Dill is a culinary herb in the celery family. It has a distinctive flavor that is something like a cross between celery and fennel. Dill, or Anethum graveolens, is native to Eastern Europe and plays a big role in seasoning pickled foods to be canned and stored for winter. Both dill's leaves and its seeds are used in cooking. Although delicate looking, dill is actually a fairly cold-hardy plant.
Dill is a multi-branched, upright plant with finely dissected leaves, some varieties more so than others. The wide, flat flowers can make the plant top-heavy and cause it to bend over. The entire plant is extremely fragrant. The leaves and seeds are most commonly thought of as seasonings, but the flowers are also edible.
- Leaves: Multi-branched with lacy, blue-green foliage. "Dillweed" refers to the foliage as an herb.
- Flowers: Chartreuse rounded, compound umbels that can be upwards of 3 inches across.
Dill plants are grown as annuals, so they do not have a USDA Hardiness Zone rating. In hot weather, dill may go to seed quickly. Cooler zones can probably grow dill throughout the summer, but in zones 9 and above, the dill growing season is often limited. Dill can also self-sow readily.
For healthy plants, plant your dill in full sun.
Mature Plant Size
The size of dill plants depends on the variety you are growing. Most will reach a height of between 18 to 40 inches.
Bloom Period/Days to Harvest
You can harvest leaves at any time. Dill generally blooms about 8 weeks after sowing. Once the flowers develop, the plants stop producing foliage and focus on seed development. You can extend your dill season by succession planting it every 2 to 4 weeks.
How to Harvest
Leaves can be harvested at any time. They can be used fresh or stored in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 weeks. Dill can also be frozen or dried, for later use.
Dill seeds should be harvested as they begin to turn brown. Keep a close watch, or they’ll disperse on their own.
How to Use
Dill is probably best known for its use in pickles. The seeds are almost always included in pickling spice mixes. However the leaves, especially, can be used to flavor all sorts of foods, like potatoes, bread, salmon and other fish, lamb and many vegetables, like peas (pea soup), beets and asparagus.
Varieties to Grow
- 'Dukat': A standard that is popular for its abundant leaves.
- 'Fernleaf': A dwarf variety (18 inches) that’s nice for containers. AAS Winner.
- 'Long Island Mammoth': This variety is most commonly grown commercially. Good for both seeds and leaves.
- 'Mammoth': Tall plant (36 inches) with very attractive, finely cut leaves.
- Soil: Dill is not particular about soil type or soil pH. It does have a taproot, so compacted soil could be a problem. Since dill can self-sow, pick a spot where it’s allowed to roam. Otherwise, be sure to harvest before it goes to seed.
- Planting: Direct sow seeds about the time of your last expected frost date. Plant about 1/4 inch deep. You will probably need to thin your plants once they reach about 6 to 8 inches high. You can always eat the thinnings. Spacing varies from about 6 to 8 inches to 12 to 18 inches.
Dill can be started indoors, about 4 to 6 weeks prior to planting outdoors. Don’t wait too long to transplant, since dill has a taproot and will be unhappy in a small pot.
To keep dill producing all summer, you can succession plant every 2 to 4 weeks.
Growing in Flower Gardens and Containers
Dwarf varieties of dill grow well in containers, although they will require a bit more water and fertilizer than if grown in the ground.
The feathery foliage can be quite ornamental, which makes it a nice addition to flower beds, where it will attract pollinators and butterflies. It blends well with other plants, whether used as a foliage plant or for a bright spot of color. Just be sure to keep the self-sowing in check.
Maintenance and Care
If your garden soil is rich in organic matter, your dill should require no additional fertilizer. Keeping the soil slightly lean will produce more aromatic plants.
Because dill has a taproot, it should only require extra water while it is first planted and during hot, dry weather.
Dill responds well to pinching out the growing tip. Pinching will make for a bushier plant, so pinch and use your dill often.
Pests and Problems
Don’t be alarmed if you see caterpillars eating your dill. It is probably the caterpillar of the black swallowtail. Dill is a favorite food of theirs, along with other members of the carrot family. The caterpillars won’t stay long. Just plant some extras to share.
Dill is virtually problem-free. In fact, it attracts beneficial insects. Lacewings and syrphid fly adults will feed on the pollen and lay their eggs nearby. Their larvae feed on aphids.