How to Grow Dill

Stagger your crops so you can enjoy this herb in summer dishes all season long

By Adrienne Brown

The distinct flavour of dill makes pickles perfect, mixes well in dips and pairs delightfully with fish. Luckily for dill lovers, the herb grows quickly and steadily like a weed—but that makes it no less desirable in any herb garden.

Conrad Richter, owner of Richters Herbs in Goodwood, Ont., says dill is actually two different herbs: the seeds and the fresh leaves. “Although all dill varieties provide both, the different varieties were developed with one or the other product in mind,” he says.

Cultivars to try

Choose your dill depending on what you want to use it for, the leaves or the seeds. If it’s both you desire, grow a couple different types!

Richter breaks down the basic types of dill into two categories: traditional varieties, which are tall and need lots of space in your garden (and which tend to go to seed more quickly) and newer, more compact varieties that can be grown in containers if you’re short on space.

Three dill cultivars to consider

Mammoth dill: a popular tall variety; produces great leaves and seeds

Monia dill: A “new and improved” dwarf variety like the better-known Fernleaf dill that can be grown in smaller spaces, including in containers (although a small spot in the garden is better—it’s not as tall as other varieties).

Dukat dill: “an excellent all-around variety” for gardeners with space to spare to let it grow to a good size.

How to start dill

Sow your dill directly in the garden under a very thin layer of soil. Dill belongs to the carrot family with coriander, caraway, cumin and parsley, none of which like to have their roots disturbed (this can trigger the plant to go to seed).

If you seed after the last frost in your area, your dill will adapt better to cooler outdoor conditions and won’t suffer transplant shock. “In the end, this quickly makes up the weeks that indoor started plants have on the outdoor sown plants,” says Richter.

Where to grow dill

Ideally, plant your dill in “well-drained, loamy or sandy soils,” recommends Richter, although heavier clay soils work as well.

Dill, like most other herbs, loves sun. “But don’t let non-ideal conditions stop you from trying dill,” says Richter. “A half-shaded corner in the garden will produce some nice foliage too—maybe not as wonderful as that grown in full sun, but still very nice to use in cooking.”

Richter says you can grow dwarf varieties of dill in containers if necessary, but it’s certainly not ideal. Unfortunately, though, “no dill lasts long in pots,” says Richter. “As the plants are cut back they do not regrow much—certainly not like other herbs such as mint or thyme. Generally people can expect to cut back a few times and then one has to start again. For dill enthusiasts, it makes sense to have several pots going in rotation at any one time.”

Caring for dill

Throughout the season, especially during hot, dry summers, keep your dill consistently watered. According to Richter, this will prevent anthocyanins from developing. “Anthocyanins are stress response compounds that increase the bitterness somewhat. There are varieties (like Dukat) that farmers prefer to grow that have less anthocyanins where this is a problem,” he says.

Pests and diseases

Dill doesn’t tend to be susceptible to pests or diseases. Aphids can be an issue (though it’s rare), but once your dill flowers, it will also attract ladybugs, which should eat the aphids right up.

Dill does attract some butterflies, though, including the beautiful black swallowtail. If you see a large caterpillar (specifically, the parsley worm) on your dill, simply transfer it to a less valuable plant so it can munch on that instead.

Harvesting and using dill

If you’re after dill seeds for your homemade pickles, be careful not to cut too much foliage during the season. Richter says it’s okay to take a few branches here and there when you need them, but you should leave most to develop seeds.

If you want both fresh leaves and seeds from your dill crop, Richter suggests planning to thin your rows and then using the thinnings for fresh use. “Then, as plants grow, select a portion of the row to cut for fresh use or continue to thin plants between the ones designated as your ‘seed’ plants,” he says.

Dill seeds are ready to harvest when they turn brown and are almost at the point of falling off. Once you’ve harvested them, dry dill seeds carefully. Don’t dry them in an oven or other heated place, says Richter, or they’ll lose their flavour. Instead, let them dry slowly in a shaded, well-ventilated area for a week or two. By then, they should be completely dry and you can store them in air-tight containers until you’re ready to use them. If they’re not completely dry, you risk mould growing on the seeds in storage.

Dried foliage is flavourless, so get your fill while it’s fresh or try freezing it.

© 2013 Canadian Gardening. Photo: letty17/istock.
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