Dill is a culinary herb with 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 that will be jarred or canned and stored for winter. Beyond that, both the leaves and seeds are used to season a variety of dishes.
Dill's feathery foliage can be quite ornamental, which makes it a nice addition to flower beds, where it will attract pollinators and butterflies, especially the Eastern black swallowtail butterfly. 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 by deadheading flower heads before they go to seed.
Although it has a delicate appearance, dill is actually a fairly cold-hardy plant. It's best sowed from seed in early spring after the chance of frost has passed, and it will grow quickly, with seedlings appearing in about ten days. Mature plants are multi-branched and upright with finely dissected leaves. The wide, flat flowers that can make the plant top-heavy and cause it to bend over. The entire plant is extremely fragrant—the foliage and seeds are most commonly thought of as seasonings, but the flowers are also edible.
|Botanical Name||Anethum graveolens|
|Mature Size||3 to 5 ft. tall, 2 to 3 ft. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun|
|Soil Type||Rich, well-drained|
|Soil pH||6.5 (slightly acidic)|
|Bloom Time||Late summer, early fall|
|Hardiness Zones||2–11 (USDA)|
|Native Area||Europe, Asia|
How to Plant Dill
Although potted nursery starts are available, it's usually best to sow dill seeds directly in the garden because it has a long taproot that doesn't like to be disturbed. It will germinate best at soil temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Seedlings will appear in 10 to 14 days, and for continued harvest, you can sow additional seeds every two weeks.
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. The seeds can 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 be frozen or dried for use later in breads, salads, soups, and party dips, and on potatoes, salmon and other fish dishes, as well as lamb and many vegetables, including peas, beets, and asparagus.
Plant your dill in a garden location that gets full sunlight for at least six to eight hours each 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 slightly acidic soil. Keep in mind, dill plants have a taproot (a central dominant root from which smaller roots grow), so compacted soil could be a problem. Because dill can self-sow, it's important that you either plant it in a spot where it’s allowed to roam or where you can harvest it before it goes to seed.
Keep your dill plant consistently moist without allowing the soil to become soggy or soaked. The soil should never be allowed to dry out completely between waterings because 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 about70 degrees Fahrenheit, which will happen during the late spring and summer in most USDA hardiness zones. Dill has no special humidity requirements.
Similar to most herbs, dill is not a heavy feeder. 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.
Types of Dill
Here are several common varieties of dill including dwarf varieties that are better suited to container gardening.
- 'Dukat': A standard variety, 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 variety (36 inches or more), this plant has attractive, finely cut leaves.
How to Grow Dill From Seed
Direct sow dill seeds after the danger of frost has passed in spring or start the seeds indoors about four to six weeks prior to planting outdoors. Don’t wait too long to transplant the seedlings because its taproot system makes them unhappy growing in small pots.
Plant the seedlings about one inch deep, spacing them 12 to 15 inches apart. Dill responds well to pinching the growing tip—pinching results in a bushier plant, so pinch and use your dill often.
Common Pests and Plant Diseases
Don’t be alarmed if you see one or more yellow, green, and black caterpillars eating your dill. It is probably an Eastern black swallowtail caterpillar—adult females lay their eggs on dill plants giving the hatchlings a ready-made food source. 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 extra dill 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. The larvae, in turn, feed on aphids, which can cause problems for many plants.