Zest up coleslaw salads, dressings and your homemade pickle recipe by using the young foliage and tasty seeds of dill (Anethum graveolens) from your garden. A fast-growing and scented plant, dill should be sown in spring after danger of frost. It will attract caterpillars and butterflies through the summer before its seeds ripen by early fall. Dill also lures other beneficial insect predators like wasps to help diminish the numbers of garden pests. Stake plant stems that tower over 2 feet.
Choose a location in your garden that provides at least eight hours of direct sunlight and isn't wind-swept. After danger of frost passes in spring, plant seeds 1/4-inch deep in a fertile soil that drains well. Make successive plantings every four weeks until midsummer so the tender foliage is always available. Dill grows in patio containers, too. Plant the seeds in potting soil, not topsoil that compacts and hardens.
While dill plants grow, keep the soil moist. That typically means providing about 1 inch of water each week in loam or clay-based garden soils, and in sandier soils perhaps every 4 to 6 days. Do not over-water, and do not allow plants to grow in dry soils as it hastens the production of flowers and seeds.
Since dill is an annual, completing its life cycle within one growing season, fertilizer is not necessary. If your soil is inadequate and the plants are not growing well, give your dill a light feeding of 5-10-5 all-purpose fertilizer in the spring. Top-dressing the soil with compost always is beneficial.
Don't be alarmed by all the insects that flock to your dill plants. Swallowtails and other butterflies may lay their eggs on the dill; pluck off newly hatched caterpillars if they destroy too much foliage. The scented oils of dill usually keep harmful pests away. Overly wet soils, high humidity and poor air flow can lead to leaf and root diseases caused by fungi.
The successive sowings of dill allows for repeated leaf harvest across the late spring and summer. When oldest plants' stems reach skyward, flowers soon follow. Leaf texture and quality is slightly lower when the plant blooms, so focus leaf harvest from younger rows. Butterflies will frequent the yellow flowers, which look like fireworks, and help ensure seed production. Once seeds form and begin to dry, snip off the stems and collect the seed heads in a bucket. As they dry, they will shatter or drop off into the bucket for easier collecting.
Depending on how much time is left in the growing season, cutting back dill plants may encourage new foliage. The plant naturally declines and will die once seeds are developing. If you don't wish to harvest seeds, consider cutting back flower stems as they form to promote side branching and more bursts of foliage.
Store dried dill seed in a glass or plastic container with lid. Remove a tablespoon of seeds, place in a paper envelope and store in a cool, dry spot over winter. Earmark these seeds for sowing next spring.