“It” is tarragon, a culinary herb prized for its pungent, anise-like flavor. So why is it so hard to find tarragon to grow? The answer lies in the nature of tarragon itself. True tarragon, the tarragon we think of when imagining that unique flavor it imparts, is known as French tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus).

There are other tarragon varieties often sold to unsuspecting gardeners as the real thing, but they are actually very different and much milder in flavor. The most common “wrong” tarragon sold to gardeners is Russian tarragon, less flavorful than French tarragon and considered a weed by many for its tendency to self-seed and spread without abandon.

The mistaken belief that all tarragons are created equal is prevalent even amongst supposedly knowledgeable heirloom seed providers. I was dismayed last year to find that one of my favorite, and highly reputable, heirloom/organic seed catalogs was selling Russian tarragon seed (Artemisia dracunculoides) as the real thing. The main trick on how to grow tarragon is finding the real thing.

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How to Tell if It’s French Tarragon

How can you tell if you are planting true, French tarragon? There are two ways to tell.

  1. French tarragon is sold by plant, not by seeds. French tarragon is nearly impossible to grow from seed, and is propagated through cuttings or by dividing plants. Look for French tarragon plants, not seeds, to put into your garden.
  2. Not only do the fresh leaves of French tarragon have a distinctive anise-like taste, they also make your tongue tingle, and impart a temporary numbing sensation in the mouth when chewed. Once you find a plant labeled French tarragon at your garden center, pinch off a leaf and bite it. The area of your tongue exposed to the cut leaf should tingle and feel a bit numbed almost immediately. If you don’t notice a strong flavor or any numbing sensation at all, it’s probably not the real thing.

The best way to procure true French tarragon for growing is to go to your locally-owned garden center. They are the most likely source for real plants. With the tips above, you should be able to avoid impostors.

French Tarragon Plants - How to Grow Tarragon
French Tarragon Plants (How to Grow Tarragon)

[clickToTweet tweet=”Did you know? – Tarragon propagates via root cuttings, rhizome sprouts and stem division.” quote=”Did you know? – Tarragon propagates via root cuttings, rhizome sprouts and stem division.” theme=”style1″]

Soil and Water Needs of French Tarragon

Tracking down a true French tarragon plant is half the battle. Tarragon itself is a woody, pretty hardy perennial that isn’t too finicky.

Soil and Water Needs of French Tarragon - How to Grow Tarragon
Soil and Water Needs of French Tarragon (How to Grow Tarragon)

Like most plants, tarragon does prefer a rich and well-drained, neutral pH soil, but it will fare well in somewhat poorer soils as well. You should incorporate 1 to 2 inches of compost into the soil before you plant your herbs.

Tarragon doesn’t like to be very wet, so don’t over water — tarragon, with its tangled bundle of web-like roots, is susceptible to root rot, and would rather be a bit dry than a bit wet. Let the soil dry out well between waterings.

French tarragon will grow up to 2 feet tall. It has a bushy habitat and will grow to 1 to 2 feet in diameter. It needs full sun to do its best and likes warm or hot weather. It does not need special fertilizer — simply plant it in a good soil and it will be happiest.

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After a few years, tarragon will become rootbound, even when planted outside a pot. French tarragon should be divided at least every 3 to 4 years to reinvigorate the plants — flavor will suffer if plants are not divided. Potted tarragon should be divided yearly to keep the roots from outgrowing the pot.

Pests, Diseases, and Overwintering

French tarragon is easy to care for, suffering few pest problems. Why is a mystery, but its anise flavor may be unpleasant to predators. French tarragon also tends to be disease free.

French tarragon can be overwintered outdoors in cold regions if care is taken. Cut the plant down to the roots after a frost and cold weather has set in — after leaves and other visible growth have turned brown — and cover it generously with mulch to protect the roots during the winter.

Alternatively, you can bring potted French tarragon indoors for winter. Try to wait until the plant appears to have died — tarragon needs a 2-month period of “dormancy” in order to rest and reinvigorate itself. Bring it in, and within a few weeks your “dead” French tarragon plant will have sprung back to life. Keep it in a sunny window.

Final Thoughts (How to Grow Tarragon)

Most of the trick on how to grow tarragon is finding real French tarragon plants and avoiding inferior impostors. Hands-on care of tarragon is actually quite worry-free, with most attention given to dividing the plants regularly to ensure their continued vigor.

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References on How to Grow Tarragon

Image Credits

  • Entrecote with bearnaise sauce and vegetables; http://www.flickr.com/photos/42912005@N07/4342067278/
  • 32-6 tarragon; https://www.flickr.com/photos/50691684@N00/280159972/
  • Pesto Basil, Rosemary, French Tarragon and Chives; https://www.flickr.com/photos/88979981@N00/3672770123/
  • Tarragon on how to grow tarragon; https://www.flickr.com/photos/jdfalk/203618280

1 comment

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  • Thank you for the wonderful information. I have lots of plants that look like tarragon none make mt tongue tingle. Now I know how to find it.

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