Tips and techniques for growing French tarragon.
Sunlight: Full sun to partial shade
Maturity: 40-60 days from transplant
Height: 12 to 24 inches
Spacing: 18 to 24 inches apart, 2 to 3 feet between rows
A member of the daisy family, French tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) is the classic herb to accompany fish and poultry dishes. The long, narrow leaves borne on upright stalks are a shiny green. Greenish or gray flowers may bloom in the fall. Aromatic plants grow 1-2 feet tall and tend to sprawl out later in the season. Perennial.
Note: Tarragon reportedly aids in digestion and when made as a tonic is said to soothe rheumatism, arthritis and toothaches.
French tarragon requires full sun to partial shade and rich, well drained soil. The plant often fails due to soil that is too wet or too acidic. It can be grown outside in gardens or in containers with good drainage in the greenhouse or on a windowsill. Learn about container gardening here.
How to Plant:
To get the right variety for cooking, buy nursery stock marked “French tarragon.” Russian tarragon — which can be grown from seed — is weedy and lacks the necessary essential oils. French tarragon is a little fussy to grow, so purchase three starts to ensure planting success. Plant each in a different location of the garden after all danger from frost has passed. Plants will die back to the root over winter, returning in spring. Space 2-3 feet between plants and mulch well with organic compost. Read more about planting and propagating herbs here.
Begin harvesting leaves 6-8 weeks after transplanting outside. Handle plants gently as they bruise easily and harvest in the morning after the dew has dried for best flavor. Tarragon is best used fresh but can be stored dry or frozen in turkey bags. To dry, tie the cuttings in small bunches and hang upside down in a well-ventilated, dark room. When completely dry, remove the leaves from all stems and keep whole for storage. The leaves will brown slightly during the process (watch How to Dry Herbs — video). Crush or grind just before use. Fresh tarragon can also be preserved in white vinegar which actually keeps the flavor better than drying.
Insects and Disease:
Tarragon is not bothered by many insect pests but is susceptible to plant diseases, such as downy mildew, powdery mildew and rhizoctonia (root rot). To help prevent these problems, plant in areas that provide good air circulation and water on bright sunny mornings to allow the leaves to dry by evening.
Seed Saving Instructions:
True tarragon produces no seeds. Divide mature plants in the spring or root tip cuttings anytime during the gardening season.