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Plant Profile: Dill (Anethum graveolens)

Fresh dill from my garden can turn a good dinner into a treat. We use the leaves with salmon, in cucumber salad, and in tomato soup and the seeds in our favorite coleslaw. And what would oven roasted new potatoes or potato salad be without dill? Since the dill leaves lose their flavor quickly after picking, having a fresh supply is essential for good flavor. To preserve the flavor, I always snip it rather than cut it. Dried dill weed is not very flavorful so I don’t bother with it; freezing it is better. Drying the seeds, however, is productive as they retain their flavor much longer than the leaves. Flowers should be harvested just as the seeds are light brown in color and hung in a dry place until the seeds fall out or you decide to pick them out with your fingers.

Dill is a cool weather crop and so I can only grow it in the spring and fall. I start it from seed sown in the garden a couple of weeks before the last frost and then every three weeks after that until June. After a hiatus in the summer I start planting again in late August. I could buy plants at the farmers’ market but they seem to flower very quickly and die, so starting them from seeds gives me a much longer time to harvest the fresh leaves. Dill can be grown in a container but they are fairly tall (3’) and floppy, and since they disappear all summer I plant them directly into a sunny spot of the vegetable garden where I can follow them with warm weather crops like bell peppers or eggplant when they succumb to the heat and humidity. If I am lucky, the dill will reseed and I get a crop the next year without any effort. Sometimes I even plant them in my formal garden because the foliage is so pretty but they need to be near something stiff there to hold them up. The foliage may also attract the attention of black swallowtails whose caterpillars will devour the leaves quickly. The caterpillars are so interesting and attractive, however, I am happy to share.

Type: Annual herb.

Bloom: Small yellow flowers with tiny petals rolled inward are borne in flat topped umbrella like structures called compound umbels.

Foliage: Feathery, blue-green, compound leaves.

Size: 2-3’ x 1-2’ W.

Light: Full sun.

Soil: Moderately rich, moist, well-drained; pH 6-7.5.

Fertilizer: Fertilize with cottonseed meal or bloodmeal.

Care: Water weekly during dry weather.

Pests and Diseases: Susceptible to horn worms, aster wilt, and Alternaria blight; are said to attract insects such as aphids and thereby protect other plants from infestation.

Propagation: Seed.

Outstanding Selections: ‘Bouquet’ and ‘Fernleaf’ are best in warm climates because of their tendency to flower and set seeds more slowly than other varieties.

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