Dill is a culinary herb that has a distinctive flavor that's a cross between celery and fennel. Native to Europe and Asia, dill plays a big role in seasoning pickled foods meant to be canned and stored for winter. Beyond that, both dill's leaves and seeds are used to season a variety of dishes.
Although delicate looking, dill is actually a fairly cold-hardy plant. It's best started in early spring after the chance of frost has passed, and it will grow quickly, with seedlings appearing in around ten days. Mature plants are multi-branched and upright, with finely-dissected leaves and wide, flat flowers that 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.
|Botanical Name||Anethum graveolens|
|Mature Size||3–5 ft. tall, 2–3 ft. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun|
|Soil Type||Rich, well-drained|
|Bloom Time||Late summer, early fall|
|Hardiness Zones||2–11 (USDA)|
|Native Area||Europe, Asia|
Dill is an essential plant for culinary-minded gardeners. You can harvest the leaves at any time, though dill generally blooms about eight weeks after sowing. Once the flowers develop, the plants stop producing foliage and focus on seed development. To extend your dill season, plan to succession plant it every two to four weeks. In addition, 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 foliage or for a bright spot of color—just be sure to keep its self-sowing habit in check.
Dill leaves can be harvested at any time, and seeds should be harvested as they begin to turn brown. Keep a close watch, or they’ll disperse on their own. They can be used fresh or stored in the refrigerator for two to three weeks. Dill can also be frozen or dried, for later use on potatoes, bread, salmon, and other fish, as well as lamb and many vegetables, including peas, beets, and asparagus.
Plant your dill in a spot that gets full sunlight for at least six to eight hours a day. If you live in an especially hot climate during the summer, a bit of afternoon shade is fine and appreciated.
Dill plants prefer soil that is rich, loose, and well-draining. Dill is not particular about its soil pH, but thrives best in a slightly acidic blend. Keep in mind, dill plants have a taproot (a central dominant root from which smaller roots spring), so compacted soil could be a problem. Since dill can self-sow, it's important you either plant it in a spot where it’s allowed to roam or harvest it all before it goes to seed.
Keep your dill plant consistently moist at all times, without allowing the soil to become boggy or soaked. The soil should never be allowed to dry out completely between waterings, as that can cause the plant to prematurely bolt to seed.
Temperature and Humidity
Dill plants are very cold-hardy and can tolerate temperatures that dip as low as 25 degrees Fahrenheit. That being said, the optimal temperature for your dill plant is when the soil is around 70 degrees Fahrenheit, which will happen during the late spring and summer in most USDA hardiness zones. Additionally, dill has no special humidity requirements.
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.
There are several different types of dill, including "dwarf" varieties that are better suited to container gardening. Some common varietals include:
- 'Dukat': A standard varietal, it is popular for its abundant leaves.
- 'Fernleaf': A dwarf variety (less than 18 inches), it's ideal for containers.
- 'Long Island Mammoth': This variety is most commonly grown commercially and is good for harvesting both seeds and leaves.
- 'Mammoth': An especially tall varietal (36 inches or more), this plant has attractive, finely cut leaves.
How to Grow Dill From Seed
Direct sow your dill seeds around the same time as your last expected frost date or start the seeds indoors about four to six weeks prior to planting outdoors. Don’t wait too long to transplant, since dill's taproot system means they're unhappy in small pots.
Plant the seedlings about 1/4 inch deep, spacing them out about 6 to 8 inches from one another. You will probably need to thin your plant as they grow, around the time they reach about 6 inches high. Additionally, dill responds well to pinching out the growing tip—it will make for a bushier plant, so pinch and use your dill often.
Don’t be alarmed if you see caterpillars eating your dill. It is probably a black swallowtail caterpillar—dill is a favorite food of theirs, along with other members of the carrot family. The caterpillars won’t stay long, so instead of fighting to rid your garden of them, just plant some extras to share.
Otherwise, dill is virtually problem-free. In fact, it attracts beneficial insects to your garden—lacewings and syrphid flies will feed on the plant's pollen and lay their eggs nearby, and their larvae, in turn, feed on aphids, which can cause problems for many plants.