Choose from two forms of this sun-loving, drought-tolerant aromatic herb – more delicate French tarragon, with its richer flavour, and milder tasting but hardy and easy-to-grow Russian tarragon.
There are two types of tarragon:
French tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus French) – more highly regarded, the leaves have a strong, sweet, peppery flavour with hints of aniseed. It is needs protection from frost and doesn’t produce viable seeds
Russian tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus Russian) – easier to grow, more vigorous and fully hardy, the leaves have a mild, slightly bitter flavour without the aniseed tones. The small yellow-green flowers in mid- to late summer attract pollinating insects
Both like a warm sheltered location in full sun, in well-drained soil or a large container.
Month by Month
The two types of tarragon, French and Russian, like similar growing conditions, but have different characters, styles of growth and flavours, each with their own merits:
French tarragon forms a smaller, more dainty plant, up to 90cm (3ft) tall, so takes up less space. But it is not hardy and must be kept frost free, so is best grown in a container and kept in a greenhouse over winter. The leaves have a strong, sharp peppery flavour with aniseed notes, widely regarded as superior to milder Russian tarragon. It is not available as seed, so must be bought as plants grown from cuttings
Russian tarragon is vigorous, more robust and larger, reaching up to 1.2m (4ft) tall, so it needs more space. It thrives in colder locations, as it’s fully hardy, and copes well in dry conditions too. It needs little maintenance or cossetting. The flavour is much subtler than French tarragon. It can be grown from seed or bought as plants
You can see many herbs, including tarragon, growing in the herb collections at all the RHS gardens, so do visit to see how they’re grown, compare the aromas and pick up useful tips.
What and where to buy
Russian tarragon seeds are widely available in garden centres and from online seed suppliers, but French tarragon cannot be grown from seed.
Young plants of both types are available in spring and summer, from many gardening retailers and herb nurseries. One plant is usually enough for most needs, so buying a ready-grown plant is often the easier and quicker option.
French tarragon is not available as seed, so buy young plants in spring. Russian tarragon is easy to grow from seed, but can also be bought as young plants.
Both are happy in large pots filled with gritty compost, and Russian tarragon can also be grown in free-draining soil in a sunny, sheltered spot.
Russian tarragon is easy to grow from seed sown indoors. Don’t cover the seeds and sow sparingly, as one plant is generally sufficient. Germination is best at 15–20°C (60–68°F) and can take several weeks.
If you don’t have the time or space to sow indoors, you can sow Russian tarragon outdoors in a warm, sunny spot in late spring. Sow on the surface, without covering the seeds, once temperatures are consistently at least 15°C (60°F).
Home-grown and bought tarragon plants can be moved outside in late spring and early summer, after the last frost.
Indoor-grown plants should be gently acclimatised to outdoor conditions before you plant them outdoors by hardening off.
For Russian tarragon, choose a warm, sheltered, sunny planting site with fertile, well-drained soil. If your soil is heavy or stays quite damp, especially in winter, plant in containers or raised beds instead, where drainage will be better. Allow this vigorous plant plenty of space to grow, positioning it at least 90cm (3ft) from other plants.
French tarragon isn’t hardy, so is best planted in a container so it can be easily moved into a frost-free greenhouse or similar location over winter. Russian tarragon can also be grown in a pot, which can help to restrain its vigour.
Choose a container that’s at least 30cm (1ft) wide, with plenty of drainage holes in the base. Use a soil-based John Innes No. 3 compost and mix in lots of grit to improve the drainage. Stand the pot in a warm, sunny, sheltered spot.
Once settled in, tarragon needs little maintenance, especially Russian tarragon. French tarragon requires protection from frost. To prolong leaf harvests through summer, pinch off the flowers.
Plants will remain productive for two to three years, but will eventually run out of steam – either divide the clump to reinvigorate it or replace with a new plant.
Water newly planted tarragon regularly for the first few months, until well settled in. Established plants are generally drought tolerant when growing in the ground.
Plants in containers need regular watering through the growing season, but especially in hot dry weather.
Apply a thick layer of mulch, such as grit or garden compost, around the plants to help hold moisture in the soil and deter weeds.
French tarragon is not fully hardy and can be killed by cold, wet British winters. It is best grown in a container, so it can be brought into a frost-free greenhouse or similar over winter. If it’s in the ground, try covering the root zone with a thick mulch of bark chippings or straw.
If Russian tarragon is growing in a container, protect it from winter wet, as the roots can rot in cold, waterlogged compost. Move the container into the lee of a wall or porch, sheltered from heavy rain.
You can harvest tarragon leaves from late spring to early autumn, picking from the shoot tips regularly to encourage fresh young growth. Strip the leaves from the stems with your fingers.
Leaves are best used fresh, but can also be dried and stored in air-tight containers for use in winter. Dried leaves lose some of their flavour. Tarragon leaves can also be frozen.
When growing in warm, sunny, well-drained conditions, tarragon is generally healthy and trouble free.
Russian tarragon in particular is vigorous, hardy and robust. Just make sure it doesn’t sit in cold, waterlogged soil or compost over winter, as the roots may rot. Grow it in free-draining soil or containers, keeping the pot sheltered from heavy downpours.
French tarragon is not hardy, so needs protection from frost – grow it in a container and bring it into a greenhouse or sheltered porch over winter.
Few pests or diseases cause any problems, although tarragon is susceptible to rust and powdery mildew.
To keep tarragon plants vigorous and productive, divide clumps very few years – see our guide to propagating herbs.
Get more advice
If you’re a member of the RHS, you can use our online Gardening Advice Service, via MyRHS, for any gardening problems or queries.
The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.