One of the first plants we advise beginner gardeners to cultivate is herbs, mainly because they are so incredibly easy to grow, even with mistakes in their care and maintenance. And dill is no different! Dill is easy to grow and gets along well with many other garden plants. Many gardeners choose to sow dill seeds wherever there is extra space in their garden since it is so beneficial as a companion plant.
In this guide, we’ll take a look at everything you need to know about dill, from its history to how to grow this magnificent beginner’s herb.
The Botanical Name and History of Dill
The culinary herb known as dill or sometimes dill weed is classified as Anethum graveolens. It is part of the Apiaceae plant family, making it a close cousin of plants such as caraway, cumin, lovage, parsnip, and many other edible plants.
The flavor of dill is a mix between fennel and celery, which is why it is so popular as a culinary herb. Dill is a plant native to Europe and Asia, where it has been used as a key ingredient in flavoring pickled meals that will be preserved in jars or cans and kept for the winter. Just as well, the seeds and leaves of dill are also used to season a variety of foods.
The history of mankind’s use of dill is very far-reaching. It’s been found dried and preserved in the tombs of ancient Egyptian Pharaohs dating back to 1400 BC. There is also evidence of it being cultivated in Greece since around 700 BC and has even been mentioned in writings by Greek philosophers. Today, dill is commercially grown around the world, but it is still a staple in Mediterranean cuisine.
Dill is actually a rather cold-hardy plant, despite the fact that it has a fragile look. It grows fast with healthy seedlings emerging in about 10 days. The leaves of mature plants have delicate veining and are erect and multi-branched. The plant boasts very top-heavy, flat, broad blossoms. The blossoms are also edible. The entire dill plant has a strong fragrance, and the leaves and seeds are typically used as spices.
There are a few different varieties of dill that are quite popular for culinary use. The Dukat dill is the standard dill, known for producing large yields of leaves. The Mammoth dill is a very large variety that can easily reach three feet in height. The Fernleaf dill plant is the smallest dill variety that rarely grows to more than a foot tall and is popular as a potted plant. The Long Island Mammoth dill is used primarily by commercial growers and is the most common dill found in grocery stores.
Climate and Hardiness Zone Requirements for Dill
Dill is highly tolerant of cold temperatures. In fact, it can handle temperatures as low as 25 degrees F. It can also handle quite a bit of heat, as its ideal temperature range to sprout is around 70 degrees F. It can be grown in most climates in the United States. The ideal hardiness zones for dill are two through 11.
When to Grow Dill
When the threat of spring frost has gone, start planting your dill seeds. As mentioned earlier, this is a very cold-hardy plant; but it will not sprout if it is planted during freeze periods. If you live in a hardiness zone that does not experience periods of frost, you can basically start planting dill whenever you please. By sowing seeds every two to three weeks through midsummer, you can reap a variety of crops throughout the summer and fall.
What to Plant with Dill
Dill is a wonderful addition to any garden since it gets along well with other plants. Your dill plant’s blossoms will draw helpful insects and pollinators, which will support the growth of other plants. Dill is a fantastic partner for most plants since it encourages predatory insects to fend against pests that wreak havoc on cucumbers, basil, lettuce, and other plants.
Dill’s pungent flavor and scent help ward off pests like cabbage worms that might harm your brassica plants, so plant it with plants like cabbage, broccoli, and kale. Dill grows well with garlic and onions because their aroma deters insects that would otherwise attack dill plants.
How to Grow Dill
Dill is an excellent addition to flower gardens because of its attractive feathery leaf, which will draw pollinators and butterflies. Used as foliage or as a plant with a brilliant burst of color, it mixes well with other plants in vegetable gardens and ornamental settings. Just be sure to control its tendency to self-sow by deadheading flower heads before they set seed. Otherwise, you might have a garden full of dill and nothing else.
The dill plant has a long taproot that doesn’t like to be disturbed, so it’s typically preferable to sow dill seeds directly in the garden. The ideal soil temperature for it to sprout is between 60 and 70 degrees F. After 10 days to two weeks, seedlings will develop, and you can plant more seeds every two weeks for an ongoing harvest.
For gardeners who have a passion for cooking, dill is a must. The leaves can be picked at any time, but dill typically flowers eight weeks after planting. As the flowers appear, the plants shift their attention to seed production and stop producing leaves. As soon as the seeds start to turn brown, they are ready to be picked and used for food or more cultivation. They’ll scatter on their own, so keep a watchful eye on them.
To prevent dill from growing leggy, prune it early in the season. Cut the plant’s top leaves off to promote the growth of new lower leaves. Any bits that have been trimmed can be immediately used for cooking or pickling.
Soil and Fertilizer Requirements for Dill
The best soil for dill plants is one that is rich, loose, and well-draining. While dill is not picky about the pH of the soil, it does best in slightly acidic soil. A taproot, or core dominating root from which lesser roots emerge, is a feature of dill plants. Therefore, compacted soil can become an issue. Dill can also self-sow, so it’s crucial to either put it where it can grow freely or where you can pick it before it sets seed.
Dill is not a heavy feeder, like the majority of culinary herbs. Your dill shouldn’t need any additional fertilizer if your garden soil is rich in organic materials. A slightly leaner soil will result in more fragrant plants.
Water Requirements for Dill
Keep the soil around your dill plant continuously wet without letting it get soggy or drenched. Never let the soil get entirely dry in between waterings either, since this might lead to the plant going into seed too early. Remember, seeding dill plants do not produce any more leaves!
Temperature and Humidity Requirements for Dill
Dill plants can withstand temperatures as low as 25 degrees F and are extremely cold-hardy. The plant’s soil should be approximately 70 degrees F for your dill plant to thrive, which will occur in the late spring and summer in the majority of USDA hardiness zones. There are no specific humidity needs for dill, as they are tolerant of dry and damp air.
Sunlight Requirements for Dill
Dill should be planted in a garden area that receives full sun for at least six to eight hours daily. If you are in an area where summers are very hot, a little midday shade is acceptable and welcomed.
Pot Requirements for Dill
If you don’t have outdoor garden space, you’re in luck! Pots of dill can be kept on a sunny balcony or deck even if you don’t have an outside garden. Dill plants grow with a deep taproot, so pick a pot that is at least a foot deep. Depending on the width of the container, keep in mind the spacing of one to two feet per dill plant.
Common Pest and Disease Issues to Watch Out For
Aphids and other plant pests, as well as a caterpillar species known as the parsley worm, are drawn to dill in large numbers. Add a few ladybugs to your yard to get rid of aphids on your plants. Parsley worms should not be destroyed since they will ultimately turn into butterflies that are beneficial pollinators. Do not apply chemical weed killers or pesticides to your dill plants or anywhere near them if you plan to use the plant for cooking. Realistically, pest issues are few and far between. If you notice a caterpillar or two on your dill, consider relocating the caterpillars to another part of the garden or possibly bringing your dill inside to avoid pests altogether.
How to Harvest and Use Dill
As soon as you cut fresh dill weed, it starts to droop and lose its strength within a few days. Use the entire plant as soon as you can. Fresh dill can be kept in the refrigerator either with the leaves wrapped in a moist paper towel or with the stems tucked into a jar of water.
In a mixed bouquet, fresh dill flower umbels look quite lovely but don’t be shocked if the plants start to wilt within a few hours. These work well for last-minute bouquets that are snipped quickly before a dinner gathering.
Once the yellow blossoms of your dill plant have faded but just before the seeds start to mature and loosen from the umbel, remove the flower stems to collect the dill seeds. Hang the plant upside-down in a cool, dry area, cover the entire flower head with a little paper bag, and wait for the seeds to fall and collect in the bottom of the bag. The seeds should be kept in a cold, dry, and dark location in an airtight glass container. You can either immediately plant them or use them for cooking.
Dill is famously used for adding flavor to pickled foods, specifically pickled cucumbers. For detailed instructions on how to make pickles and ensure food safety, explore some pickle recipes online. Typically, each batch should contain three to five clean and fresh dill seed heads. Although dried dill can be used for pickling, the flavor might not be as pleasant as it would be fresh.
You really can’t go wrong with dill! This herb requires very little human intervention to grow well. And since basically every part of the plant has some culinary use, it’s a great multi-purpose plant to grow over and over in any garden. Why not grow your own dill today?
The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/DevidDO
FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
What type of soil does dill need to flourish?
The best type of soil for dill is well-draining soil that is just a little bit on the acidic side with plenty of organic material.
Why is dill hard to grow?
Beginners might find dill difficult to grow for a number of reasons. It must be planted at very specific times (namely early spring), cannot handle too much heat, and is susceptible to many different kinds of pests.
Does dill come back every year?
Dill is considered a self-seeding annual. That means that it does die each year and will not come back unless it has been allowed to flower and drop its seeds, which will grow new plants come springtime.
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