How to Plant, Grow, and Care For Tarragon

Growing tarragon in your herb garden is easier than you may think. Keep fresh herbs on hand year-round for your culinary creations with this complete growing guide.

Growing tarragon in the garden.


Tarragon is a uniquely flavored herb with a distinctively warm, spicy flavor reminiscent of anise. It is most known for its use in making the French aperitif absinthe, but it is also a key ingredient in Russian, Armenian, Hungarian, and Slovenian food. With its attractive bushy growth, fragrant aroma, and so many delicious uses in the kitchen, tarragon is the perfect way to spice up your herb garden. 

Scientifically known as Artemisia dracunculus, this sunflower-family perennial is remarkably easy to care for in the garden. With the ability to survive -20°F (-29°C), this cold-hardy herb is suited for far northern gardeners who want plants that come back every year.

Tarragon is also a superb companion plant that repels pests and attracts beneficial insects when in bloom. It is also deer-resistant and drought-tolerant. Whether you prefer French, Russian, or Mexican tarragon, here is everything you need to know about growing this unique herb.


Plant Type Herbaceous perennial
Family Asteraceae
Genus Artemisia
Species Artemisia dracunculus
Hardiness Zone 3-8
Planting Season Early spring
Maintenance Low
Height 12-36”
Fertility Needs Low
Temperature 40-75°F or 4-24°C, tolerates to -20°F (-29°C) in dormancy
Companion Plants Most vegetables
Soil Type Loam, sandy, well-drained
Plant Spacing 24-36”
Watering Needs Moderate
Sun Exposure Full sun
Lifespan Short-lived perennial (3-4 years)
Pests Few to none
Diseases Downy mildew, powdery mildew, root rot

What is Tarragon?

A hand delicately holds a branch of Tarragon, showcasing its slender form and abundant leaves. The branch displays a supple texture, with small ridges and gentle curves. The leaves, lush and vibrant in color, offer a pleasant contrast to the branch. In the background, more leaves create a lush and verdant backdrop.
Estragole, a compound found in tarragon, is responsible for its pest-repelling properties and distinctive flavor.

Tarragon is an aromatic culinary herb and short-lived perennial garden plant. It is fairly woody and has narrow, lance-shaped leaves with a distinctly licorice flavor. Also known as dragon herb, the Latin name dracunculus means “little dragon,” referring to the serpentine, twisting plant roots. This herbaceous perennial is cold-hardy, drought-tolerant, and doesn’t mind some neglect

Thanks to its strong aroma and vibrant yellow flowers, this herb is a phenomenal companion plant and landscape accent in the garden. Tarragon repels pests, attracts beneficial insects, and is an attractive container herb. The plant’s pest-repelling properties predominantly come from a compound called estragole, which also gives fennel and anise hyssop their unmistakable flavors. 


Small yellow tarragon flower growing in a herb garden.
French tarragon and Russian tarragon are the two main cultivated species.

While Russian tarragon is the most robust in the garden, the French type is the most flavorful in the kitchen.

French tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus var. sativa) is a perennial herb with long, slender, pointy green leaves. Although tarragon is native to southern Russia and western Asia, most dried tarragon sold commercially is French tarragon and is grown in France.

French tarragon and Russian tarragon are the two main cultivated tarragon species. They are similar but different, with French tarragon having glossier leaves and a much more pronounced anise aroma and flavor. Russian tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) also grows much larger, up to five feet tall. They are both members of the sunflower and daisy family (Asteraceae).

The French tarragon plant has bushy, branched stems and grows from 18 to 36 inches tall with a horizontal spread of about 12 inches. Although it may produce small yellowish florets, French tarragon does not produce true flowers or tarragon seeds. Instead, it reproduces via its rhizomatous root system or cuttings. If you see tarragon seeds for sale, it is likely Russian tarragon.     

History and Cultivation 

A close-up of Tarragon plant's vibrant leaves and intricate branches. The small, pointed leaves showcase a rich green color. The branches extend gracefully, creating a beautiful natural arrangement that complements the plant's overall appearance.
This herb is commonly found in sauces like Bearnaise and liqueurs like absinthe.

With roots in Eastern Europe, tarragon has been cultivated for around 600 years. In the late Medieval period, it began to gain popularity in French cuisine, where it is now one of the staple fines herbes alongside parsley, chives, and chervil. 

You may recognize tarragon in sauces like bearnaise or aperitif liqueurs like absinthe. The leaves can be sprinkled fresh or dried on fish, poultry, eggs, mushrooms, tomatoes, and other savory dishes. This herb is also used in Russian and Eastern European cooking to flavor mustard, butter, vinegar, sauces, and beverages. 

Native Area

Potted Tarragon plant boasts sturdy stems, branching out elegantly to support its lush foliage. The stems appear robust and resilient, providing a solid foundation for the plant. The branches extend outward, forming a graceful silhouette, while the vibrant green leaves add an abundant and refreshing touch to the overall composition.
This herb gained popularity in French and, to a lesser extent, cuisines during the Medieval ages.

Tarragon is native to Eastern Europe and Central Asia, including Russia, Siberia, Afghanistan, and Mongolia. Some historians say that invading Mongols were the first to bring it to Western Europe and used it as a breath freshener, seasoning, and sleep-promoting tea. 

In the Medieval ages, the herb became popular in French—and to a lesser extent— British cuisines. This cold-hardy plant has naturalized in North America and can grow wild across the United States and its native Eurasia. 


A brown pot is placed in a brown table. A man's hand showcases the dark soil it contains. The soil, rich in organic matter and teeming with life, appears dense and fertile. Its loose texture suggests excellent drainage and aeration, providing an optimal environment for plants to establish strong root systems and flourish.
French and Russian tarragon require time to establish before enduring the cold weather.

The best time to plant this herb is in the spring after the chance of frost has passed. Although the genus is cold-hardy, both French and Russian types must become established before they can brave the chill. Mild weather is ideal for young plants to thrive.

Before planting, amend poorly drained soil with sand, peat moss, and/or compost. French tarragon is especially intolerant of soggy or saturated soil


A close-up of a Tarragon plant reveals its distinctive leaves. The leaves, slender and lance-shaped, exhibit a vibrant green color with a slightly fuzzy surface. Their glossy sheen and serrated edges add visual interest.
Make sure to plant in well-drained soil after the frost danger is over.

Whether you start from cutting, division, or seed, transplanting is a breeze. This ‘dragon-rooted’ plant is very tolerant of transplanting as long as it is planted into well-drained soil after the danger of frost has passed.

  1. Before planting, check that the cutting or seedling is fully rooted and has robust foliage growth. 
  2. Loosen the soil and make a hole about two times the size of the root ball.
  3. Massage the pot to loosen the roots from the container. 
  4. Grasp the plant at the base of its stem and turn it on its side to remove it from its container. 
  5. Place it in the hole so that the plant remains at the same soil level. No leaves or stems should be buried, and no roots should be exposed.
  6. Gently backfill and thoroughly water it in. Water new plants frequently for the first couple of weeks.


A man is skillfully using a small shovel to dig a precise hole in the fertile, dark soil. He carefully lifts and turns the earth, creating a neat excavation for planting or gardening purposes.
To ensure proper airflow and root establishment, it is crucial to consider the initial spacing of tarragon plants.

Tarragon naturally spreads via underground runners, so the initial plant spacing is important for adequate airflow and root establishment. Avoid overcrowding these plants or overseeding in a small area.

  • Space French types at least 24” apart and divide annually as the patch matures.
  • Space Russian types about 18” apart and allow it to form a clump.
  • Potted tarragon requires at least a 12” pot (5 gallon) to thrive. If the plant begins overgrowing its container, it will lose its flavor. Divide and prune regularly.  

How to Grow

Once established, both French and Russian tarragon are easy to grow. This herb is not needy at all and can even thrive on neglect. Overwatering, root rot, and excessive heat are the main reasons these plants fail. But if you optimize the conditions below, this herb will thrive.


The Tarragon plant displays elongated leaves that are slender and lance-shaped, showcasing a vibrant green hue. Its stems are thin and delicate, yet sturdy enough to support the weight of the foliage.
When selecting a location, make sure it gets 6-8 hours of full sun.

Tarragon prefers direct sunlight and plenty of warmth to produce the most flavorful leaves. Be sure to choose a site with six to eight hours of full sun.

In hotter climates where summer temperatures are consistently above 90°F (32°C), choose an area that gets afternoon shade. 

In extremely hot climates, avoid growing French tarragon altogether. Instead, try Mexican tarragon. It has a similar flavor but is unrelated to the Artemisia genus.


A close-up of a moist Tarragon branch with luscious leaves glistening under the water droplets. The elongated leaves exhibit a deep green color and possess a slightly serrated edge. The branches intertwine gracefully, showcasing the plant's elegant growth pattern.
Excessive watering hampers its growth and diminishes the leaves’ aroma and flavor.

Overwatering this herb will hinder its growth and reduce the aroma and flavor of the leaves. Like many sunflower relatives, tarragon prefers things on the dryer side. This herb despises overwatering and will not perform well in soggy soil. While new plants need frequent watering, allow mature tarragon to dry out between irrigating. 

Follow these general rules of thumb for irrigating tarragon:

  • Water new plants every other day during dry weather.
  • French tarragon usually needs a light watering every few days during the summer.
  • Russian tarragon is highly drought tolerant and only needs light watering every week.
  • Container tarragon may need water every 2-3 days in peak season.
  • If the upper inch of soil is moist, irrigation is unnecessary. 
  • Allow the soil to almost dry out before watering again.


With a firm grip, a man holds a handful of rich, brown soil extracted from a large container. The soil is teeming with nutrients and organic matter, promising ideal conditions for nurturing plants.
Ideal conditions are well-drained, warm, and dry soil.

Well-drained, warm, and dry soil is ideal for this herb. Aeration is absolutely essential to prevent root rot and encourage a strong flavor. 

Generously amend the soil with:

  • Horticultural sand
  • Peat moss
  • Vermiculite
  • Perlite
  • Low-nutrient compost (no manure)

The ideal pH is between 6.5 and 7.5, but some reports indicate that tarragon does best in slightly acidic soils.

Climate and Temperature

A close-up of the intricate details of a Tarragon plant. The leaves, tinged with a vibrant green shade, showcase a jagged edge and a soft, velvety texture. They cluster together beautifully, forming a dense canopy that exudes freshness and vitality.
Tarragon is remarkably cold-hardy, surviving freezing weather by dying back to the ground.

In general, tarragon loves mildly warm but not hot temperatures. The ideal soil temperatures are between 50 and 77°F (10-25°C), while the perfect air temperatures are 60 to 80°F (16-27°C).

Still, this European native is remarkably cold-hardy. As an herbaceous perennial, it dies back to the ground in freezing weather, which allows the dormant plant to survive down to -20°F (-29°C). In the spring, it regenerates from its robust root zone and grows back to its full glory. Mulch enhances survival in harsh winters.

Your climate will determine the ideal tarragon type for your garden:

  • Best for Extra Cold Climates: Russian tarragon (USDA zones 3-8)
  • Best for Mild Climates: French tarragon (USDA zones 5-8)
  • Best for Hot Climates: Mexican tarragon (USDA zones 8-11)

Avoid growing French or Russian types in hot or humid southern climates.


A gloved hand carefully spreads granular white fertilizer onto the rich brown garden beds, ensuring proper nourishment for the plants' growth and vitality.
If your soil is particularly poor, add compost to the beds annually or biannually.

This plant generally does not require fertilizer. Like many herbs, too much nitrogen fertility can reduce the aroma and flavor of the leaves. If you have exceptionally poor soil, it’s best to amend beds with compost once or twice per year. 


The tarragon plants stand tall in the brown soil. Their sturdy stems and branches are slender and upright, providing a solid framework for the plant's lush, green foliage.
Prune the plants by half in mid-summer to improve your harvest.

Tarragon doesn’t need much to remain lush and green. The plant is very low-maintenance as long as it has ample drainage and regular moisture during dry periods.

To enhance your harvests, you can prune back plants by about half in the mid-summer. For garden aesthetics, you can also cut back the dead foliage in the fall as the plant moves into dormancy. 


Several young potted Tarragon plants are shown. The leaves exhibit a fresh green color, radiating vitality and youth. Each plant features numerous leaves that grow in clusters, creating a lush and dense appearance. Together, they form a charming ensemble of youthful foliage, promising the potential for future growth and flavor.
It is best to start your herb patch with a nursery plant or cutting, then expand it through root division.

Tarragon is easy to propagate by cuttings or root divisions. French tarragon cannot be grown from seed because the flowers are sterile.

However, Russian tarragon is fairly easy to propagate from a seed packet. Ideally, you can begin your herb patch with an established nursery plant or cutting from a friend, then expand the herb’s growth over time via root division.

Propagate by Cuttings

The man carefully wields a pair of sharp scissors to trim a branch from the lush Tarragon plant. The branch, covered in vibrant green leaves, extends gracefully, showcasing its healthy growth and vitality. The leaves appear dense and aromatic, promising a burst of flavor and fragrance when used in culinary creations.
Softwood stem cuttings are the most common way to propagate this herb.

The most common way to start tarragon is from softwood stem cuttings. These short stems of spring growth are easy to root in water or a soilless medium. Within four to six weeks, you can have an abundance of rooted baby herb plants ready to transplant into the soil.


  1. Start with a strong, healthy mother plant. Ensure it is not yet flowering and has abundant fresh, new growth. Taking cuttings from juvenile plants or woody, old plants is not recommended.
  2. Use sharp, sanitized shears, pruners, or a knife to cut 4-8” long sprigs. Each cutting should have lighter green new leaves on top and a supple but mature bottom part of the stem. 
  3. If possible, cut near a node (the point where two leaves intersect with the stem). Nodes are “hot spots” for cell division and new growth of roots.
  4. Strip the bottom 2-4” of leaves from the tarragon stems to make space for new roots to emerge. Cut the bottom tip of the sprig to a 45° angle. Optionally, dip the stem into a rooting hormone gel or powder.
  5. Place each cutting into a clear glass of water so the bottom one-third of the stems are submerged. You can also plant them in a soilless mix (like sand, peat moss, and vermiculite). Be sure that no leaves are submerged in water or soil.
  6. Place the jar or container in an area with bright, indirect sunlight. Change the water once or twice a week, or ensure continuous moisture in the soil medium. Keep cuttings at room temperature, around 60-70°F (16-21°C). Avoid excessive heat.
  7. Within 3-4 weeks, you should start to see young root hairs forming. Wait 6-8 weeks for roots to establish fully. Gently transplant cuttings to 4” pots and grow as usual until plants are large enough to move outdoors.

If leaves start to turn yellow, the cutting may have failed to root. No worries! Just start over and sanitize carefully.

When waiting for cuttings to take hold, look for signs of new root growth. In water, you will see shoestring roots that are several inches long. In a soil medium, you can give the cuttings a light tug and look for some resistance to indicate that the cuttings have anchored roots in the soil.

Propagate by Division

A close-up of a Tarragon plant, elegantly stretching its leaves outward from a generously sized pot. The leaves, slender and elongated, possess a velvety texture with a glossy deep green hue.
To keep tarragon plants healthy in containers, division is crucial.

If you don’t want to wait for seeds or cuttings, root divisions are the simplest way to propagate perennial herbs. A single-parent plant can yield up to five new baby plants to move to other parts of your garden, plant in pots, or give as gifts to your friends. Dividing plants keeps a patch vigorous, flavorful, and lush.

Division is also essential for maintaining healthy plants in containers. When the herb begins to outgrow its pot (typically after a year or two), it’s best to transplant to a larger container or divide it into smaller chunks. If you let French tarragon overgrow its pot, it can lose its flavor and become woody.

The best time to divide tarragon is during the spring, just as you notice new shoots emerging above ground. 


  1. When the weather is warming in the spring, choose a mature plant without flowers.
  2. Use a shovel to dig a circle around the plant about 3-6” wider than the circumference of the canopy.
  3. Use a garden fork to lift the plant from the ground gently. Be careful not to break or tear many roots. Gently shake some soil from the tangle of roots.
  4. Prune off any areas where roots are not pushing up green new shoots. Use sharp, sanitized shears or a knife to cut off portions of roots attached to green new shoots. For many small plants, trim each division to fit into a 4” pot.
  5. Plant the divisions in a soilless mix, just like transplants. Keep the green new growth above the soil and water thoroughly until established.
  6. For 1-2 larger plant divisions, use your shovel to cut the root ball into multiple sections about 4-6” across. Transplant these sections to another area of the garden and tend as usual.

Pro Tip: French tarragon roots are known for being brittle and breakable. When dividing the plant, ensure that the soil is fairly moist and use a knife (rather than a shovel or a hoe). The sharp blade will make it easier to collect new plants without damaging the remaining roots.

Propagate by Seed

A close-up of the tender seedlings nestled in moist, nutrient-rich soil. The seedlings, characterized by their delicate stems and tiny, nascent green leaves, exude an air of fragility and promise. The dark soil, with its fertile composition and earthy appearance, provides a nurturing environment for the young plants to thrive and develop.
Since these plants are vigorous but less valuable in cooking, a small number of seeds is sufficient for your garden requirements.

French tarragon produces sterile flowers, which means you cannot grow it from seed. However, Russian tarragon is cheap and easy to grow from seed. Because the plants are so vigorous and less useful in the kitchen, you don’t need to plant many seeds to fulfill your garden needs.


  1. Start indoors about 6 weeks before the last spring frost.
  2. Alternatively, direct sow once the danger of frost has passed.
  3. Sow seed very shallowly in well-drained soil.
  4. Plant 2-3 seeds per hole and thin to 1 seed per cell after germination.
  5. Barley covers tarragon seeds. They need light to germinate.
  6. Russian types germinate best between 60-68°F (16-20°C). Avoid using heating mats or excessive warmth.
  7. Maintain continuous soil moisture for 1-2 weeks. Germination can take around 14 days.
  8. When plants have 2-3 sets of true leaves.
  9. Transplant into 12” or larger containers or plant out in the garden at 18” apart.

In hot climates, use the substitute Mexican Tarragon (a marigold relative) that can handle scorching temperatures better. 


Freshly harvested tarragon stalks on a wooden table.
Always leave at least one-third of the leaves intact.

Like many herbs, tarragon is a cut-and-come-again plant that benefits from frequent harvesting. French tarragon’s pungent flavor goes a long way, so if you cut more than you can use right away, try long-term storage.

Tarragon is ready to be harvested when the plant is established. A general rule is to always leave at least one-third of the leaves intact. To harvest, look for the lighter green new growth and clip the stems carefully with kitchen or pruning shears. Tarragon leaves bruise easily and attempting to snap a woody stem with your fingers could cause damage.


Close up of a pile of mixed dried herbs from the garden.
Drying is a great method for long-term storage.

To store this fresh herb for use within a day or two, place the cut ends of sprigs in a jar with water, cover loosely with a plastic bag, and refrigerate. Similarly, you could wrap the sprigs in damp paper towels and then place them in a plastic bag. 

For longer storage, there are a few suggested methods. Since the dried herb is widely available, many gardeners think that drying tarragon is the way to go. The argument against drying these leaves is that much of the herb’s wonderful flavor disappears. To maximize flavor when drying, keep leaves whole and store them in airtight containers at room temperature as soon as they’re dry.  

Incorporating fresh chopped French tarragon leaves into butter or soaking fresh sprigs in vinegar to make flavored vinegar are two tasty alternatives. Freezing the chopped herb in water in ice cube trays or freezing sprigs in airtight plastic bags are a couple more techniques to try.


Woman garnishing wooden board with fresh tarragon leaves.
Tarragon is a unique herb to experiment with.

Tarragon is primarily used as a culinary herb and garnish in savory dishes. From meat to fish to sauces, it adds a distinct citrus spiciness with light notes of anise and licorice. It is also used in flavoring beverages like absinthe. 

The plant dual-functions as a companion plant for vegetables and herbs in the garden. The strong smell repels pests and Russian tarragon flowers can attract beneficial insects.

Common Problems

French tarragon is mostly a no-fuss herb, but growing problems can pop up with extremes – think too hot, too sunny, too cold, too shady, too humid, too wet. There are also a few pests and diseases to keep an eye out for.

Growing Problems

Dying tarragon plant with holes in its leaves and brown, wilting stems.
Most tarragon problems relate to incompatible environmental conditions.

Hot weather dries out plants rapidly and scorching sun can burn leaves. Overwintering this herb without adequate protection can frost damage the crown. Not enough sunlight coupled with high humidity or consistently wet conditions can foster fungal diseases and underproduction. 

To fight against these challenges, water plants more often during hot weather and protect leaves with shade cloth. Or, consider planting something taller with protective foliage nearby to create natural shade.

If you live in an extremely cold growing zone, mulch the plants heavily before temperatures drop. Locate the plants in a suitable area in soil with good drainage, full to part sun, and enough room between plants to support good airflow.

Prune overgrown plants consistently to increase air circulation if your climate is humid.    


Thanks to its powerful licorice-like aroma, this herb is generally pest-free. However, exceptionally humid or wet conditions can cause disease problems like mildews and rots.

Downy Mildew

Close up of a grape leaf with downy mildew.
Check the undersides of leaves for signs of downy mildew.

If you see yellow or brownish spots on tarragon leaves and a fluffy gray mold on the underside of the leaves, you’re probably dealing with downy mildew. This fungus affects a range of garden vegetables and herbs. It thrives in cool, humid weather where the spores can germinate and spread.

To prevent it:

  • Space plants farther apart.
  • Improve air circulation with pruning.
  • Avoid overhead sprinkler irrigation.
  • Remove all crop debris in the fall.
  • Prune away diseased parts and throw them in the trash.

Fungicides are not warranted on these plants. Heavily infected herbs should be removed and replaced in a different location. 

Powdery Mildew

Close up of powdery mildew disease on plant.
Powdery mildew is common in wet and humid conditions.

A gray or white powdery substance on the leaves is a sure sign of powdery mildew. It may look like your plants have been sprinkled with flour. Portions of the leaves and stems could turn brown and die off.

Like downy mildew, this fungus is spread by wind and water. It may move between other plants (especially cucurbits like cucumbers, melons, and squash). 

Control and prevent powdery mildew with the same methods described for downy mildew. Optionally, spray leaves with a diluted neem solution to heal infected areas.

Root Rot

Tarragon plant with growing problems.
Root rot kills the plant from the bottom up.

Soggy, poorly drained soils can quickly rot the roots, leading to low vigor and slow growth, yellow leaves, wilting, and mushy roots.

To prevent root rot, remember to:

  • Only water once the upper inches of soil have dried out
  • Thoroughly amend heavy soils with sand, peat moss, compost, vermiculite, or perlite
  • Avoid watering in rainy or humid seasons
  • Broadfork and aerate the soil
  • Choose a terra cotta container with a large drainage hole
  • Avoid drenching the plant with irrigation

Frequently Asked Questions

Why can’t you grow French tarragon from seed?

French tarragon cannot be grown from seed because its flowers are sterile. They do not produce viable seeds. Instead, French tarragon must be propagated by cutting or root division from an established plant.

How long does it take to grow tarragon from seed?

Russian tarragon takes 7 to 14 days to germinate and up to 100 days to mature. Be sure that seeds are sown very shallowly. They need sunlight to germinate.

Key Takeaways

Whether you love European cooking or want to add a nice aromatic and pest-repellent plant to your garden, tarragon is a laid-back plant that won’t require much effort. 

The most important things to remember about growing happy tarragon are:

  • Provide the best-drained soil possible.
  • Avoid overwatering. Let the upper inches of soil dry out before irrigating.
  • Regenerate tarragon clumps once per year by dividing the plants.
  • In warm climates, grow French tarragon in partial shade.
  • In hot southern areas, opt for Mexican tarragon.
A variety of different herbs with vibrant purple flowers grow abundantly in a wooden raised bed.


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