Growing Tarragon – Planting, Using, Harvesting Tips – French Tarragon

Tarragon is a perennial herb with an anise-licorice flavor that is often used in French cuisine. Follow these tips for growing tarragon in your kitchen herb garden.

French tarragon plant

What is tarragon?

French Tarragon, artemesia dracunulus, is also known as estragon.  It is a member of the asteraceae (sunflower) family. 

Tarragon is a type of perennial herb which means that it will come back each year without having to buy new plants.

Tarragon, along with other herbs forms the basis for many French fines herbes (normally a mixture of parsley, tarragon, chervil, and chives) which means that you will likely find it in lots of French dishes.

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Types of Tarragon

There are several varieties of tarragon but the most common one is French tarragon, a cool weather herb with a refined, almost sweet flavor. 

French tarragon is native to areas of Eurasia and North America. Since it does not produce viable seed, it does not have abundant flowers.French tarragon herb

Tarragon is most widely cultivated in France and Italy and is often called for as an ingredient in French recipes.

Other varieties of tarragon that you are likely to find are:

  • Mexican tarragon – tagetes lucida – Also known as Texas tarragon and mint marigold, it can survive in hot, dry locations. Native to Mexico and Central America. More readily available than the French variety.
  • Russian tarragon – artemisia dracunculoides pursch  is more robust and less flavorful variety than French tarragon. (Also more likely to have abundant flowers.) It is native to Siberia.

Russian tarragon is also known as wild tarragon. It can grow up to five feet tall.

All three varieties of tarragon share the same rich, anise flavor that we have come to love. But for cooking purposes, you cannot beat the flavor of French tarragon. Russian tarragon is much more bitter and Mexican tarragon is much stronger.

If you like the taste of licorice, you will love using French Tarragon. Find out how to grow this delicate herb on The Gardening Cook. 🌿🌿🌿 Click To Tweet

What does French tarragon taste like?

The taste of tarragon is sweet and light. It has a tinge of anise/licorice flavoring as well as that of citrus. The flavor of tarragon works well in a wide range of recipes.Bottle of dried tarragon

Having a plant of fresh tarragon is a good idea for anyone who loves to cook. Dried tarragon loses some of the aromatics and this means that it also loses a lot of the flavor.

Using tarragon in recipes

Tarragon gives a subtle sweet and savory aroma to many dishes. It is used in recipes from soups and stews, to flavoring for chicken, fish and game.

Tuna with a tarragon butter sauce

The delicate flavor of tarragon makes it a stunning ingredient in many sauces, with bearnaise sauce being the most well known version.

The anise flavor of tarragon pairs will with carrots and tomatoes. Using it over summer salads or grilled veggies will add a lovely dimension of flavor.

Tarragon sprigs combined with apple cider vinegar or white distilled vinegar will give you a wonderful herb flavored vinegar in just weeks that can be used as a salad dressing.Bottle of tarragon vinegar

All types of tarragon, even the more bitter Russian tarragon can be used as a flavoring in making tarragon butter and tarragon mayo.

Tarragon is often combined with dill and parsley. If you combine tarragon with other herbs, use it sparingly so that the distinctive anise-like flavor is not too dominant.

Tips for Growing Tarragon

If you are a lover of French cuisine, you will want a plant of two of tarragon growing in your herb garden. Here are some growing tips for tarragon.

Soil needs for Tarragon

Ideal soil PH range is 6.0 – 7.3. Tarragon grows well in sandy soil that are light in nutrients.

Like most herbs, tarragon does best with well draining soil. If the soil does not drain well, the roots can easily rot.

Adding compost or other organic matter to the soil will aid with drainage and eliminate the need for fertilizing.

Size of Tarragon Plants

French tarragon plants will grow to a height of 18-24 inches and 15 inches wide. The plant is a hardy perennial. Russian varieties will be larger and more hardy.

Tarragon plants have strong, woody roots that form runners under the ground. The growth habit is bushy with branching stems that have narrow 2 inch leaves all along the stems.Tarragon leaves

If you have multiple plants, space them 12 inches apart.

Sunlight and Moisture Conditions for growing Tarragon

Most herbs enjoy ample sunlight but tarragon is a herb that will grow in full sunlight and will also tolerate partial shade. For this reason, many people enjoy growing tarragon and an indoor plant.

Check out this post for a list of more herbs to grow indoors.

Tarragon plant in the sunlight

French tarragon will thank you if you give it some shelter from the afternoon sun in you live in a hot climate.

If your climate is hot and humid, tarragon will grow better in a hanging basket, where it will drain well and have good air circulation.

Flowers and leaves of Tarragon

The flowers of the French tarragon herb are yellow-greenish and inconspicuous. For the most vigorous plants and those with the best flavor, prune away flower stems each year as they develop.

Flowers of French tarragon will not produce viable seed.

sprigs of tarragon with flower buds

Tarragon leaves are long and slim and branched.  To me, an immature tarragon plant looks similar to young rosemary and summer savory plants.

I often check the plant tag to discover the savory identification and am disappointed on my search for tarragon.

If you, too, mis-identify herbs, be sure to check out my herb identification page for images and names of common herbs.

More Suggestions for Tarragon Plants

Once you have the sunlight needs and watering down pat, there is more to learn about the growing of French Tarragon.

These tips will help you learn about the hardiness, propagation and harvesting of tarragon as well as diseases that may bother it. French tarragon in a pot and leaves of fresh tarragon

Hardiness Zones for growing tarragon

French tarragon does best in cold hardiness zones 4b-8. (reliably hardy to zone 5) The rhizomatous roots are not completely resistant to severe cold.

The plant does best in regions where the winters are mild and the summers are neither too hot or too wet.

Roots of tarragon are more easily damaged in the winter in damp areas that in those that are more dry.

In colder areas, coarse sand over the plant crowns after pruning can protect against killing frost.

Pest and Diseases

Tarragon is generally free from most common pests and diseases. Powdery mildew and root rot can sometimes occur. If either happens, increase air circulation.

Propagation of Tarragon

French tarragon cannot be grown from seed.  To get new plants, take cuttings from new growth in the fall. You will need to overwinter the young plants indoors until spring.

A rooting hormone powder will help in the development of roots. 

To propagate tarragon, take a 4-8 inch cutting of the stem of a French tarragon plant.  Make the cut just below a node and remove the lower third of the leaves.tarragon cutting, plant pot and some rooting powder

Dip the cutting into the rooting hormone and then plant it in moist potting soil. Be sure to keep the small cutting misted so that the thin leaves do not dry out. 

Other ways to get plants from free, is to divide mature plants in the spring. Dividing plants be done every three years or so.

Harvesting Tarragon

Clip the foliage of tarragon plants as needed all summer long for recipes. Fresh foliage will last for several weeks if you wrap it in a paper towel inside a plastic bag in the fridge.herbs wrapped in paper towels

You can also freeze tarragon. Place whole sprigs of tarragon in an airtight zip lock bag and freeze.  Use within 3-5 months.

This post gives other ideas to preserve herbs to use over the winter months.

Substitutes for French Tarragon

In warm climates, you are more likely to find Mexican or Texas tarragon than French tarragon.  It has a similar anise-like flavor and you can substitute it for French tarragon which will often wither in the heat of southern gardens and is harder to find. 

Mexican tarragon has a stronger flavor, however so go a bit more lightly on amounts when you use it in place of French tarragon.

Other replacements for French tarragon but without the anise flavor are equal amounts of fresh fennel leaves or fresh chervil.  Small amounts of fennel seeds also make a good substitute. 

A pinch of anise seed will give the recipe the traditional licorice flavor that tarragon delivers.

Tarragon Plants for Sale

Trying to find a fresh tarragon herb for sale in normal retail outlets can be a challenge. I look for it each year when I start growing herbs and it’s not readily available at the big box retailers in our area.

The reason for this is that French tarragon does not produce seeds that will give you true to parent plants, so plants that you find may actually be Mexican or (the bitter) Russian tarragon.

If you do find genuine French tarragon plants for sale, they will likely be expensive compared to normal herbs since they must be grown from cuttings.


Mexican tarragon will grow from seed but has a stronger flavor than French tarragon. Check out your local nursery or Farmer’s market. They may have Mexican tarragon for sale. It is often labeled Texas tarragon.

If a friend has a French tarragon plant, ask if you can take a cutting to grow your own plant.

Mountain Valley Growers has French Tarragon for sale.

I have seen some online sellers who advertise French Tarragon seeds for sale. Be careful of this type of deceptive advertising. 

Pin this post on growing Tarragon for later

Would you like a reminder of this post with growing tips for tarragon?  Just pin this image to one of your Pinterest gardening boards, so that you can easily find it later.

Tarragon plant tips for growing overlay

Print out the growing tips for tarragon in the project card below and store it in your gardening journal.

Yield: 1 tarragon plant

How to Grow Tarragon

Growing tarragon is relatively easy. The hard part is finding it for sale, since French tarragon doesn't grow from seed.

Active Time 30 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Difficulty moderate

Materials

  • 1 French tarragon plant 
  • Well draining soil

Tools

  • Watering can or hose

Instructions

  1. Choose a healthy plant with a good root system.
  2. Plant in well draining soil.
  3. Be sure the plant has good air circulation.
  4. Multiple plants should be spaced 12 inches apart.
  5. Water well.
  6. Harvest tarragon leaves throughout the spring and summer as needed.
  7. Entire sprigs can be harvested in fall and frozen for 3-5 months.
  8. Propagate from stem cuttings in fall, or root divisions in spring every 3-4 years.
  9. French Tarragon Plants do not produce viable seeds.
  10. Cold Hardy in zones 4b-8.
  11. Cover with coarse sand over the crown in cold weather to protect the roots from frost.

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