What’s the Dill, Pickle???

A European cousin to the carrot whose versatility includes being a frilly flower arrangement filler and one of the world’s favorite pickling flavors, is surprisingly easy to grow. Dill, Anethum graveolens, is a tender annual in the carrot family, Apiaceae. Although delicate looking, dill is actually a fairly cold hardy plant.

Dill is a great choice for beginning gardeners and is a popular choice because it is simple to grow and useful in the kitchen, if you just follow a few easy guidelines.

Growing Tips:

Soil: Dill isn’t particular about soil type or soil pH. It does have a tap root, so compacted soil could be a problem. Since dill can self-sow, pick a spot where it’s allowed to roam. Otherwise, be sure to harvest before it goes to seed.

When to Plant: Dill is a forgiving plant if you wait until frost is over and then plant it. This way you will avoid damage and enjoy dill until the next frost.

Sun: Too much sun can damage dill, but it still needs at least six hours a day. Dill also likes a little moisture in the air and if you’re in a very dry place, mist your dill plant from time to time.

Dill can be grown indoors or outside. If you enjoy dill year round and live where temperatures are colder in the winter, then growing it indoors during the winter months is recommended. You can always move it outside when the weather warms up but this way you will not be limited by weather conditions. If you do grow it inside in cold weather, you will need to create artificial sunlight and stake the plant so it does not fall when planted indoors.

Suggested Varieties:

  • ‘Dukat’ - A standard that is popular for its abundant leaves.
  • ‘Fernleaf’ - A dwarf variety – 18 inches -- that’s nice for containers. AAS Winner.
  • ‘Long Island Mammoth’ - The most commonly grown variety commercially. Good for both seeds and leaves.
  • ‘Mammoth’ - Tall plant, up to 36 inches, with very attractive, finely cut leaves.

When planting, place the seeds in loose soil that’s well drained with lots of organic material. Plant them about a quarter-inch deep. Cover the seeds loosely, water lightly, and place in sun. If your location is windy, cover the plants to avoid damage.

In around two weeks you will notice the dill emerging. Begin thinning the plants so they can grow to their potential. Allow around 9 inches between plants and watch them grow.

As with most herbs, dill doesn’t require frequent fertilizing. Generally a light feeding of a 5-10-5 fertilizer applied once in late spring should be adequate. Use it at the rate of 3 ounces per 10 feet of row. For dill grown outdoors in containers or indoors, use a liquid fertilizer at one half the label recommended strength every four to six weeks.

Flowering begins in about four to six weeks and that’s harvest time for dill. Use the plant and let it continue to grow as you continue to harvest. When the top flower on top turns brown, the dill is fully developed and will not produce more leaves. Trim it back and let it grow again or plant more if needed.

Dill is very popular in salads, dips, and of course, pickling, but can be added for extra flavor to breads, soups and other kitchen creations. Unless dried, dill’s shelf life is short, so wait until the last minute for cooking to obtain the most flavor.

Pests & Problems:

Dill is virtually problem free. In fact, it attracts beneficial insects. Lacewings and syrphid fly adults will feed on the pollen and lay their eggs nearby. Their larvae feed on aphids.

Dill Leaf

Green dill foliage can be harvested anytime during the growing season until the umbrella-like flower clusters open. Because dill loses its flavor quickly, it is best to use it fresh as soon after picking as possible. Dill foliage can be dried by hanging the plant upside down in a warm, breezy place out of direct sunlight. Like many other herbs, much of the flavor is lost in drying, although the bright green color is usually retained.

Dill Seed

To harvest the seeds, cut the flower stalks just before seeds begin to ripen and turn a tan color. Hang the stalks upside down in a warm, well ventilated room away from direct light. Place a small paper bag up around the flower heads, fastened to the stalks. Poke a few holes in the sides of the bag for air circulation. As the seeds ripen, they will drop and collect on the bottom of the bag.

Seeds can be stored up to a year in airtight containers as long as they’re kept away from heat and bright light. Seeds must be very dry before they are stored; if any signs of moisture appear in the container shortly after storage, remove the seeds and dry them further.


For dill pickles, a whole flower head and leaves are often placed in each jar with the pickled vegetables. The head should still be green and flexible; flowers should have given way to seeds, but the seeds do not need to be fully mature.

Don’t be alarmed if you see caterpillars eating your dill. It is probably the caterpillar of the black swallowtail and dill is a favorite food of theirs, along with other members of the carrot family. The caterpillars won’t stay long. Just plant some extras to share.

The University of Arkansas System, Division of Agriculture is an equal opportunity/equal access/affirmative action institution. For more information regarding this or similar subjects please contact your local county Cooperative Extension Service. For more information you can contact your local county extension service, you can also follow Sherri Sanders on Facebook @UAEX.WhiteCountyAgriculture.

Sherri Sanders
County Extension Agent – Agriculture