Dill is an annual herb whose fragrant, delicate-tasting leaves, also known as dillweed, will enhance a variety of your favorite foods. Yet dill brings as much to the landscape as it does to the palate. Its finely textured blue-green foliage grows on upright stalks of fountainous stems. In late spring, you may want to cut dill's chartreuse flowers and use them in a flower arrangement. Dill also produces pungent seeds that you can easily dry and store for culinary use, particularly for dill pickles. After seeds are set, dill plants will die, but you can sow the seed again in late summer and early fall.
In the Landscape
Dill is a cool-weather annual that grows in spring and fall. Plants reach 2 to 3 feet tall with graceful leaves branching from hollow stems. Yellowish green flowers borne in flat umbels electrify the garden in spring and fall. Use dill in the middle or back of a border, and plant it where it can be allowed to reseed. Dill can be grouped with other cool-weather annuals and biennials, such as cilantro and parsley.
Planting and Care
Plant dill in full sun. Choose a place where the stalks are protected from strong winds, or be prepared to stake the plants. Dill likes rich, well-drained soil with a pH of 5.5 to 6.5. Enrich the soil with organic matter before planting, and add a slow-release fertilizer to the soil before or during planting.
In spring, sow seeds two to four weeks before the last frost; in fall, sow again about two months before frost. For a continuous supply of foliage, make successive sowings every two weeks in spring until seeds stop germinating in the heat of summer. Water when the weather is dry.
It is best to sow the seeds directly in the garden. Plant them in rows, or spread them over the surface of the planting site and cover with 1/4 inch of soil. The seeds will sprout in 10 to 14 days. When the plants are 2 to 3 inches tall, thin them to 6 to 12 inches apart.
Because dill has a long, carrotlike root, starting it from transplants can be a challenge. Transplants tend to go to seed quickly without producing much foliage. If you start with transplants, choose small plants that are 2 to 3 inches tall.
When dill flowers in late spring, it is time to harvest the entire plant. If dill is planted in fall, it will be killed by the first frost. But if allowed to go to seed, it should sprout again from the fallen seed the following spring. Because dill self-sows readily, you may want to leave a few seedheads in the garden to begin next year's crop.
Do not plant dill near fennel; the two herbs can cross-pollinate with unpredictable results. Dill attracts the parsleyworm caterpillar, which grows into the black swallowtail butterfly. Gardeners often leave the caterpillars alone and plant extra dill to encourage these butterflies to come to their gardens.
Species and Selections
Most dill plants are tall and leggy, but the selection Dill Bouquet (Anethum graveolens Dill Bouquet) is shorter and more compact than common dill. It reaches only 2 feet in height and does not need staking. The foliage is also fuller and more plentiful. Dill Bouquet is excellent for growing in containers. Hedger is a European selection ideal for cut flowers as it produces few seeds and is suitable for cutting over a long time.
Harvest, Storage, and Use
You can harvest dill foliage anytime from seedling stage until the plants bloom. When the plant begins to flower and set seed, harvest the entire plant and preserve the foliage. Use the flowers in arrangements.
To harvest dill seeds, collect them when they first turn brown, or they will soon drop off. Cut the seedhead halfway down the stalk, and hang it upside down in a paper bag in a dry, well-ventilated place. After the seeds drop into the bag, store them in an airtight container. Dill's pungent seeds can be used in pickles, breads, salad dressings, and sauerkraut.
Dill leaves are best enjoyed fresh but can be frozen in water or stock, dried, or, if refrigerated, stored in butter or oil. Finely chop fresh dill for maximum flavor. Use it on fish, in beans, eggs, soups, sandwiches, vegetables (potatoes, cabbage, green beans), green salads, potato salads, sauces, and cheese. Dill makes a good salt substitute. Dried leaves tend to lose flavor in the drying process, so use them liberally.