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Gardening 101: Dill


Gardening 101: Dill

February 28, 2018

Dill, Anethum graveolens: “Ancient Aromatic”

I can’t count how many times I have stood over a green, ferny plant and asked, “Is this dill or fennel?” The solution is to pinch off a leaf and smell it—a telltale giveaway. Dill’s feathery leaves resemble fennel but —thank goodness—its flavor is very distinct. Dill, to me, has a much more subtle and warm taste, and it always makes me think of pickles.

Like chamomile, mint, and rosemary, dill has been an important aromatic herb since ancient times. Please keep reading to learn how to grow your own dill.

Photograph by Michelle Slatalla.
Above: Photograph by Michelle Slatalla.

Centuries ago, ancient Greeks and Romans used dill medicinally as a topical treatment for burns and wounds. Dill also played a role as an early wellness aid: placed over one’s eyes at bedtime, the herb was thought to promote restful sleep. Used ceremoniously, dill decorated crowns worn by returning heroes at celebrations. And as a culinary herb, dill was a popular flavor added to wine.

Above: Dill pickles in progress. See more of this garden in Garden Visit: At Home with Katrin Scharl in Brandenburg, Germany. Photograph by Katrin Scharl.

In medieval times, dill was commonly used as a pickling spice. It was also recommended that every household grow dill for its ability to ward off witches and counteract their spells, and therefore a small bag of dill seeds was carried over the heart to repel the “evil eye.”

Photograph by Free Use Photos via Flickr.
Above: Photograph by Free Use Photos via Flickr.

Today we grow dill not to repel witches but to keep bad insects away. It turns out, for instance, that destructive tomato hornworms are attracted to dill so if you plant the herb a few feet from tomatoes, it can help lure these insects away from your vulnerable crop. Dill also repels spider mites and aphids, making the herb a go-to for natural pest control and great as a companion plant in the vegetable garden.

Dill, of course, is tasty in dishes as well. Try sprinkling dill in green salads with cucumbers, on fish, in spinach pie, and yes, for pickling.

Above: Dill grown at Petersham Nurseries near London. For more, see Required Reading: Kitchen Memories by Lucy Boyd. Photograph by Keiko Oikawa.

Cheat Sheet

  • A standout companion plant, dill is a good herb for a vegetable garden, pollinator garden, or wildflower garden.
  • Dill is a choice food source for caterpillars and butterflies; plant some to draw butterflies into your garden.
  • Dill is easily grown from seed. Tip: Because of its taproot system, avoid transplanting dill after it is sown. Also because dill reseeds easily, leave some dill plants in place in the fall because they will drop seeds and germinate in the spring.
Above: Dill ‘Mammoth’ mingles with annual flowers in an ornamental garden bed. For more, see Celia’s Garden: At Home with an English Artist and Her Chickens. Photograph by Jim Powell for Gardenista.

Keep It Alive

  • Dill is a warm-season annual (or sometimes biennial) herb and highly sensitive to freezes and frost.  It succeeds in a warm and sunny location in moist, well-draining soil. Because of its delicate nature and susceptibility to wind and temperature, dill needs a sheltered spot in the garden.
  • Dill leaves can be cut at any time and used fresh, or can be dried to use later. Tip: Avoid trimming off more than half of the leaves at once as this stunts growth.
  • Deadheading the flowers may slow the plant’s inevitable death.

Planning an herb garden, indoors or out? See our curated guide to Edibles 101 and Everything You Need to Know About Herb Gardens. And don’t miss these recent posts:

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