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Ask a Master Gardener: Tarragon looked peaked

The best way to get it to overwinter is to put it under a light.

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Q: I brought my herbs in before the frost, and they're doing well so far, except for the tarragons - Russian and French. Those are dying. I backed off on the watering, and I gave them a little plant food, but I didn't have a bright window for both of them. The Russian tarragon is in a window and doing a little better than the French tarragon, which has turned yellow and is shriveling up. Are they doomed? Is there anything I can do to save them - especially the French tarragon? Is there a way I can save the root stock and replant in the spring?

A: It can be difficult to keep tarragon alive indoors over the winter, so don’t be too hard on yourself.

Tarragon needs bright light, or it will drop leaves. Most Duluth windows won’t be bright enough in winter – and putting a plant too near a window has its own set of perils. It may subject the plant to cold drafts or too much heat from a radiator.

The best way to get it to overwinter is to put it under a light. You don’t need a special grow light. A cheap shop light will work. The top of the plant should be just a couple of inches from the light.

You are right to back off on water. Tarragon won’t tolerate soggy soil, so you want to let it dry out between waterings. We don’t normally recommend fertilizing indoor plants in winter but if you have your tarragon in a very bright location and it’s still got some green leaves, a little feeding may encourage it to grow.

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Even if it’s dropping leaves now, it may survive. It’s possible that it had already decided to go dormant before you brought it inside, even if it didn’t get hit by frost. Cool nights are the trigger. You can cut it back and hope for the best. Water sparingly until new growth appears.

If it sends up new stems, you can let them keep growing or make cuttings from them. French tarragon is normally propagated from stem or root cuttings, not seeds. Cut a 6-inch stem, remove the lower leaves, dip the bottom tip of the stem in rooting hormone (optional) and poke the stem into potting soil. Keep the soil moist until roots develop.

In the future, if you are growing tarragon and don’t have an indoor spot with very bright light, you can consider trying to overwinter it outdoors. French tarragon should be hardy in zone 4, which is Duluth’s hardiness zone. Cut the plant back at the end of the growing season and mulch it well with a layer of leaves or straw.

If you do overwinter a plant outdoors, spring is when you’d want to make stem cuttings or divide a mature plant into several new plants by cutting the roots apart with a sharp knife.

Written by U of M Extension Master Gardeners in St. Louis County. Send questions to features@duluthnews.com .

Related Topics: HOME AND GARDENGARDENING
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