Growing Fernleaf Dill

growing fernleaf dill in the garden

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In the Garden

In addition to providing aromatic seeds and foliage, dill will brighten your garden with its yellow-green flowers in spring and fall. While typical dill grows to a height of 2 to 4 feet, Fernleaf dill is more compact, growing only 18 to 24 inches tall. It is a warm-season annual, but really loves mild weather–not too hot, not too cold. With its slender stem and delicate leaves, it makes a good mid- to back-of-the-border addition to your garden. Try growing dill in a spot where it can easily reseed.

Soil, Planting, and Care

Dill is planted in a windowbox with cherry tomatoes, coleus, lantana, and begonias

This clever windowbox design features dill as the tall backdrop plant, behind cherry tomatoes, begonia, coleus, and lantana.

Dill likes direct sun and rich, well-drained soil with a pH between 5.5 and 6.5. Use compost or Miracle-Gro® Garden Soil for Vegetables & Herbs to enrich the soil before planting. If you plan to grow dill in pots, fill them premium quality potting mix, such as Miracle-Gro® Potting Mix, for best results. This plant likes mild weather and is best in the spring and again in fall. You may set out plants following the last spring frost and then plant again two months prior to the first winter frost. Space them 12 to 15 inches apart. Be sure to keep plants watered in dry weather.

To keep dill producing lots of leaves, feed plants with a liquid plant food like Miracle-Gro® LiquaFeed® Tomato, Fruits & Vegetables Plant Food throughout the growing season. This is especially important when you harvest your dill frequently.

Plants may need staking when in bloom to keep the tall flower stems—true butterfly magnets—from falling over, especially if you get a lot of wind. You can keep plants cut to delay flowering and extend your harvest, or harvest the whole plant as soon it flowers. The first winter frost will kill dill planted in the fall. However, if it had time to go to seed, the fallen seed may produce new plants in the spring.


Look for caterpillars of the swallowtail butterfly on your dill plants

The caterpillars of the black swallowtail butterfly will probably find your dill. Let them be, and enjoy the beautiful butterflies in your garden. Some gardeners plant enough dill for themselves and the caterpillars.

Plant dill far from fennel, since the cross-pollination of these herbs produces variable results. Dill, like parsley and fennel, draws the parsleyworm caterpillar, which is the larva of the black swallowtail butterfly. Plant enough to feed yourself and the caterpillars. Far from a pest, the butterflies are often encouraged by gardeners who plant dill and parsley in patches just to attract them.

Harvest and Storage

Dill sends up a yellow bloom that looks nice in flower arrangements

Dill’s yellow blooms are a signal to harvest the plant. If you love the fragrance of dill, use the flowers and foliage in a cut arrangement.

Harvest dill foliage at any point between seedling and blooming stages. You may harvest the entire dill plant, preserving the foliage, as soon as the plant starts to flower and set seed. You can freeze leaves by snipping off an entire branch, putting it in a plastic bag, and storing it in the freezer. The flowers last a few days in a vase, too, if you’d like to display them, but be prepared to dust under them as they disintegrate.


You can dry dill flowers and harvest the seed

Dry the dill flowers and harvest the seeds for use in the kitchen, including as a flavoring in preserving recipes such as pickles and sauerkraut.

Dill seed is a pungent ingredient found in salad dressings, pickles, sauerkraut, and even breads. Enjoy the leaves at their peak when they are fresh, finely chopping for best flavor. Dill can be also a handy salt substitute for people on low-sodium diets.You can dry the leaves, but add them to dishes in greater quantity, as they are less flavorful than fresh leaves. Dill leaves may also be preserved in oil, butter, or vinegar for pickles, or frozen in water or stock.

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Why do you call your dill “fernleaf”? It looks like other dill I have grown.

Fernleaf is a selection of dill that has more abundant foliage. If you are growing dill for its flavorful foliage, this is the one you want. Like the dill you have grown before, Fernleaf will give you flowers and eventually seeds. Fernleaf dill is also a little shorter than other dill plants, so it will be less likely to blow over in a storm and need staking.

What are these caterpillars on my dill, and how can I get rid of them?

The most common caterpillars on dill are colorful black, white, yellow, and green-striped creatures. As far as caterpillars go, they are quite lovely. And if you leave them alone, they will be even prettier, as they will mature into swallowtail butterflies. If you can, allow them to dine on your dill, as well as your fennel and parsley. Plant a few extra so there will be enough for you and the butterfly babies.

I planted dill in the spring, but now it is dying. What happened?

Dill will bloom, set seeds, and die when the weather gets hot. Collect the browning flower stalks with the attached seeds in a paper bag. Let the seeds dry thoroughly, and then store them in a bottle in the freezer. These are good for seasoning in the summer and again in winter when fresh dill foliage is not available. Then in the fall, plant more dill at least 2 months before the first expected frost. Any seeds that drop to the soil have a good chance of germinating next spring.

I have lots of dill in my garden. How should I use it?

While dill is a well-known seasoning for salmon, it is good on all fish. Of course, we think of dill pickles, but fresh dill is nice with fresh cucumbers, alone, or chopped in a tossed salad. Dill can be added to mixed-herb vinegar, or it can be made into dill vinegar to be used later when the cucumbers are ready. It is also nice to use in sauces for seafood or in herbed butter.