Dill, Anethum graveolens, is an annual plant native to Asia Minor and the Mediterranean region. The tall, leggy, and feathery green leaves are a standby herb for soups and stews and absolutely crucial when pickling your summer harvest. Thankfully, this incredibly useful herb is rather easy to grow! Read on for everything you'll need to know to grow and harvest dill.
Why Should You Plant a Dill In Your Garden?
Dill (Anethum graveolens) is an annual herb from the parsley family. While it only grows as an annual, it is self-seeding, so with a bit of care, your dill plant can have a spot in your garden year after year. The feathery green leaves are intensely aromatic and commonly used in the kitchen. While it has lovely yellow flowers, it is the green leaves and the flat oval seeds that are sought after for flavoring and medicinal purposes. Like other parsley plants, the dill plant attracts the black swallowtail butterfly and is a great host plant for their caterpillars.
How To Grow Dill In Your Garden Successfully
Dill thrives the best in full sun. They can handle light shade but will not grow as thick and busy. Because of how fine and airy the leaves are, it's best to shelter dill from strong winds, but make sure there is good air circulation around the plant to keep the plant healthy.
Dill grows the best in well-drained garden soil, rich in organic matter. But the plant can tolerate poor soil conditions. If you can test the pH of your soil, it should be between neutral and slightly acidic. Before planting the seed, make sure the soil temperature has remained at about 70F.
Dill Companion Planting
When planting dill in your garden, there are a few companion planting tips to keep in mind. Dill can be planted alongside most vegetables, but it is particularly useful at discouraging cabbage loopers, aphids, and spider mites. For this reason, dill will be particularly useful if planted next to cabbage and onions. Dill plants tend to attract tomato hornworms. Some gardeners use dill to keep the hornworms off of their tomatoes. There's no fruit on the dill for the hornworms to destroy, and they're much easier to find and destroy from the fine, feathery dill plant than the tomato plant.
The only vegetables that you need to keep away from dill are carrots and fennel. Why? They're all members of the parsley family, and so they will easily cross-pollinate and stunt the growth of your vegetables.
How To Plant Dill Seeds
While you might see dill seedlings sold in greenhouses and nurseries, the best way to grow dill is from seed. They have taproots that transplant poorly. It's better to sow seeds directly, and you can sow dill seeds directly in the garden or a container.
Dill is suited for container growing, especially for the dwarf variety. When grown in a container, it is best to add some support stakes or trellis around it because mature plants tend to fall due to their weak and hollow stems. To choose the right container, find one that is one to two feet deep. Make sure there are good drainage holes, and you use well-drained soil.
Dill seeds should only plant a quarter of an inch deep. Plant the seeds 18 inches apart, however. They wind up taking up quite a bit of room, reaching 2 to 4 feet tall and half as wide, and you don't want to overcrowd them and block out sunlight. Also, keep in mind that dill weed is typically grown in clumps, not rows. Some gardeners sow them similar to carrots, with a more liberal hand to then thin out later.
After 10 to 14 days, you should see little dill plants popping up through the soil. Wait for another 10 to 14 days before thinning the plants out to 18 inches apart, if they aren't already spaced as such.
Caring and Growing Dill Plants
Now that your dill is growing keep in mind to water it freely throughout the summer. It's important that it not be overwatered, as it can lead to root rot. But it shouldn't dry out excessively between waterings.
To keep a steady supply of fresh dill on hand all season long, sow more seeds every couple of weeks. You can also encourage your dill to keep focusing its energy on its leaves by pinching off the flowers as they start to form. Once dill goes to flower or bolts, the leaves start to become more bitter.
As you near the end of your growing season, consider leaving the flowers alone. They are tiny yellow flowers arranged in umbrella-shaped flower heads. Dill self-seeds readily and generously. If you let the flower head go into full seed and take care not to disturb the surrounding soil too much between growing seasons, you'll likely see a new dill patch appear in the early spring. You can also harvest some of those mature plants for seeds to be used in the kitchen.
When And How To Harvest Your Dill
Dill leaves can be harvested once the plant has four or five leaves. Start harvesting the older leaves first, from the bottom of the plant. Once your plant really takes off, feel free to cut off entire stalks. If you have more dill than you can use, don't dry it - freeze it! Finely chop the leaves in a blender or food processor, add just enough water to make a paste, and freeze in ice cube trays. You should be able to harvest several crops during the summer and fall.
Tip For Using Dill
The dried dill that you see in pantries doesn't hold a candle to the flavor and aroma of fresh dill. Dill tastes slightly grassy, with a flavor similar to anise or licorice. A little goes a long way with dill, which is why it's often used as a garnish on dishes. However, it also loses flavor the longer it is cooked, so add it to your food right before serving.
Dill seed is similar in flavor to caraway and cooks opposite to dill leaves - the longer dill seeds are in a dish, the more developed the aroma and flavor will become. This makes the aromatic plants great for use in pickling and fermenting - think of dill pickles and sauerkraut.
Dill has been used across cultures throughout history for its ability to soothe indigestion and other stomach troubles. Today, you'll see it as an ingredient in medicines for infant colic. Chewing the seeds also works great as a breath freshener!
Dill Pests And Diseases
Dill attracts parsley caterpillars and tomato hornworms. To remove them, simply handpick the pests off the plant. However, don't let this deter you, as dill also attracts beneficial insects to your garden.
Dill has no serious disease problem. However, it can get some fungal diseases which can be treated by applying fungicide to the seed before planting.