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.
Soil, Planting, and Care
Although grown as an annual in most of the country, Mexican tarragon is a half-hardy perennial in warmer regions, where it comes back vigorously from the roots in spring. In climates where it never dies down from frost, keep it trimmed.
Start with strong young tarragon plants from Bonnie Plants®, the company that has been helping home gardeners succeed for over a century. When planting, space plants 18 to 24 inches apart so they will have room to grow to their full size.
Plants need full sun or partial shade and must have well-drained soil. Given that, they grow easily and without fuss. Improve the nutrition and texture of your existing soil by mixing a few inches of aged compost-enriched Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics™ All Purpose In-Ground Soil in with the top layer. Growing tarragon in pots? Fill them with Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics™ All Purpose Container Mix, which also contains nutrient-rich compost.
Although drought-tolerant, tarragon will be fuller and bloom best if kept moist, so water thoroughly whenever the top inch of soil is dry. In tandem with planting in great soil, be sure to feed tarragon regularly for best growth. Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics® Edibles Plant Nutrition is an excellent choice, as it feeds both your plants and the beneficial microbes in the soil that help your garden flourish. (Be sure to follow label directions.) It's worth noting that if stems fall over and touch the ground, they will take root, causing plants to spread. Tarragon also reseeds.
Plants are not bothered by pests, but be sure to plant them in a spot that drains well or the roots can rot.
Harvest and Storage
Snip fresh sprigs as needed, beginning in spring. Before frost, harvest the stems by cutting them at the base and letting them air dry on a screen, or bundle a few together at the base to hang upside-down to dry.
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.
I live in the Southeast. Should I grow French tarragon or Mexican tarragon?
Mexican (or Texas) tarragon is the better choice. French tarragon usually has a tough time in the land of hot summers and not-so-cold winters. Although it will grow in spring, it seems to stop growing when the weather gets hot. Overall, it is a much smaller plant in the South. The flavor of Mexican tarragon is very similar, but it loves the heat and you get long stems topped with pretty gold flowers in the fall.