Published on 06/12/00

Dill a Delightful Herb for Southern Gardens

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Dill (Anethum graveolens) is a delightful herb with many culinary uses. It's valued both for its flavorful foliage and for its pungent seeds.

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 dark brown, narrow, ribbed and flattened. About one-sixth of an inch long, their pungent flavor is similar to caraway seeds, which are cousins.

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Photo: Hugh Wilson, Texas A&M

Dill is best known as a pickling herb for cucumbers and other vegetables. But its leaves and seeds have many culinary uses.

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 as well as green beans, carrots and beets.

Grows Well in Gardens

Dill plants are annuals. They die each year, but their seeds can overwinter in the soil to pop up the following year. Dill grows well in gardens throughout the United States and southern Canada (zones 3-10).

Properly sited and planted, dill grows so fast 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 growing season. Dill does best in full sun, with a bit of afternoon shade in Georgia.

It's fairly tolerant of poor soil. Still, it prefers a sandy or loamy soil that drains well. It's a light feeder, so you don't need extra fertilizer in a reasonably fertile soil.

Plant Seeds Shallow

To sow seeds directly into the garden in rows, make a line in the soil one-fourth to one-half inch deep. Then dribble the tiny seeds into the indented rows. Firm the soil over the rows of seeds and water softly. Expect to see sprouts in 10 to 14 days.

To plant homegrown or commercial seedlings, choose an overcast day or wait until late afternoon. Shield new transplants from bright sun the first day or two while they cope with the shock of transplanting.

Space the plants 8 to 10 inches apart if you'll harvest leaves, or 10 to 12 inches apart if harvesting seed. Take great pains to avoid disturbing the taproot.

Depending on the variety, these fast-growing dill plants will grow to maturity and set seed in about 60 days.

Mulch Important

In thin, poor and unmulched soil, dill needs watering a couple of times a week when it doesn't rain. Drip or porous-hose watering is better for dill than overhead sprinklers.

Spread a 2- to 4-inch layer of mulch around the plants when they're about 6 inches tall. This will discourage weeds and help keep the soil moist. Add more mulch as it decomposes in the summer heat.

Dill is typically a disappearing target for pests. Its fast growth and quick harvest allow little time for aphids and others to establish a presence.

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.

Handpick hornworms and drop them into a plastic bag to discard in the trash.

Wayne McLaurin is a professor emeritus of horticulture with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.