Tarragon, cilantro & other herbs - why are they so difficult to grow?


I have tried growing them 2 or 3 times in different years… Young healthy plant bought from shops in spring, repotted in a bigger pot, normal soil, sunny spot, it didn’t really take off, simply did nothing, no new branches nor much new leaves, or if there were new growth, new leaves became miniscule. After autumn, the plant died. I have also tried seeds, but nothing grew out of them.

I wonder what I did wrong.



I have had difficulties with tarragon when I have planted it too early. It grows best for me in a planter on my deck near a south facing wall where it gets lots of sun and warmth from the house.

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Do they like wet or dry earth? Rich or poor soil? Thanks a lot.

They are still a mystery to me.



All my plants are on the front porch which has a southern exposure. Tarragon has done well there. The one that I’ve given up on is cilantro - it’s easy in the ground, but not in a container, there’s not enough room for the plant to keep reseeding itself as it dies off in its brief lifespan.



I think tarragon likes well drained soil which is why it is better in pots for me. It is growing in average bagged potting soil. I have the best luck with it waiting until the plants in the nursery are rather big. Very often they are very small (like one stem) and they never get going. Mine never survive the winter so I grow as an annual. It has been a mild winter so maybe I will be happily surprised this year.

I just read that French tarragon is sold from root cutting rather than from seed. I wonder if that is why I sometimes have problems with younger plants. Perhaps they did not root properly before I planted them.

I gave up on cilantro long ago. That and dill elude me.



I was doing average with cilantro but better than tarragon, I usually bought an adult plant and keep it till the end of season. With seeds, I never had much success.

I did have some success with dill from seeds, I had a east facing window, had sun from morning till 2pm, I just tossed several seed in a planter, they were growing like weeds.



My attempt at deliberately growing cilantro was a dismal failure. But it seeded and now grows everywhere I don’t want it…!

I used to think tarragon only really grew from seed, but I rently bought a large pot of it and it’s goung very well. Lots of sun and reasonable water.

One think I did hear is you need to be careful to get French tarragon not Russian. Different flavours and texture -but the Russian grows easily.



Did you harden off the plants, i.e. gradually acclimate them to the elements? Also, cilantro is notorious for bolting very early. I don’t know how to prevent it.



I have a tarragon plant in a raised bed that has robustly returned for the last 10 years. Pretty sure it’s French but will wait for some spring shoots to teste for the ‘numbness’ mentioned as authenticity. Has a delicious flavor.


(Robert Sacilotto) #10

There are secrets to growing many herbs. With Tarragon, the soil must drain well, but also must be neutral to slightly alkaline. Dolomitic, ground limestone is often needed to overcome acidic soil. Most herbs are similar, but not as picky. French Tarragon is raised from early-season shoot cuttings, taken before leaves emerge. I used to propagate hundreds of them for sale.

Cilantro is another matter. Cilantro/Coriander is very day length sensitive. Even though “slow to bolt” varieties exist, it always seems that the best Cilantro grows in the cool, short days of Fall. Many vegetables, like Winter Radishes and Chinese Cabbages also resist flowering better and produce superior crops when planted as days get shorter. This is often Aug-Sept. in the northern hemisphere, depending on your climate. Also, be sure to fertilize with additives higher in Nitrogen, e.g. a 10-5-5, or composted manures. The more you harvest, the more nutrients your plants need to regrow leaves.



In my climate I cannot lump herbs together. The “Mediterranean” ones literally grow like weeds for me, in the ground. I’m thinking rosemary, lavender, orregeno, albeit the flowering types. Also like weeds are lemon balm. Have not tried growing oregano for cooking in the ground, but I have grown “Mexican Oregano” in pots.

Parsley, chives, and cilantro are winter herbs for me. I grow them in containers. Tricky to find plants in the winter. Two year old plants might go to seed.

The weirdest problem. I have is mint of various persuasions. I hear it’s a weed in some settings, but I can’t seem to make it worth my while.

I also grow savory, both winter and summer, in pots, and a LOT of thyme, which I can’t seem to grow in the ground, but can grow in Co tainers in the summer.

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I gave up growing coriander in the UK after my first year of gardening, as seems common it bolted before growing much in the way of leaf mass.

I had minimal success growing basil. It did alright but didn’t put out enough in the way of leaves, I don’t think I was on top of pinching the flowers off and I grew them outdoors.

Now I take the foolproof method of buying the fresh basil pots they sell in UK supermarkets. These are living plants, but they pack so many plants into the growing medium they won’t come to much as they are - they’re meant for short term kitchen usage. But if you tease them apart you can pot them on into 5 or so basil plants that will quickly take, fairly economical.

I had success with more woody herbs, rosemary and thyme are easy to grow. My oregano went like the clappers, but literally had no aroma. I even strung it up and dried it, still barely anything. I keep meaning to buy seeds of a strain of what they call “Greek oregano” to see if it fares any better.

Mint seems to need a good amount of water and it will grow well. I grow it in pots, each spring taking a few nice root cuttings from the severely pot bound plants and planting in fresh compost. I put 95% of the plant in the council compost collection - not sure what else to do with it as I don’t need any more plants and don’t want it invading my garden.

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I succeed in several types of basil: Italian big leaves, Southern France one with small leaves, lemon basil and Thai basil. Need a lot of seeds in a pot, they like rich soil. But at times, I suspect the problem is due to quality of seeds.


(Robert Sacilotto) #14

Lex, see my March 20 post regarding Cilantro. It should grow like mad in the UK, given rich soil, some fertilizer, but most importantly: sow seeds in late summer-fall, not spring.

A weak-tasting Oregano is likely “Pot Marjoram”, not true Oregano. Technically, they’re all in the genus Origanum, but Greek or Italian ( Origanum vulgare var. hirtum) will be better flavored, stronger. Those varieties are fuzzier and require less water-try to keep the foliage as dry as possible when watering.

Basil requires warmth, sun, lots of Nitrogen fertilizer and pinching off flower buds before they set seed. Eventually, Sweet Basil (Ocimum basilicum) , and others will need replanting when quality goes down. The miniature-leaved one (Ocimum minimum also O. basilicum minimum) are originally from Greece. A good friend helped introduce it into the USA decades ago.

Unfortunately, Basil Downy Mildew was recently introduced into the USA via contaminated African Basil. This disease forms dark grey patches under and on the leaves. It kills plants rapidly and spreads like fire. “Resistant varieties” don’t truly exist. Eleonara is a cultivar with some resistance, but not much. Infected plants and leaves should be bagged up in plastic and thrown away as soon as the disease is noticed. Within days of infection, all the leaves will yellow and fall off.



As far as I know, they need quite some fertilizer in spring and summer. Also need pruning after winter. Every other year, some root trim and new soil if in pot. Mine are all in pots, lose the leaves in winter, and come back every spring.

Never succeeded starting from seeds though.

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Cilantro is a finnicky herb that hates warm weather. It’s best grown from seed, sowed generously and harvested continually while young. No matter what, it will eventually bolt, so the best counter to that is to sow cilantro a few weeks apart for a continuous supply.

I grow them in 12" containers.



Growing basil from seed in an Aerogarden!

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What are the plants at the left?






The first three rows from the left are different allyssum. The fourth row was supposed to be echinacea, but that doesn’t seem to be working. Then three types of basil. There were three rows of zinnias on the right, but those quickly outgrew the tray. This is a seed starting trays designed to start seedlings, not grow them on.

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