A lovely plant with subtle flavor and beautiful green leaves, tarragon is a tasteful addition to your household garden. Within the category of tarragon are three main varieties: French, Mexican, and Russian, which vary in flavor and reputation. French and Mexican are commonly thought to be the “true” varieties of this plant, while the Russian variety is often thought of as a more bitter imposter. Why not try growing all three and see if it’s true!
Russian Tarragon is sadly considered to be the less desirable variety of tarragons because of its subtle bitter flavor; however, we feel this plant still deserves its chance in the sun! This variety is extremely easy to grow as it actually prefers poor quality soil and has very low water and nutrient needs.
Space Between Plants: 1.5–2′
Space Between Rows: 1.5′
Germination Soil Temperature: 40–50°F
Days for Germination: 7–10
Sow Indoors: 2 to 3 weeks prior to average last frost.
Sow Outdoors: Following average last frost.
Vegetative: Commonly propagated by taking stem cuttings, started in either spring or fall. You can also divide the roots of mature plants or use layering techniques.
Tarragon prefers a mild climate with lots of sun and moderate summers. It will tolerate light frosts, but in climates where winter temperatures frequently drop below freezing, grow as an annual, plant in a greenhouse (or container that you can bring inside), or mulch the roots well. Expect your plant to go dormant for the duration of winter and sprout again in spring.
Natural: Full sun. Prefers partial afternoon shade in warm weather.
Artificial: Will grow well indoors under full-spectrum lamps, but expect a period of winter dormancy.
Soil: This variety of tarragon is a highly adaptable plant and will grow in all types of soil, even preferring poorer quality soils. A pH of between 6.0 and 7.5 is ideal and will keep plants healthy and nourished.
Soilless: Root cuttings in a sterile soilless mix, perlite, sand, or vermiculite. Container plants can also be grown in a soilless mix.
Hydroponics: Thrives in a variety of hydroponic systems including slab, NFT, or a continuous flow media-based system. Use perlite as your medium for its good drainage properties.
Aeroponics: Thrives in aeroponic systems.
Water: Requires low to moderate levels of water. Once established, plants are drought tolerant and watering can be decreased.
Nutrients: Requires low levels of nutrients. Increased nitrogen and organic matter will allow quicker growth.
Foliar: Will benefit from foliar feedings of compost tea or liquid seaweed applied 2 or 3 times during the growing season.
Pruning: Plants will often go dormant for the winter regardless of care, but if you cut back the dead tops and wait until spring, it’s likely that your tarragon will grow back from the roots. Every 3 or 4 years, mature plants should be dug up and divided or replaced to prevent roots from getting overcrowded.
Mulching: Use a thick layer of organic mulch, like straw or woodchips, to protect the roots of plants growing outdoors during the winter in areas that are susceptible to frost.
Companions: As a natural pest deterrent, tarragon will benefit most garden plants, especially eggplant.
Harvest: Pick stems as needed throughout the warm growing season, but don’t take more than 1/3 of the plant at a time. Pick lightly from plants in their first year to allow their roots to get established. For best results, harvest before flowers start to appear. Regular harvests will encourage new growth and branching.
Storage: Dry leaves should be kept in an airtight container and used within 3 months, or they will lose much of their flavor.
Fun Fact: While Russian Tarragon is commonly excluded from cooking because of its bitter taste, some studies have suggested that this variety may actually assist in improving athletic performance by increasing creatine retention!
Preserve: Leaves can be dried or frozen in water or oil for later use. Dry leaves in a cool place, or the flavor-creating essential oils will be lost. You can also steep fresh leaves in vinegar to create a tasty herb infused vinegar. It can also be used as a flavoring when pickling other vegetables.
Prepare: Russian Tarragon’s flavor is extremely bitter, so use sparingly when cooking. To use, remove from stalk and either chop or add directly to your dish.
Nutritional: Provides vitamin(s) A, C, and B.
Medicinal: Considered a diuretic, antifungal, and antibacterial, tarragon has also been reported to improve stomach functioning, increase appetite, and induce menstruation.
Warnings: Unless you eat 1,000 times more tarragon than the average consumer, there’s no need to worry, but tarragon does contain estragole, a known carcinogen in mice.
Try mixing this herb with a variety of other spices to make a fragrant seasoning for your veggies the next time you grill!