Common name: tarragon Botanical name: Artemisia dracunulus Origin: Caspian Sea, Siberia
Few varieties are available. Grow the variety available in your area, but try to make sure that it's the French, not the Russian, kind.
Tarragon is a half-hardy perennial that grows two to four feet tall; it has slender stems and thin narrow leaves that taste a bit like licorice, and it rarely produces flowers—they're small and whitish in color. True French tarragon is a sterile clove and cannot be grown from seed; use rooted divisions or stem cuttings. There is also a Russian variety of tarragon, which has a stronger flavor that most people don't like. Many herbs are decorative, but tarragon is not glamorous. However, its finely textured dark-green foliage makes an attractive background for small, bright flowers. The word tarragon comes from the Arabic word for dragon. The French translation, estragon (little dragon), might reflect either the way tarragon was used medicinally to fight pestilence during the Middle Ages, or the snakelike appearance of its roots.
Tarragon can be grown anywhere in the United States and will survive cold winters if it's given adequate protection. It's hardy in well-drained, sandy soils, but is less tolerant of cold in compacted or wet soil.
Seeds of the Russian variety are available commercially, but are likely to produce plants of inferior flavor. Instead, use divisions or stem cuttings of French tarragon. Tarragon tolerates poor, rather dry soil. Fertilize the soil the first year only with a low-nitrogen (5-10-10) fertilizer; before planting, work the fertilizer well into the soil at the rate of a half pound to 100 square feet. Plant cuttings or divisions on your area's average date of last frost, and set them 18 to 24 inches apart in rows 24 to
36 inches apart. Give them a place in full sun; the plant will tolerate partial shade, but the flavor will be impaired.
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