On Gardening

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Dill perfect for pickles as well as butterflies

By Norman Winter
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
LIFE HOME-ONGARDENING 2 MCT
HANDOUT - MCT
These black swallowtail caterpillars have a voracious appetite for fresh dill.

Our dill has had a black swallowtail invasion, which has caused some to celebrate and a few to voice concern. Some gardeners look at the dill covered in black swallowtail caterpillars and ask what we are going to do about that.

Yes, I planted dill in our herb garden. But my goal wasn’t fresh pickles or harvesting a few sprigs for my favorite culinary dish – I did it for the butterflies.

This year has been incredible for caterpillars. We have seen them at all stages, or instars, as they are referred to in lepidoptera circles. Now we are starting to watch the chrysalis and waiting for that moment of emergence or eclosion.

I also love the texture that dill brings to the garden. The fine-leaf element adds so much, especially when you contrast it with coarse texture or other leaf colors. In the early morning, after heavy dew, the dill almost looks like it has been decorated overnight with a thousand tiny Christmas lights.

Dill’s yellow blossoms combine wonderfully with other butterfly flowers like Black Knight buddleia, Homestead Purple verbena and dark blue salvia.

Grow dill in the herb garden with fennel, which also has feathery leaves. Both plants make outstanding choices for the butterfly garden and herb garden. Your love for butterflies may determine whether you get any dill for your pickles. Plant a bunch! We have grown them from transplants and from seed; both were highly successful.

In addition to combining them with the Black Knight buddleia and Homestead Purple verbena, try partnering them with perennial hibiscus like Lord Baltimore, Flare and the Turks Cap. All are butterfly and hummingbird magnets.

The site should have plenty of sun with well-drained organic-rich soil. Prepare the bed by incorporating 3 to 4 inches of organic matter such as compost along with 1 pound per 100 square feet of a slow-release 5-10-5 fertilizer. In our herb garden, where we normally keep a layer of mulch, we rake back our pine bark when planting seeds and then re-apply it.

Dill is also an excellent fall and winter crop. Sow multiple crops in the spring and thin to 12 inches. Dill will quickly bolt with very hot temperatures.

Keep plants watered and mulched in summer. Harvest dill when the flowers open but before seeds form. Immature leaves can be harvested as flavoring for sour cream, meat and fish. Dill seeds are good fresh or dried in salads.

Whether it is the herb garden, butterfly habitat or edible landscape, be sure to incorporate dill.

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