Discover Dill

Dill (Anethum graveolens), a member of the carrot family, has been a favorite culinary herb for centuries. It is valued both for its flavorful foliage and for its pungent seeds. The name “dill” comes from an old Norse word, “dilla,” which means “to lull,” this plant having been frequently prescribed as a tea to treat insomnia and digestive problems. In the Middle ages it was regarded as a charm against witchcraft. In modern times its essential oil is used in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and liqueurs.

Dill is a delightful herb with many culinary uses. Native to southern Europe, it is a staple in Greek cooking. It is common in Scandinavian and German food as well. Fresh or dried, dill leaves add a distinctive flavor to salads, fish, vegetable casseroles and soups. Used whole or ground, dill seeds add zest to breads, cheeses, and salad dressings. The seeds are the best way to use dill in dishes that require cooking over a long time. Of course, dill is best known as a pickling herb for cucumbers, and also green beans, carrots, and beets.

Annuals, dill plants die each year, but their seeds can winter over in the soil to pop up the following year. Dill grows well in gardens throughout the US and southern Canada (zones 3-10).

Dill as an Ornamental
Dill adds an ornamental element wherever it grows. Combine it with flowers in a bed or border. Its fern like foliage provides a soft background for smaller sun-loving petunias, daisies, marigolds and others. Plant it with other herbs near the kitchen or in containers such as windowboxes or planters so its fine texture contrasts with the coarser

foliage of basil, mints and others. Its yellow umbrella-like flowers make great cut flowers.

In the garden they attract beneficial insects, including bees, parasitic wasps, and tachinid flies. In orchards, it attracts insects that control codling moths and tent caterpillars. Wherever dill blooms it contributes to the welfare of neighboring plants.

Recognizing Dill
Common garden dill grows 3 to 5 feet tall, but dwarf versions grow from 24 to 36 inches tall. Its distinguishing feature is its narrow foliage. Its nickname “dillweed” refers to its multiple feathery, bluish-green fronds, which branch readily from the single round, hollow main stalk that emerges from its taproot.

When they mature, dill plants develop tiny yellow flowers that bloom in flat, lacy clusters resembling airy umbrellas. They eventually develop dark brown seeds that are narrow, ribbed, and flattened. About one-sixth of an inch long, their pungent flavor is similar to caraway seeds, which are cousins.

Growing Dill
Properly sited and planted, dill is so fastgrowing that some of its foliage is mature enough to be harvested in only eight weeks. Plan to sow several crops in succession, three weeks apart, to assure a supply over the entire growing season. Dill does best in full sun (with a bit of afternoon shade in the South). While fairly tolerant of poor soil conditions, it prefers a sandy or loamy soil that drains well. It is a light feeder, so extra fertilizer is not necessary in a reasonably fertile soil.

To sow seeds directly into the garden in rows, trace shallow 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep indentations in the soil with a stick or pencil to guide planting. Then dribble the tiny seeds through your thumb and forefinger into the indented rows. Mixing them first with some dry sand distributes them more evenly. Firm soil over the rows of seeds and water softly. Expect to see sprouts in 10 to 14 days. For a more naturalistic planting, scatter the seeds over a patch

of ground; cover with 1/2 inch of soil, and water.

Choose an overcast day or wait until late afternoon to plant homegrown or commercially raised young seedlings so they will not have to cope with hot sun as they overcome transplant shock. Dig holes in the prepared soil in the planting area about the size of the containers the seedlings are growing in. Space the plants 8 to 10 inches apart if harvesting leaves, or 10 to 12 inches apart if harvesting seed. Gently pop each seedling from its container by tapping it on the bottom of the pot. Take great pains to avoid disturbing the taproot that has formed. Set a plant in each hole and firm the soil over the rootball and around its stem to support it. Water immediately. Shield new transplants from bright sun the first day or two while they cope with the shock of transplanting. Depending on the variety, these fast-growing dill plants will grow to maturity and set seed in about 60 days.

Growing Dill in Containers
Dill, especially dwarf type, grows very well in containers alone or with other plants. It is a good companion for other sun-lovers like flowering annuals, other herbs, or vegetables such as patio tomatoes. Use a container that is at least 10 inches deep to accommodate its taproot. Be sure the container has drainage holes. Fill it with moistened soilless potting mix to within 2 inches of its top. Either add some granular, slow-release fertilizer to the mix before planting or plan to feed container plants once a month with a dilute general-purpose liquid fertilizer when you water. Plant the dill seedlings in the container and water them well. Keep them out of bright sun the first day or so while they adjust to their new situation. Water often to prevent the container plants from drying out during hot summer days. Because dill matures relatively quickly, spent plants will have to be replaced with new ones during the season.

Caring for Dill
When growing from seed, reduce crowding by pulling up weak, spindly sprouts to allow 2 to 6 inches of space between them. Dill prefers fairly moist soil throughout the growing season. Once plants have established good root

systems, water only when rainfall is sparse if your soil is decent and mulched. In thin, poor and unmulched soil, dill needs watering a couple of times a week when it does not rain. If possible, avoid overhead watering in favor of a drip or porous hose system.

Spread a 2 to 4 inch layer of mulch on the soil around the plants when they are about 6 inches tall to discourage competing weeds. Mulch also helps keep soil moist and contributes organic matter to the soil as it gradually breaks down over the season. As the mulch decomposes in the summer heat, add more to maintain optimal mulch depth.

Harvesting and Storing Dill
Dill leaves taste better picked just before flowers form on the plant. Start picking the fresh leaves just as soon as they are large enough to use. Pick early in the morning or in the late evening, clipping them close to the stem. If you prefer to harvest dill seed, allow the flowers to form, bloom, then go to seed. Cut the seedheads when the majority of seeds have formed-about 2 to 3 weeks after the blossoming starts-even though some tiny florets may still be blooming. Hang the seedheads upside down by their stems in a paper bag. The seeds will fall into the bag when they mature and dry out.

Freshly picked dill leaves have the best flavor. However, they keep for several days in the refrigerator, their stems in ajar of water and covered with a plastic bag. They store for several months if you layer them with pickling salt in a covered jar in the refrigerator. When you are ready to use the leaves, simply wash them and use them as fresh.

There are several ways to store dill longer term. Dry it by hanging bunches of stems upside down in a dark, dry, airy place until they are crumbly. Store them in a tightly sealed jar away from light and use within 4 to 6 months. Or use a food dehydrator according to instruction in its package. Freeze dill by cutting the leaveslong stems and all-into sections short enough to fit into plastic bags. Do not chop the leaves into bits because fragrance and flavor will be lost. They will keep in the freezer for 6 months.

Dill Problems
Dill is typically a disappearing target for pests. Its rapid growth and quick harvest allow little time for aphids and others to establish a presence on plants. Occasionally parsleyworms or tomato hornworms attack its foliage. Handpick parsleyworm and transfer it to another favorite, Queen Anne’s lace, so it can survive to become a butterfly. Hand pick hornworms and drop them into a plastic bag to discard in the trash.

Dill Varieties
‘Fernleaf’ Dill is a 1992 All America Selection winner. This unique dwarf dill reaches only 18 inches tall, so it needs no staking. It is also slow to go to seed, which gives you more time to harvest leaves. ‘Fernleaf’ dill is an excellent plant for container growing and looks great in flower arrangements.
‘Dukat’ also known as ‘Tetra’ is grown for its abundant foliage, which is perfect for salads. The seeds are great for seasoning various condiments. Sow seed in clumps. This variety is considered a tender annual, so start seeds indoors 4 to 6 weeks before the last spring frost and transplant young seedlings outdoors after all frost danger is well past.
· ‘Superdukat’ introduced in 1997, has tall, more uniformly straight stems for easy harvesting. It is reported to have more essential oil than ‘Dukat’.
‘Bouquet’ is an early bloomer that sports large seedheads and dark bluegreen foliage. Ideal for pickling.
‘Long Island’ or ‘Mammoth’ dill is so reliable that it is commonly grown by commercial growers.

Integrated Pest Management

Begin monitoring conifers for spruce spider mites. These small, dark arachnids are active in cool weather and can be found on pines, hemlocks, arborvitae, and spruce and are especially damaging to Norway and dwarf Alberta spruce. Look for stippling on the needles and webbing in between the needles on the underside of the branches. A simple beat test is also a good way to detect their presence. Tap a branch over a white sheet of paper and look for tiny, slow moving, yellowish green mites. Also look for faster moving predatory mites or tiny, round black ladybird beetles that feed on the mites. If a beat test reveals more than twenty mites per beat, and you do not see predatory mites or ladybird beetles, you should treat your tree with horticultural oil or insecticidal soap.

Begin checking your dwarf white pines for white pine tip dwarf mites. Unlike most mites, white pine tip dwarf mites like cool weather and are most active in early spring. They cause older needles to become yellow and drop, and, if the tree is severely infested, it can become completely defoliated just before new foliage emerges in the spring. Beat test your trees weekly in early spring by tapping a branch on a piece of paper. Using a magnifying glass or 10x hand lens, look for very small, translucent yellowish mites moving across the paper. If you see more than fifty mites per beat test, you should treat the tree with an acaracide like neem oil. If you are designing a new landscape or are making changes in your current scheme, consider planting a resistant species like Japanese white pine.

Practicing good sanitation is an environmentally sound and effective means of controlling disease and insect pests in your landscape. Take the time to dispose of debris that may harbor overwintering pests. When replacing problem plants or adding new plants to your landscape plan, consider using pest-resistant varieties.

March is a good month for tending to your lawn. When reseeding, select pest- and disease- resistant tall fescue. Rake up debris and dead leaves that have accumulated during the winter months. Sharpen mower blades and start mowing early to discourage annual weeds that will be going to seed. Know the proper mowing height of the turf you are planting. Bluegrass and red fescue should be mowed to 2-3″, tall fescue to 2-4″, and zoysia and Bermuda grass to 1″.

You can reduce the need for insecticides in your landscape by using plants that attract beneficial insects. Ladybird beetles, hover flies, lacewings, spiders, and parasitic wasps are natural enemies of plant damaging insects like aphids, mites, whitefly, scale, and thrips.

Plant Attracts
common yarrow ladybird beetles, wasps, hover flies
coriander lacewings, hover flies, braconid wasps, spiders
cosmos lacewings, overflies, braconid wasps, spiders
fennel lacewings, ladybird beetles, hover flies, spiders
Queen Anne’s lace lacewings, ladybird beetles, hover flies, braconid wasps
spearmint lacewings, ladybird beetles, hover flies, spiders
sweet alyssum hover flies, spiders
hover flies, braconid wasps

Don’t let the first warm days of spring tempt you to put your houseplants outdoors. Tropical plants are easily injured by temperatures below 60 degrees Fahrenheit, so wait until the weather has settled to move them.