Light requirements: Full sun to part shade.
Planting: Space 18 to 24 inches apart.
Soil requirements: Plants grow best in light, well-drained soil on the dry side. Amend heavy clay soils with organic matter and/or sand to improve drainage, or grow plants in raised beds.
Water requirements: Plants are drought tolerant, but will be fuller and flower best if soil provides adequate moisture. In containers, irrigate whenever the top inch of soil is dry.
Frost-fighting plan: Mexican tarragon is perennial in zones 9 to 11. A hard freeze (temperatures below 28º F) can kill established plants. In zone 8, plants frequently resprout from roots following a hard freeze. Use a frost blanket to protect newly planted seedlings from late spring frosts or prolong the growing season in fall. In colder zones, grow as an annual or in a container you can bring indoors for winter.
Common issues: In poorly draining or heavy soil, plants often succumb to root rot. Otherwise, Mexican tarragon rarely suffers from pests or diseases.
Growing tip: Stems that fall over and touch the ground take root, causing plants to spread. If flowers are allowed to set seed, plants will reseed.
Harvesting: Pick leaves at any point in the growing season, although flavor is most intense just before plants bloom. Flower petals are also edible. To harvest, snip leafy stems to the length you desire. Stems rapidly produce new growth.
Storage: Keep a few stems in water at room temperature to enjoy fresh clippings for a few days. Wrap unwashed stems in a barely damp paper towel and slip into a plastic bag. Store stems in the lowest part of your refrigerator. Use within 4 to 5 days. Dried leaves don’t taste as good as fresh. Preserve in herbal vinegars or by freezing.
Mexican (also called Texas) tarragon (Tagetes lucida) grows all spring and summer before it produces many yellow, single marigold-like blossoms, but that is just a bonus because the main reason to grow it is for the flavored leaves. In warm climates, its anise-like flavor makes it a substitute for French tarragon, which often withers in heat. You will find that it goes by many names: Texas tarragon, false tarragon, Mexican mint marigold, winter tarragon, yerba anise, hierba de anis, hierba de San Juan, and pericon. Try growing Mexican tarragon in an herb garden, flower bed, or container. Let it be the bright spot in your herb garden, which often needs a boost by summer’s end. The upright plants pair well with other fall bloomers such as pineapple sage. Plants bloom lightly in the spring, then profusely in the fall.
Quick Guide to Growing Tarragon
- Plant tarragon in spring after the last frost. This flavorful plant grows well in both in-ground gardens and containers.
- Space tarragon plants 18 to 24 inches apart in partial shade to full sun with fertile, well-drained soil with a pH of 6.5 to 7.0.
- Before planting, get your soil right by mixing in several inches of aged compost or other rich organic matter.
- Encourage excellent growth by regularly feeding with a water-soluble plant food.
- Even though tarragon is drought-tolerant, check soil moisture every few days and water when the top inch of soil becomes dry.
- Once your plants are established, harvest sprigs once they are large enough for use.
Substitute Mexican tarragon for French tarragon in equal proportions. The flavor breaks down more quickly when heated, so it is best to add it at the end of cooking. Also called yerba anise, Mexican tarragon is an ingredient in Mexican and Southwestern cuisine.