Plant Profile: Dill

Once upon a time, I planted dill in my herb garden and it grew so tall and gorgeous that I couldn’t bear to harvest it. So I just admired it in the garden every day and breathed in its delightful fragrance instead. It lived happily ever after, the end.

OK, so I’m exaggerating a little, but there’s a nugget of truth there. Dill is a delight to grow because it blesses you in two ways: with its exquisite beauty and its extensive culinary uses. You can’t go wrong with this wonderful plant.

Anethum graveolens is a member of the Apiaceae (or Umbelliferae) family, which makes it a cousin of carrots, parsley and celery. But unlike some of the more temperamental members of the Apiaceae family, this herb isn’t particularly challenging to grow. You’ll need the basics: full sun, rich soil that is well drained (slightly acidic is best) and regular watering.

photo of dill leaf

Hand of woman with fresh dill in the vegetable garden

Because of its mature height of 2 to 4 feet, the plant benefits from support to help it remain stable in the wind. You can stake your plants or provide another type of support—I grow mine next to a fence and use a bit of string to keep them from falling over on breezy days.

It’s been said that dill is difficult to transplant, which is why it’s generally recommended that you plant seed directly into the garden bed. And while it may be true that growing from seed is more universally successful than transplanting, I’ve had good success growing it from transplants, so don’t rule out particularly appealing seedlings you run across at the farmers’ market.

If you do decide to plant from seed, plant them ¼-inch deep, and to ensure continuous production of dill all season, plant seeds in succession every couple of weeks. Dill is often planted in clumps rather than rows, so bear that in mind as well.

But let’s jump ahead to harvest time. You can use the foliage either fresh or dried, and you can begin harvesting the foliage once the plants are well established and have reached a height of at least 6 to 8 inches. The flavor is said to be best just before flowering. Later, you can harvest seeds from the beautiful, umbrellalike flower heads.

Beyond Pickles

So let’s say your dill plants have produced impressively and you’re ready to put your bounty to use in the kitchen. Don’t limit yourself into thinking that its primary role is as a flavoring for pickles. Dill is so much more than a perfect pickle partner!

A staple in Greek cuisine, dill is delightful in Mediterranean-style poultry dishes. It also pairs exceptionally well with fish, such as salmon and tuna. (Hint: a lemon-dill sauce makes a delectable accompaniment to your favorite fish dish.)

Prefer beef? Dill makes a flavorful addition to beef stews or pot roasts, or serve a dill-garlic butter with your favorite steak—delicious!

But meats aren’t the only vehicle for highlighting this herb’s flavor. We already know that it pairs well with cucumbers, and not only as pickles. Toss fresh cucumbers and onions with a creamy, dill-infused dressing for a simple yet splendid salad. Or include dill as an addition to your favorite vegetable dip and serve as an appetizer. And if you haven’t yet tried the combination of dill and goat cheese, you’re missing out on something amazing.

Dill is also good friends with spinach—a dill-spinach quiche is an absolute delight. Or if you prefer the creamy warmth of soup, use it to flavor your tomato soup served with a grilled cheese sandwich made with Havarti cheese? And then may I join you for lunch?

Best of all, perhaps, is potato salad with dill—the flavor simply epitomizes summertime and picnics.

And if all of that wasn’t enough to convince you that dill deserves a prominent place in your garden, I’ll leave you with this tidbit: Dill is favored by ladybugs, which can help reduce the presence of aphids in your garden, and dill is also the preferred plant of swallowtail caterpillars. What more could you wish for?

This article was written by Samantha Johnson and appeared in the January/February 2020 issue of the Northern Gardener. Northern Wisconsin-based Samantha Johnson is the author of several books, including The Beginner’s Guide to Vegetable Gardening, (Voyageur Press, 2013).


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