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French Tarragon Plant Care: Tips For Growing French Tarragon

The “chef’s best friend” or at the very least an essential herb in French cuisine, French tarragon plants (Artemisia dracunculus ‘Sativa’) are sinfully aromatic with a scent redolent of sweet anise and flavor akin to that of licorice. The plants grow to a height of 24 to 36 inches and spread across 12 to 15 inches apart.

Although not classified as a different species, French tarragon herbs should not be confused with Russian tarragon, which has a less intense flavor. This tarragon herb is more likely to be encountered by the home gardener when propagated by seed, while French tarragon herbs are entirely propagated via vegetation. True French tarragon may also be found under the more obscure names of ‘Dragon Sagewort,’ ‘Estragon’ or ‘German Tarragon.’

How to Grow French Tarragon

Growing French tarragon plants will flourish when planted in dry, well-aerated soils with a neutral pH of 6.5 to 7.5, although the herbs will do well in a slightly more acidic medium as well.

Prior to planting French tarragon herbs, prepare the soil by mixing in 1 to 2 inches of well-composted organics or ½ tablespoon of an all-purpose fertilizer (16-16-8) per square foot. Adding organic matter not only feeds the French tarragon plants but will also aid in aerating the soil and improve water drainage. Work the organic nutrients or fertilizer into the top 6 to 8 inches of the soil.

As mentioned, French tarragon is propagated vegetatively via stem cuttings or root division. The reason for this is that French tarragon herbs rarely flower, and thus, have limited seed production. When propagating from root division, French tarragon plant care is required lest you damage the delicate roots. Use a knife instead of a hoe or shovel to gently separate roots and collect the new herb plant. Divide the herb in spring just as the new shoots are breaking ground. You should be able to collect three to five new transplants from the parent French tarragon plant.

Propagation may also occur by taking cuttings from young stems early in the morning. Cut a 4- to 8-inch amount of stem from just below a node and then remove the lower one-third of the leaves. Dip the cut end into rooting hormone and then plant in warm, moist potting soil. Keep the new baby herb consistently misted. Once the roots form on your new tarragon plant, it may be transplanted into the garden in the spring after the danger of frost has passed. Plant the new French tarragon plants 24 inches apart.

Either way you are propagating French tarragon, the plants prefer full sun exposure and warm but not hot temps. Temperatures over 90 F. (32 C.) may require coverage or partial shading of the herb.

French tarragon plants may be grown as either annuals or perennials, depending on your climate and are winter hardy to USDA zone 4. If you are growing French tarragon in a chillier clime, cover the plant with a light mulch during the winter months.

French Tarragon Plant Care

Growing French tarragon plants don’t tolerate wet or overly saturated soil conditions, so watch out for over-watering or situating in locations known for standing water. Water about once a week and allow the soil to dry between watering.

Mulch around the base of the plant to keep the moisture near the surface of your herb and to discourage root rot, otherwise French tarragon is fairly disease and pest resistant.

There is very little need to fertilize French tarragon, and as with most herbs, French tarragon’s flavor only intensifies in nutrient deficient soils. Just fertilize at the time of planting and then let it go.

French tarragon may be pruned and pinched to maintain its shape. Divide the plants in the spring to retain the health of the herb and replant every two to three years.

Once established, prepare to enjoy French tarragon fresh or dry in everything to fish recipes, egg dishes, and butter compounds or even to flavor vinegars. Bon Appétit!

Growing Tarragon – How to Grow Tarragon

How to Grow Tarragon – A Guide to Growing Tarragon

Tarragon is widely used in French cuisine but is less well known in the UK. Tarragon vinegar and the fresh herb are vital for an authentic Sauce Bearnaise. It’s often used in chicken dishes and egg dishes. Tarragon is a perennial related to Wormwood.

There are two varieties – French Tarragon with it’s fine flavour and Russian Tarragon which is considered to be far inferior.

French Tarragon rarely, if ever, sets seed that comes true so is always propagated by root division or cuttings. Russian Tarragon can be grown from seed.

Growing Tarragon

Tarragon can be grown in pots but you’ll need a fairly large one as it reaches 120cm high. The advantage of growing in pots is that the plant can be moved into the shelter of a cool greenhouse in the winter.

If growing in the soil, ensure it is well drained. In heavy soils break up the base of the planting hole with a fork and add some gravel or sharp sand to keep it open. In the winter, cut the plant down low and mulch heavily with straw or leafmould to keep the frost away,

Tarragon is easily propagated from cuttings or root division, so you should only need to buy one plant. Propagate new plants from your existing plantevery third year. Pot grown tarragon will have become pot bound and straggly after three years or so.

Harvesting Tarragon

  • Harvest the leaves March–October.
  • Pick the leaves as and when required.

Pests and Problems with Tarragon

Tarragon is generally trouble-free. Note that it needs frost protection in cold years as mentioned above.

Varieties of Tarragon

There are two types – French and Russian. The French is considered to have a much better flavour than the Russian. French Tarragon is only purchased as a plant as the seeds revert to Russian type.

Eating & Storing Tarragon

Drying tarragon is possible but it tends to lose a lot of the subtle flavour and is not recommended. You can freeze tarragon, which is preferred to drying.

Tarragon vinegar is probably the best way to save the flavour for out of season use. The vinegar can be used direct on salads or in making salad dressings, mayonnaise or mustards.

You can also make tarragon flavoured butter which then imparts the flavour to steaks and other meat dishes. Chop finely and mash into soft butter. Re-form into pats and firm in the fridge. The tarragon butter can be frozen for long term storage.

Further Information on Tarragon

Recipes Using Tarragon

  • Tarragon from the Allotment Shop

Mexican Tarragon

Mexican tarragon (Tagetes lucida) is a great perennial herb for Florida gardeners. With a flavor similar to traditional French tarragon, but a better tolerance for drought, heat, and humidity, Mexican tarragon is a winner in the Southern herb garden.

While better-known French tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) is notoriously difficult to grow in warm climates, Mexican tarragon—native to the Southwest US and Mexico—tolerates the heat and humidity of Florida’s summers. Its anise-like flavor is very similar to its French cousin, and the bright flowers are a delight in fall. Add to all these great qualities the fact that Mexican tarragon is easy to care for, and you have an herb garden winner.

Characteristics

Mexican tarragon, also called mint marigold or Mexican marigold, has bright green narrow leaves and small golden-yellow flowers and is beautiful in herb gardens or mixed in with annual and perennial plants. This semi-woody herb forms a small, upright bush that grows to be 2 to 3 feet tall.

The leaves have a complex flavor and fragrance with a mild likeness to anise/tarragon, coupled with notes of mint, cinnamon, and a touch of sweetness. The flowers can be used to brighten up salads. Use the flavorful leaves fresh; drying and excessive heat cause them to lose flavor, so as with most herbs, add them to hot dishes at the end of cooking. For long term storage Mexican tarragon does best when frozen or stored in vinegar. Beyond using it as a tarragon substitute you can use the fresh leaves to flavor drinks or make herbal teas; the Aztec people used it in cocoa drinks.

Both Mexican tarragon and French tarragon belong to the plant family Asteraceae. Some individuals develop contact dermatitis when handling certain plants in this family, so use caution with Mexican tarragon if you have this sensitivity.

Planting and Care

Plant Mexican tarragon in full sun using small plants or seeds planted at a very shallow depth. The seeds take about two weeks to germinate, so don’t fear if you don’t see plants popping up right away. While it is drought tolerant once established, it will grow best with occasional irrigation. Used as an annual in cooler climates, Florida gardeners are lucky enough to enjoy Mexican tarragon year-round. A hard freeze will kill it to the ground, but the plant usually recovers in the spring.

Like many herbs, this plant will need very little attention. Just be sure you aren’t clipping too much off for your culinary creations and Mexican tarragon will reward you with fresh flavorful leaves for quite a while.

Also on Gardening Solutions

  • Herbs in the Florida Garden

Gardening How-to Articles

Learn to How to Create a Potager: A French Kitchen Garden

By Louisa Jones | March 2, 1998

In the French kitchen garden or potager, gardeners have intermingled vegetables, fruits, flowers, and herbs since medieval times. For the French, the potager has always been the country counterpart of the grand chateaux parterres. Potagers are more popular than ever in France; a government survey taken in 1994 revealed that 23 percent of the fruit and vegetables consumed by the French are home-grown.

In France today, potager design is typically informal, or romantic. Often called the jardin de curé, or country curate’s garden, this intimate and sensual style is comparable to that of the English cottage garden, except that it is centered on vegetables rather than flowers. Its inspiration is a complicity with nature rather than a desire to impose order, and this fashion has been fed by the growing influence of organic gardening in France over the last twenty years.

Organic kitchen gardeners are great promoters of biodiversity, and many heirloom vegetable varieties have been saved by their efforts. They also create gardens where local fauna, including birds, insects, and even reptiles feel at home. Their gardens are often called “natural” because of their informal exuberance and spontaneity. The danger is that, as in Emerson’s bean patch, respect for all comers means the weeds will eventually smother the vegetables! Each gardener must find his or her own balance with the rest of nature.

Planning a potager

Here are some suggestions that will help you create a kitchen garden in the French potager style outside your own back door.

  • Consider how the site chosen fits into the surrounding landscape. Think about the effects of wind and hours of sunshine, but also consider the overall setting: Will it be a harmonious part of a larger picture, or completely set off by hedges or walls? Vantage point is an important design consideration, so think about where you will see the garden from most often.
  • Next, consider the overall design. This will depend primarily on how you plan to cultivate the garden—by hand or by machine (and what kind of machine), which will determine not only the garden’s shape but also how wide the paths need to be. Any pattern is possible—spiral, checkerboard, wagon wheel, cubist. As the season progresses and plants grow, the outlines of your beds will evolve. In the informal country style, there is rarely bare earth or much space between rows; the beds are quickly filled in with companion plants, mulch, green manures, or self-sown volunteers.
  • A good design includes vertical accents. These can be temporary (a stand of corn, tomato towers, bean tepees, a single angelica plant), or permanent (berry bushes, a small apple cordon). Hedges and walls are also permanent, of course, and can themselves provide food or support for food-bearing plants.
  • Potagers are essentially tapestries of myriad colors and shapes. The intermingling of herbs, flowers, and fruits with vegetables requires careful placement of perennials so that they do not interfere with the growth of seasonal crops. Small fruit trees traditionally stand at the edge of the potager, along paths and walls, with strawberries, annual herbs, or flowers planted at their feet. Aggressive herbs like mint or tansy must be contained. All the annuals mix well with vegetables, and may even serve as beneficial companion plants—for example, planting coriander among carrots, said to deter the carrot fly.

Maintaining the potager year-round

Harvesting vegetables without destroying planting patterns is a challenge in a formal potager but less so in the romantic variety, with its more luxuriant growth. Two techniques can help:

  • Edge plots with contrasting plants, including herbs and flowers, which will mask bare spots as the season progresses. Choose varieties in keeping with the scale of the garden. Keep free-ranging perennials in bounds with buried strips of metal or plastic.
  • After harvesting, use fast fillers such as chervil or cut-and-come-again salad greens. Many of the latter self-sow and can be moved easily to fill gaps when required. Fast-growing green manures are ideal: both mustard (Brassica) and phacelia (Phacelia tanacetifolia) are great favorites in France, both being tough as well as beautiful in flower.

With a bit of effort, your potager can be as pleasing as this small Provençal plot described by novelist Henri Bosco, which “nestled under the terrace, sheltered by high, warm walls but open onto the valley full of brown and blue summits, offered to the rosebushes, the tulips, and even to the stray weeds a well of warm air which smelled all at once of fruit trees, hawthorn, and hyssop. Birds twittered among the plums…Nothing was more charming than this garden. It existed in this tiny sheltered bit of land which had trusted itself to man, under the large benevolent house—just big enough for a soul without worldly ambition, or possessing the genius of retirement.”

Fast Fillers for the Potager

Plants for Edging Beds and Paths

Self-Sowers for the French Kitchen Garden

Louisa Jones is a Canadian-born writer who has lived and gardened in Provence, France, since 1975. She is the author of Gardens of Provence; Provence: A Country Almanac; Art of French Vegetable Gardening, and The World of French Vegetable Gardens.

Paris

Although France is known for its wine, vintners in Paris are few and far between. That’s because until recently, France restricted planting and commercialization to certain regions—Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne and the like. The area in and around the capital was not among them.

That hasn’t stopped people from planting vines near Paris, but these wines are mostly made in small batches for personal consumption or other non-commercial purposes. The most famous Parisian vineyard, Clos Montmarte, is tucked between apartment buildings near one of Montmartre’s busiest streets—it auctions its bottles for charity at a harvest festival every year.

Now, the deregulation of France’s strict planting rules means that many previously unconventional plantations may become mainstream. On Jan. 1, the European Union deregulated winemaking, allowing commercial growers to plant vines just about anywhere. This probably won’t make Paris the next winemaking hub, but it does mean that vines can be planted across the country with a lot less red tape.

Jean-Christophe Bersan, a winemaker in Burgundy, says it’s just what France needs. “It’s going to increase the size of France’s vineyards, have a positive impact on the economy, and widen the selection of lower-priced wines,” Bersan, producer at Domaine Bersan, told Quartz.

Now, for example, vintners in areas such as Picardy and Île-de-France (which contains Paris) can legally grow, bottle, and sell wine commercially. Still, the expansion will be gradual. Any increase in the number of vines will be restricted to 1% of the total existing vineyard area every year, or about 8,000 hectares (20,000 acres).

Some worry that the expansion could hurt the quality of French wine overall.

“Terroir, the quality of the earth, exposure to the sun—they will count for nothing,” Pascal Perrot, mayor of the Champagne village of Vertus, told the BBC last month. “Anyone will be able to make pseudo-champagne, either here or anywhere else.” In France, terroir is the complete natural environment—the soil, the climate—that influences the development and character of a particular wine.

For his part, Bersan in Burgundy thinks there is plenty of scope to expand vineyards and still produce good wines:

If vines have been here for 2,000 years, there’s a reason. There is a decent amount of interesting terroir that isn’t yet planted. In the Languedoc, there are amazing terroirs. There’s enormous potential if we plant more there.

Wine without an appellation—that is, wine grown outside of the usual territories—is positive for the industry and represents an opportunity for growth, he added. “This will bring new energy and employment,” he said. What’s more, “it’s better to plant in the fertile plains of France than in the Australian desert with irrigation pipes.”

Although good wines may someday come from outside the traditional wine regions, France’s traditional producers don’t seem too worried about the potential competition. A spokesman for the Syndicat General des Vignerons de la Champagne told Quartz he doesn’t expect deregulation to have an impact on sales of champagne, even if new growers develop new kinds of sparkling wines.

“Regarding champagne, our response is simple: There’s only champagne in Champagne.”

Learn how to grow French tarragon in a few minutes. Tarragon—often called French tarragon—is a rich but delicately flavored herb with an anisey flavor. It is one of the four sweet or fines herbes favored in French cooking—along with chervil, parsley, and chives. Tarragon is particularly compatible with eggs, fish and shellfish, tomatoes, chicken, and salad greens. French tarragon is always started from divisions, not seeds. Tarragon is perennial but is often treated as annual and started new with a fresh plant every spring.

Get to Know Tarragon

  • Botanical name and family: Artemisia dracunculus (Asteraceae—daisy family)
  • Origin: Caspian Sea, Siberia
  • Type of plant: French tarragon is a perennial often grown as an annual. (A separate plant called Russian tarragon is also a perennial. Russian tarragon is not grown for culinary use.)
  • Growing season: Summer
  • Growing zones: Zones 4 to 8
  • Hardiness: Tarragon is resistant to cold and heat; it’s cold hardy to -10°F but can die back to the ground in freezing weather.
  • Plant form and size: French tarragon is a sprawling, mostly flowerless plant with aromatic leaves reminiscent of anise and mint. French tarragon grows from 12 to 24 inches tall; it spreads from tangled, underground rhizomes.
  • Flowers: French tarragon produces sterile cloves and cannot be grown from seed. (A different plant called Russian tarragon can be grown from seed, but it is considered by most to be too bitter for culinary use.) Tarragon may occasionally produce small greenish-white flowers in branched clusters.
  • Bloom time: Summer
  • Leaves: Tarragon has long stems and shiny, slender, dark green, aromatic leaves to about one-inch long and pointed at the end.

How to Plant Tarragon

  • Best location: Plant French tarragon in full sun or partial shade.
  • Soil preparation: Grow tarragon in well-drained, sandy loam. It will tolerate poor and nearly dry soil. It does not grow well in cold, wet, or compacted soil. French tarragon prefers a soil pH of 6.0 to 7.3. Tarragon does not grow well in acidic soil.
  • Starting plants: French tarragon cannot be grown from seed. French tarragon seed is sterile. (Russian tarragon can be grown from seed.) French tarragon can only be propagated by divisions or cuttings. Root 6- to 8-inch stem cuttings in moist sand. Allow four weeks for stems to root. Divisions of roots will grow into new plants.
  • Outdoor planting time: French tarragon cuttings or divisions started indoors can be transplanted into the garden a week or two after the last frost in spring. Cuttings and divisions can be planted again in summer or fall. Cuttings started in late summer or fall should be over-wintered indoors until spring. Established plants can survive cold winters outdoors if protected with a thick layer of mulch.
  • Planting depth: Root divisions should be planted at the depth of rooted underground nodes.
  • Spacing: Set plants 18 to 24 inches apart; space rows 24 to 36 inches apart.
  • How much to plant: Grow one French tarragon plant per household for culinary use; grow 2 to 3 plants for preserving.
  • Companion planting: French tarragon grows well with nearly all vegetables and is said to enhance the growth of other vegetables. Interplant tarragon with tomatoes and potatoes.

How to Grow Tarragon

  • Watering: Keep French tarragon evenly moist until plants are established. Once established plants require occasional watering; the soil can go nearly dry between waterings.
  • Feeding: French tarragon is a light feeder; foliar spray plants with compost tea or a seaweed extract 2 to 3 time during the growing season.
  • Mulching: Mulch plants where the ground freezes; mulch after the first freeze so that freezes and thaws do not push the plant up and out of the ground.
  • Care: Remove flowers to keep plants productive during the growing season. Divide French tarragon every 3 to 4 years to keep plants growing vigorously.
  • Container growing: French tarragon can be grown easily in a container 6 to 12 inches wide and deep. Tarragon can be grown in hanging baskets. Grow tarragon in a sunny window for year-round harvest
  • Winter growing: To over-winter plants indoors, pot up new plants in summer, cutting foliage to just above the soil. Place plants in a sunny window for winter harvest. A cold weather resting period will benefit tarragon.

Troubleshooting Tarragon

  • Pests: Tarragon has no serious pest problems.
  • Diseases: Tarragon is susceptible to downy mildew, powdery mildew, and root rot where the soil or plants stay wet. Avoid planting French tarragon where water collects or where leaves are slow to dry.

How to Harvest Tarragon

  • When to harvest: Pick young, top leaves in early summer for best flavor. Cut back leafy top growth several times during the season to encourage the plant to bush out with new growth. Stems can be pruned in early summer and again at the end of the season.
  • How to harvest: Snip leaves and stems with a garden pruner or scissors. Handle leaves gently; they bruise easily.

Tarragon in the Kitchen

  • Flavor and aroma: Tarragon has delicate anise or licorice flavor.
  • Leaves: Tarragon enhances the flavor of fish, pork, beef, lamb, poultry, pates, leeks, potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, onions, artichokes, asparagus, mushrooms, cauliflower, broccoli, beets, peas, parsley, chervil, garlic, chives, lemons, oranges, and rice. Use tarragon to flavor vinegar, mustards, herbed mayonnaise, herbed butter, cream sauces, soups with cheese, eggs, sour cream, and yogurt. Add tarragon to remoulade sauce, tartar sauce, béarnaise sauce, and French dressing.
  • Cooking: Add tarragon near the end of cooking to prevent bitterness.
  • Culinary companions: Tarragon is good served with carrots, green beans, peas, and asparagus. Tarragon is a member of the classic quartet of chervil, chives, parsley, and tarragon—known as fines herbes; these delicate herbs are added to many cooked foods shortly before serving.

Preserving and Storing Tarragon

  • Refrigeration: French tarragon is best used fresh. To refrigerate, wrap leaves in a paper towel and place in a plastic bag; tarragon will keep for 2 or 3 weeks.
  • Drying: Dry tarragon by hanging stems upside down in bunches in a warm, dry place out of the sun. Tarragon can also be dried in a microwave in about 1 to 3 minutes; check often and remove leaves when they are dry to the touch.
  • Freezing: French tarragon can be frozen in a zippered plastic bag. Freeze leaf sprigs in a plastic bag or blend them salad oil into a paste and freeze the past in small containers.
  • Storing: Store tarragon in an airtight container.

Propagating Tarragon

  • Seed: Tarragon seed is sterile. French tarragon can only be propagated by divisions or cuttings. If you buy tarragon seed, you will get Russian tarragon which does not have the licorice flavor or fragrance of French tarragon.
  • Cuttings: Root 6- to 8-inch stem cuttings in moist sand. Allow four weeks for stems to root. Root cuttings in summer.
  • Division: Root division can be difficult because roots are very tangled. Use a spade to cut through roots if necessary. Prune roots back to about 2 inches and then replant in just moist planting mix. Divide plants in spring. Divide plants every 3 to 4 years.

Tarragon Varieties to Grow

  • Russian tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus sativa) is coarse and bitter-tasting, not recommended for cooking. Russian tarragon is branching and upward growing to 3 feet tall. It has small white flowers in late summer. Russian tarragon, unlike French tarragon, produces seed.
  • Mexican tarragon is a species of Tagetes.

Also of interest:

How to Grow Mint

How to Grow Thyme

How to Grow Oregano

How to Grow Parsley

How to Start a Herb Garden

Growing Herbs for Cooking.

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