Most gardeners think of dill (Anethum graveolens) as that herb in pickles, but dill is much more. This easy to grow annual herb has ferny leaves (unfortunately called dill weed) and a flat clusters of yellow flowers. If you let the flowers mature, you can collect the dill seeds in
late summer. Beside using dill in pickles and beans, I also like it in potato salad, egg salad, bread, soups, and various dips and spreads. I even cut and use dill plants in flower arrangements indoors. They have a great airy feel to them.
Dill has an important role to play in the garden beside being a food for us. Beneficial insects love the flowers and I like to let a few plants go to seed even if I’m not using the dill seed, to attract the insects that will attack some of my pest insects. Also, dill leaves are a favored source of food for the black swallowtail butterfly caterpillars. Plant a little extra to share with this beautiful creature.
When to Plant
Dill loves to grow in cool weather, sow seeds or plant seedlings in spring after all danger of frost has passed. That’s usually May in our region. You can also plant in late August for a fall harvest.
Where to Plant
Dill grows best in full sun on well-drained fertile soil. Since the dill stems are hollow and can grow up to 3 feet tall, plant where they will be protected from damaging winds. Plant shorter varieties in containers as well.
How to Plant
Amend the soil with compost before planting. Sow seeds 1 inch apart in rows spaced 2 foot apart. Once plants are 2 inches tall, thin seedlings to 12 inches apart. Plants not thinned properly will bolt (produce a flower stalk) faster. Use the thinnings in salads. Plant small patches of dill every 2 weeks until mid summer to have a continuous harvest of leaves and seeds in late summer and fall.
Care and Maintenance
Dill grows quickly, so keep plants well watered and weeded. As long as you have fertile soil, you shouldn’t have to add fertilizer. If you want more dill leaves, pinch out flower stalks as they form. To get dill seed, allow some plants to flower.
Dill also self-sows readily. If you don’t want dill babies this summer and next year in that area, pinch out the flowers before they mature. The larvae of the swallowtail butterfly loves to feed on dill plants. Handpick them if they are taking over, otherwise share with them and you’ll be rewarded with beautiful butterflies in your garden.
Snip off leaves as needed starting about one month after planting. Pick leaves and flowers for use in pickling. You’ll have to wait another 6 to 8 weeks for the seeds to mature. To harvest dill seeds, cut the stalk 4 inches below the flower once the flowers have passed, but before the dill seed drops to the ground. Place the heads upside down in a paper bag and hang in a warm airy location until the seeds naturally drop into the bag.
‘Fernleaf’ is a shorter, slow-to-bolt variety that’s good if you’re growing dill for the leaves. ‘Superdukat’ is a variety with high oil content and flavor. ‘Bouquet’ is an early maturing variety with large, 6-inch diameter flowers.
Excepted from the Northeast Vegetable and Fruit Gardening book.