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Garden Q&A: Dill often does better from seed

| Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Jessica Walliser
Dill flower

Question: Each year, I plant dill and parsley in my garden, and I always get the same results. After two or three cuttings from vigorously thriving plants, they shrivel and die.

This year, I tried something new. I placed some mushroom compost in the holes before planting starter plants I obtained at the nursery, but the same thing happened.

My mother had thrown some parsley and dill seeds on a dry patch of ground several years ago, and she constantly cuts the plants as needed for kitchen use — they keep coming back year after year, and regrow vigorous new leaves and flowers after each cutting. Why do mine not do that? What am I doing wrong?

Answer: Your experience is not an unusual one in regards to annual, nursery-grown herbs like dill. While perennial herbs like oregano, chives and thyme are best started as nearly full-grown plants purchased from a nursery, or obtained as a division from another gardener, annual herbs often perform best when started from seed directly sown into the garden. This is particularly true of annual herbs like dill, cilantro, chervil, caraway and the like.

Next season, start your dill plants by tossing down some seed in late April. Add a little compost to the planting area first, and cover the seeds very lightly. As evidenced by your mother's success, sometimes plants do better when we don't coddle them. This is especially true of herbs like dill which seem to thrive on neglect. Once you have a colony of dill established, it will enthusiastically return every year, as long as you don't overharvest the foliage and allow a few of the plants to drop seed.

Biennial herbs like parsley, however, can be started either as seeds or nursery-grown plants. Like you, I always start my parsley plants as nursery-grown seedlings. I've found that I get better success when purchasing younger plants, rather than those that are mature enough to have become pot-bound.

I buy my parsley in 3-inch pots, and before I make the purchase, I tip the plants gently out of the container and check the roots to be sure they aren't pot bound. When I plant them into the garden, I work a shovelful of compost into the area, and I'm careful to plant them only as deep as they were in the pot. Overly deep planting is the kiss of death for parsley.

I also grow a lot of parsley in containers, as I find that I have fewer troubles with earwigs, slugs and pill bugs in containers than I do in the ground. Because you've struggled with parsley in the past, I suggest you try growing it in containers next season.

Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Grow Organic” and “Good Bug, Bad Bug.” Her website is www.jessicawalliser.com.

Send your gardening or landscaping questions to tribliving@tribweb.com or The Good Earth, 503 Martindale St., 3rd Floor, D.L. Clark Building, Pittsburgh, PA 15212.

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