Dill is a very useful herb as the entire plant can be used in cooking, from the roots to the seeds. It will also prove to be a very loyal companion plant for other vegetables and herbs.
Dill (Anethum graveolens) can be grown in a sunny spot in most soil conditions, but does not enjoy frosts or harsh cold winds. Seeds take 14 days for germination and will thank you for being planted where they are to grow. Over Summer months it will benefit from a regular watering. Harvesting can take place from a few months after planting.
We wanted to share with you some of our top tricks and tips with dill as it can be a great herb to grow in any beginners garden, although seemingly overlooked.
How To Care For Your Dill Herbs
As a seedling dill does not like to be moved. It has a long tap root and as such prefers to be left where you plant it. That can mean that dill is an ideal candidate for a biodegradable pot. One where you will plant seeds into a pot that can be transported in its entirety to the ground or pot where it is to grow forever more.
Once you make your own biodegradable pots, you are ready to plant the seeds. The one reason we like to plant in pots is because dill does not like the cold weather and can really struggle with frosts. In the UK it can be hard to second guess when the last frost has been.
Growing Dill Outside In The UK
If you do chose to plant directly then you can protect younger plants with a cloche or a pop up garden poly tunnel like this one from Suttons. Anything like this that is portable and can be placed on top of seedlings is very much welcome in unpredictable climates. Depending on which zone you are in the USA this may be a good option for a long while.
Between April and July you have a good window to start seeds off. We prepare our soil by making sure to dig in some fresh compost from our own bins. Do not be tempted to add any peat to the garden, choose instead a peat free medium. Anything to add a bit of aeration and irrigation.
The site we have chosen has full direct sunlight for the majority of the day. We live in the UK so do not tend to have a harsh heat from the sun, you may choose a spot which only receives morning sunlight, avoiding the heat of the afternoon sun. This is always good to consider if you live in more central zones.
You will sow the seeds thinly to a depth of around 1cm, or a little finger nail widths. This basically means that you sow directly to the ground and then cover with a thin layer of prepared soil. Keep them in rows and it will be easier to use the portable greenhouse to cover them if a sudden frost is likely.
You will get a good germination rate, but never 100% so you will thin them after germination to about 15cm apart, which for me is about the end of my little finger to my wrist.
You may notice that I try to avoid needing a ruler in the garden. I do have other friends who will use a protractor to get the perfect 45 degree angle on their bean poles. This is also wonderful, but I prefer to use fewer tools as, the fewer tools you use, the fewer tools you can lose.
Wait until the plants are large enough to handle before thinning out. You can try to transplant the remaining ones, but just be aware that they may not make it and will be weaker as a result.
The irrigation is important as you do not want soil to dry out. Amongst all of the herbs we grow dill is one that will not tolerate any form of drought. It has those long feathery leaves that will need to be kept in moist soil, not sodden though as the roots will develop rot and fungal diseases.
A strong wind can be the worst enemy of dill, so intersperse your plants with twigs to offer support. We grow ours against a fence, but with other plants to offer support. Dill can be a great companion plant and therefore we like to grow it with other edibles.
Warning – do not plant dill near to fennel as they are very similar and can cross breed. The resulting plant is not one which is a lovely mixture of both flavours. Instead it is kind of drab and dreary in flavour and performance.
Dill can be easily smothered by weeds and will need tending throughout the growing season.
Dill is a self seeding plant and therefore people can mistake it for a perennial, however it is technically a biennial. We grow it as an annual because it is so susceptible to frosts.
To avoid your dill bolting and flowering prematurely keep the soil moist and regularly harvest leaves. We find that the leaves will not last for long once harvested and storage is important, however dried dill is a disappointment.
Growing Dill In Pots
You can grow dill in pots. However one word of warning is that you will need to provide adequate space for a tap root to form. You will also need to be aware that this delicate herb will grow to around 3 foot in height and therefore may need support. Sometimes that support can come in the form of other plants, so it is a nicer problem to have than you might think.
Make sure to use large pots with adequate drainage provided. If there are no drainage holes then a sharp masonry drill bit can be deployed. Go gentle with it and do not apply pressure, instead allow the drill bit to do the hard work for you!
Use a peat free compost with plenty of mature matter in. We tend towards using our own compost as that is firstly free but also in our control, so we know how well rotted it is.
You will sow the seeds thinly then cover with a fine layer of the compost. Water thoroughly and then cover with either a cloche or plastic bag to suit.
We tend to use a lot of different covers, but once the young seedlings emerge we remove the covers to ensure that the plants do not rot. A free flow of air is key to keeping mold away.
WATER your dill plant throughout the growing season and do not allow the plant to dry out. The delicate leaves are feathery and really will lose a lot of moisture to hot winds in particular.
FEED your dill if it is in a pot with a simple organic fertilizer or nettle tea. Most herbs are pretty self sufficient but if you have not used a good compost medium and have planted into virgin soil then feed when you are watering.
Is Dill An Annual Or Perennial
Dill is a biennial meaning it will last for two years. Now we treat it as an annual and grow new each year, which is massively helped because it is also a self seeder.
The reason we do not keep it as a biennial is because of the cold winters. You can easily protect against the cold with a fleece or by cutting back and protecting with a cloche. Be very wary of the slugs and snails that this may attract and keep on top of those with straw around the base.
You may find that one packet of seeds will last for a fair few years, but sharing seeds is a really good way forward with dill.
Dill acts as a very good companion plant to other vegetables you may be growing in the garden. Brassicas, chervil, corn, cucumber, lettuce and even basil to name a few.
Dill repels the natural predators of plants such as Brussels Sprouts or Cabbages. So you can find that you have a greater harvest of these as a result.
Dill also works as a companion plant by attracting other good bugs to your garden. ladybugs and hoverflies to name but two. They will then prey on your aphids and and other mean pests that can destroy your crops.
In turn dill benefits from being close to alliums like onions and garlic, so a perfect pot combination would be chives and dill. Then you can move them around to be positioned closer to your lettuce and basil.
Never plant dill close to fennel and avoid this cross pollination at all costs as it is disappointing.
How To Harvest Dill
You can harvest those soft feathery leaves from around the second month of growth. Eat them quite quickly fresh and add to sauces and salads. If you want to dry the leaves that works well but the intensity of the aniseed celery type taste is lost.
TOP TIP – keep harvesting throughout the year as it will encourage new growth and keep the plant from flowering too soon.
We use dill in herb butters as well as frozen in cubes. It works well to trap the fresh flavour and it is useful for up to a year in the freezer. Which coincides with when we will have fresh leaves again.
To harvest the seeds of dill it is very simple. Wait until late Summer when the flowers have died back and he seeds are starting to turn brown. Hang the dill stalks in bunches with a paper bag over the flower heads. The seeds will dry off completely and drop into the bag.
Make sure to hang any stalks in an area that is airy but not damp without direct sunlight.