Dill is one of my favorite herbs to grow. Not only do its feathery leaves have so many culinary uses, it’s also a host plant for black swallowtail caterpillars, which could really use our help right now. In addition to helping us save the butterflies, dill flowers also attract tons of beneficial insects. That makes it a great companion plant for pretty much anything you might be growing but especially for fruiting plants that need pollination.
Overall, dill makes a great addition to your kitchen garden. Let’s look at how to grow this popular herb at home.
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DILL GROWING SEASON
Dill thrives in cool weather. In colder climates, the best times to grow dill are the fall and spring. In warmer climates like Texas, dill can grow from fall all the way to spring. Dill is frost tolerant (it can handle temps down to 25°F or so), but you’ll get more leaf production if you use some frost protection when there’s danger of frost.
Dill is an annual herb, which means it has a fairly short lifespan in your garden. In late spring or early summer, as soon as the temperature rises above 85 degrees Fahrenheit, dill will bolt, or go to seed. You’ll notice the plant forming a long stalk and flower spikes, and the leaves will lose their characteristic dill flavor.
Don’t worry though. You’re about to get beautiful flowers and then lots of dill seeds. Like I said, dill flowers are one of the top attractors of pollinators like bees and butterflies.
WHERE TO GROW DILL
When the weather is cooler, I love to grow dill plants in my raised beds, where they thrive thanks to the well-drained soil rich in organic matter. You can also grow dill in large pots or in-ground garden beds. Keep in mind that taller varieties can grow upwards of 3′ tall when you’re choosing a location.
Dill is an annual plant in the carrot family. Herbs from this family (which also include parsley and cilantro) can make do with more shade than herbs in the mint family (like oregano and basil). Dill grows faster in full sun, but it does fine in light shade. Afternoon shade is actually ideal in warmer weather.
Growing Dill in Containers
You’ll need a deep pot or container (at least 12″ in height) to accommodate dill’s long taproot. Good drainage is also important to keeping dill happy, so make sure the pot or container you choose has at least one drainage hole at the bottom. I recommend terra cotta pots since they absorb excess moisture and prevent overwatering.
Fill your pot or container with equal parts high-quality potting soil like Fox Farms Ocean Forest potting mix and compost. If your container is more than 6 inches wide, you can grow dill alongside other herbs, like cilantro, parsley, and basil, which have similar watering needs.
Growing Dill Indoors
You can grow this fragrant plant indoors over winter and from late spring to fall for fresh herbs during months when the temperature isn’t right for dill. Make sure to give your plants at least 4 to 6 hours of sunlight a day in a windowsill. Rotate your pot or container each time you water to even out your dill plant’s growth.
If you’ve run out of window real estate, you can also grow herbs like dill in a hydroponic system like an AeroGarden or under a grow light—just leave the artificial light source on for at least 12 hours a day and position it right over the leaves.
HOW TO SOURCE DILL PLANTS
For best results, direct sow dill seeds in the spot where you want dill to grow. I love the herb seeds from Botanical Interests, and an entire package of dill seeds costs about the same as a single dill herb at the store.
If you do buy a dill plant from your local nursery or garden center, just be extra careful when you’re transplanting it to avoid disturbing the roots. Your dill plant might bolt, or go to seed, a little bit sooner than dill plants that were direct sown in the vegetable garden.
HOW TO PLANT DILL SEEDS
Again, dill doesn’t transplant very well, so it’s best to plant seeds directly in the garden 1 to 2 weeks before your average last frost date in the spring or once your temps have fallen below 80°F in the late summer or fall.
Before sowing seeds, add a 3″ to 4″ layer of fresh compost to the planting area. Dill seeds are fairly small and thin, so you’ll simply press them into the soil surface instead of burying them, then sprinkle some soil on top. I recommend spacing seeds about 3″ apart so that you don’t have to thin seedlings later.
Keep the soil evenly moist while you’re waiting on seedlings to pop up, which can take about 3 weeks.
For a continuous supply of fresh dill, sow more seeds every 2 to 3 weeks.
HOW TO CARE FOR DILL PLANTS
Dill likes a fairly moist soil. Your plants will need at least 1″ of water every week, either from rainfall or supplemental watering. If you’re growing dill in a container, remember that the soil will dry out faster than in the ground or a raised bed. You’ll need to check on your herbs each day.
Dill shouldn’t need additional fertilizing beyond the compost added to your soil at the time of planting.
Dill plants can grow to be 3′ tall. They have hollow stems, which makes them vulnerable to strong winds and heavy rains. For this reason, I like to grow dill near my garden trellises or near taller plants like tomatoes for some structural support.
Dill isn’t particularly vulnerable to pests. Follow these steps to get rid of aphids if you notice a bunch of teeny tiny bugs on young leaves. If you see caterpillars on your dill plants, identify what type of caterpillar they are before you remove them or spray them with B.t.
They’re likely caterpillars for swallowtail butterflies if they’re sporting a really fun pattern in lime green, yellow, black and white. You want to leave these guys be, even if they’re eating your plants. I recommend just growing a lot of dill so you can have leaves for yourself and still share with hungry caterpillars.
HOW TO HARVEST DILL LEAVES
You can begin harvesting the leaves of dill about 4 to 6 weeks after sprouting. At this point, the plant should be about 8 inches tall.
Use a clean pair of scissors or your fingernails to harvest dill in the early morning, when the leaves will have the most flavor. The best way to harvest dill without harming the plant is to cut the outermost stems. Take no more than 1/3 of the plant, leaving the center leaves to keep growing.
Harvest often to encourage the plant to grow even more dill leaves. Remember, you can enjoy every part of the plant, including the stems. If you notice the first flowers forming on your plant, pinch them off to extend your leaf production a bit longer.
HOW TO ENJOY FRESH DILL LEAVES
Dill leaves lose their flavor pretty quickly after harvest, so it’s best to enjoy them as soon as possible. Fresh dill is wonderful in chicken salad, potato salad, and dips like ranch dressing, Greek feta dip, and tzatziki. Dill also pairs well with shrimp and fish dishes. If you’re into pickling, you can, of course, use dill to make your own dill pickles.
4 DIFFERENT WAYS TO STORE DILL FROM THE GARDEN
For best results, wash and dry your dill leaves before storage.
To store in the fridge, place the dill stems in a jar filled with an inch or so of fresh water. Loosely cover the top with a plastic bag. Dill should last for at least a week this way in the fridge.
Another option is to fold dill stems up in a dry paper towel and place inside an airtight container in the fridge. This method can keep dill fresh for up to three weeks.
To freeze dill, you can either freeze fresh or freeze in oil.
Freezing fresh dill is as simple as washing, air drying and placing in freezer bags.
Or freeze in oil by pureeing the stems and leaves with olive oil or water and then pour into ice cube trays. Once the cubes are frozen, transfer them to a freezer bag and keep in the freezer. These cubes are great to toss into chicken noodle soup during cold and flu season.
Dill can be air dried or dried in a dehydrahtor. To air dry dill, wash the leaves, trim the ends, tie the stems together, and hang upside down in a cool, dry, dark place for aobut two weeks, or until completely dry.
If you have a food dehydrator, you can trim off stems and place the leaves in the dehydrator for 4 to 10 hours at 95 to 105 degrees, or until crisp and dry.
4. Freeze Dried
If you have a Harvest Right freeze dryer, you can destem dill leaves and place them on the tray. Freeze dry them for 12 to 24 hours, or until completely dried. Place the leaves in an air-tight jar if using within 6 months, or in air-tight container with an oxygen absorber if storing for longer.
HOW TO HARVEST DILL SEEDS
Dill plants take seed production very seriously. You can easily save your own dill seeds to plant next year or to use in your kitchen as a tasty seasoning.
After you’ve pinched off the first couple of flower heads on your dill plants, let the plant go to seed. Each plant will grow taller, and the feathery foliage will become like short little afterthoughts. Small yellow flowers will open up on umbrella-shaped flower heads and attract all kinds of beneficial insects to your garden space.
These flowers will close into little green seed pods after a week or so. These pods then need at least another week to dry out and turn brown on the plant before they’re ready to harvest. If you leave these pods be, they’ll drop seeds, and you’ll have lots of little dill seedlings popping up the following year.
Make sure the little seeds feel hard between your fingers before you harvest them. When they’re ready, follow these steps:
Cut the dried flower heads from the dill plants using a clean pair of scissors or pruners.
Working over a bowl or plate, squeeze the flower head together and rub the seeds between your fingers to detach them from the seed head.
Let the seeds dry out a couple more days to make sure all moisture is gone. Then, either pour into a clean spice shaker to use in your kitchen or save them in a seed envelope or paper bag for next year. Store seeds somewhere dry and dark. You can compost the stem and dried seed heads, or add them to floral arrangements for some extra interest.
Each dill plant produces hundreds of seeds, so now you never have to buy dill seeds ever again!
LETTUCE HELP YOU GROW HERBS FOR ALL YOUR FAVORITE DISHES
That’s all there is to growing your own supply of organic dill for at least half the year in your herb garden. I’m confident you’ll soon be hooked on the ease and beauty of growing this culinary herb.
Let us know if you have any questions about growing your own herbs. We’re here to help you grow!