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

In the category of life’s ironies, rosemary is something I grow with great success, in the past chopping it to the ground yearly. But since i use so little in cooking, I now just “prune” a sprig from a neighbor when i do need it.

Sorrel is another bounty that I don’t use fast enough. Once started, it thrives without care.

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A friend who’s married to a guy with a postgraduate degree in some kind of plant sciences used to live in Alaska. She said she couldn’t grow cilantro there either. I’m in southern AZ, and couldn’t imagine why she couldn’t grow cilantro. She said it was because the daylight length up there was so long that it bolted almost immediately. And of course it’s too cold in the winter, probably not enough daylight, either.


I bought some Italian parsley seedlings today. A biennial ,right? I do it it every year, so it may not matter, but what to expect in Nor Cal Central Valley?

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I’ve never, ever had parsley last two years. I feel cheated.

It doesn’t really last two years. I think the idea is that after a year, it goes to seed. I’ve never grown it from seed, but ai think it might already be halfway through that when we buy seedlings.

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I had a parsley that grew into maturity in spite of my neglection. It even sowed its seeds, and grew 10+ offsprings the same time. That was many winters ago, the event never reproduced itself.


c’est la vie

So, to check if I understand, I can leave my parsley right now (in a big blue ceramic pot outdoors) to just freeze over this winter. 2 years later, I might expect to have parsley reborn and sprouting again? I don’t really have to do anything else to to it?

The situation happened more like this, an old parsley plant flowered and dried up with the seeds in late spring/ early summer. Before removing the dead plant, the plant had pollinated all its seeds and new shoots appeared in autumn and grew full size in January, February like weed. I was moving house, I remember trashing many parsleies in order to transport the empty pots in a car. I guess if you let them stayed, years after years you would have them shooting up.

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I’d say depending on your climate, the odds might be against you, but it COULD happen. I thought parsley seeds were notoriously hard to germinate, and might get “hoovered” before they get harvested. I looked it up; they just take a long time in a narrow range of temp and moisture, and it “crosses easily with other types of parsley”.

This year’s Aerogarden basil.


french tarragon doesn’t bloom or set seeds at all. If you have seeds it’s Russian, which tastes horrible, in my opinion.

All the herbs in the raised beds are happy and doing well, Rosemary, parsley, tarragon, dill, chives, Basil
and tons of cilantro. Only the garlic chives are languishing?


Anybody with basil expertise? I’ve transferred most of those Aerogarden plants outside, and would like to know more about what I have. I have grown sweet, genovese, and salad leaf before, and am unhappy about not having any sweet or genovese plants this year, but I was determined not to buy more seed.

So I have

Purple Opal
True Thai
Lemon Basil
Cinnamon Basil (thank you seed traders !)
Salad Leaf

Anyone favor any of these, and if so, for what?

My wife is our gardener (mostly because I don’t seem to flex in the right directions anymore). Her herb garden is outside our front door. This year we have sweet basil, lemon basil, and Thai basil. There was a plan for the various sorts in different meals but we seem to just trim from whichever is bushiest. It doesn’t seem to matter much.

Our biggest problem is the guys who mow the lawn - they aren’t as careful as we’d like them to be with string trimmers so I put up a little fence. Second hazard are deer. sigh

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Shrinkrap, if your Salad leaf is the one which is a milder Genovese flavor, just use more of it, Caprese salad, pesto etc. Thai is not just good for that cuisine, flavoring coconut milk and curries, it adds a pleasant anise-like flavor to pesto, anywhere that flavor is welcome; maybe some shredded on top of a slice of pizza!

Opal basil, unfortunately, turns black in many dishes. It can make a lovely herb vinegar to use in salad dressings. That’s what I used it for. In fact, all the basils make useful vinegars. Some are great additions to chili, soups and stews. Once you have a variety of herb vinegars at your fingertips, you can experiment with blending them, a teaspoon of this, plus a spoon of that…

Cinnamon basil is getting harder to find, good for you! Think middle eastern cuisine, maybe a small bit in mole. It’s been over 30 years since I’ve grown that one.

A word of warning: Not many years ago, a new (to the USA) basil disease was imported, Basil Downy Mildew. I believe it came in on dried Ugandan basil and has spread across the country. The spores blow on the wind and travel great distances. It kills all the varieties very quickly, unless they were bred to be resistant to the disease. It has been reported in every state and many countries.

Early symptoms are yellowing leaves with grey spots and patches on the leaf undersides. Rapidly, the whole plant defoliates and dies. I was astonished how quickly this happened when I first saw it. If it attacks, best to harvest all the basil you can before it wipes out all your plants.

I’m growing Thai and Prospera, a variety that is supposedly resistant to the disease.

Basils outcross like mad. If you want to save seed, you need to cover the unopened flowers with insect-proof netting and carefully hand pollinate. It’s often easier to cover the whole plant with netting.


Thank you both, @Auspicious and @bogman for your detailed answers. By the way @bogman, I have flowers on my rocatillo! Thanks ag.

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I got this free with an order also (Baker’s Creek) - must be tough to get rid of. I use it for stir fries, mostly. Once mine gets bigger, I’m going to experiment with some cocktail recipes, maybe using it in place of mint in a julep.

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Flowers on the Rocotillo already; that sounds like a happy plant(s)! I just made 2 1/2 gallons of hot sauce, which is largely Rocotillo. I blend in the crazy hots to taste and age it in half gallon mason jars with Jack Daniel’s whiskey barrel oak chips, a bit of balsamic and salt. Very popular with friends and family!

I’ve had hit and miss with Baker Creek’s seeds. A lot of them have poor to no germination or are not true to type. I got one plant out of a packet of white bitter melon seeds. The Trichosanthes cucumeria (Snake Gourd) didn’t germinate at all. In 2017, a winter squash I planted on a large scale came out as a terrible mix of types; less than 20% were correct. I have friends that stopped ordering from them due to the impure seed.

Baker Creek has cool stuff, so I keep trying. But, if Johnny’s Selected Seeds have it, they get my money; their seed is top quality.


I have a patch of Thai basil (not the holy basil kind) that grows like weeds in a patch of my garden. Left over from a pressed plant my mom kept year’s ago, but we just didn’t find ourselves using it that much. Now it just pops up on it’s own every spring. Not really a complaint, and it’s helpful when I need a few leaves every once in a while.

On a different note, this is what baby lime leaves look like. :blush::blush: After about a month, finally signs of new growth!