Cilantro is a staple cooking herb throughout Asia and Latin America. And, the distinctive taste will either cause you to fall in love or make you want to spit it out. Some people have a genetical predisposition, which makes cilantro have a taste soap-like. But, if you’re the kind of person that can’t get enough of it, growing cilantro will save you money at the grocery store. Additionally, it will ensure your herbal supply is always fresh, delicious, and far more flavorful than commercially grown varieties.
Though not everyone seems to realize it, when you grow cilantro, you actually get two herbs in one plant. Fresh, tender cilantro leaves are essential in savory salsas and dishes around the world. However, if you let your cilantro plants sit in the field a few weeks longer and the pale purple flowers will turn into plump coriander seeds.
Because cilantro is as easy to grow as it is to cook with, you have no excuse for not starting your own supply right away.
Start Growing Cilantro
Because cilantro grows a taproot, it doesn’t do well when transplanted. That is why it should instead be seeded directly where you want it to mature. There’s no reason to worry about having too short of a growing season because cilantro seedlings grow so quickly that an indoor head start isn’t much of an advantage.
However, if you’re eager to get some fresh cilantro as early as possible, you can start your seeds indoors. By using biodegradable pots like peat and then planting the pots directly into your garden. Of course, once the risk of frost is over.
When and Where Should You Grow Cilantro?
You can grow cilantro in any climate with a warm summer, so long as you keep the plant well hydrated during the intense summer heat.
Though cilantro is often used in tropical regions, it actually doesn’t tolerate heat well and in hot climates, it does best when grown in the spring or fall to prevent premature bolting.
Cilantro can continue to grow in temperatures down to the low 40s and will survive the first few frosts of the fall season, but it will die as soon as the ground freezes.
Understanding Seed Germination for Cilantro
Each cilantro seed has two spheres with a seed on each side. This means that you will often get twice as many sprouts as seeds that you plant, making thinning necessary. Cilantro seeds will germinate after 8-14 days, depending on the outside temperature and moisture levels. Each cilantro plant will be fully mature after 6-12 weeks, so to ensure a continuous supply throughout the season, you should plant a small patch every two to three weeks throughout the growing season.
When stored in a cool, dry place, cilantro seeds are viable for at least five years.
Growing Cilantro in Containers
Like most herbs, your cilantro should be grown in a place where you have easy access to it, like a windowsill in your kitchen. For this reason, growing cilantro in containers is a smart idea. You can plant seeds a quarter inch deep in portable trays or pots filled with fertile potting mix and keep them in a sunny spot. Adding a scoop of worm castings or other compost can help to speed up growth. Be sure to water them daily as pots can lose their moisture content quickly.
Preparing a Cilantro Bed
If you plan to grow cilantro outdoors in garden beds, choose a spot with full sun or light shade because the plants will bolt when conditions get too hot. Choose well-drained, moist soil and mix in some aged manure or compost to speed along the growing process. If you work compost into the top few inches of your cilantro bed you won’t need to fertilize again as the plants grow.
When your cilantro bed is prepared, you can plant your cilantro in rows that are eight inches apart. Plant your seeds half an inch deep, spaced two inches apart. Once the plants are about three inches high, you can thin them out to 6 inches apart. These cuttings can be saved and tossed into a salad. As your plants continue to grow, prune off any flowers that form (unless you are trying to produce coriander) so that your plants devote their energy to producing fragrant leaves.
If you are planning on growing your cilantro to produce coriander seed, you should space your plants out a little more to give them room to grow to full maturity, as cilantro plants can get as tall as two feet.
Watering and Mulching Requirements
The key to growing cilantro successfully is to keep it from bolting for as long as possible by tricking the plant into thinking that it perpetually springs or fall. You can do this by giving them plenty of water and mulching the soil around each plant to keep their roots cool. This will convince each plant to continue to produce fresh leaves rather than transitioning to flower growth.
Keep your cilantro well moistened but don’t let it get soaked. Having soil with good drainage is crucial for keeping your plants healthy.
Companion Planting and Rotation Considerations
Because cilantro is such a fragrant plant, it is a great companion for other garden plants because it helps to drive insect pests away. A particularly good pairing is to grow cilantro next to anise and chervil, though fennel should be avoided at all costs.
Common Pests and Diseases for Cilantro
Cilantro is one of those wonderful garden plants that rarely have problems with pests and diseases. In fact, cilantro leaves actually attract ladybugs and other insect predators that happily snack on aphids and other damaging insects.
The two diseases that can occasionally be a problem are leaf spot and powdery mildew.
- Leaf Spot: small yellow spots that in time turn into large brown spots. It is caused by too much moisture and not enough air circulation, so it can be prevented by growing your cilantro in well-drained soil and not over-watering each plant.
- Powdery Mildew: appears as a white, powdery coating on the cilantro leaves during hot, dry periods. You can help to prevent it by keeping your plants from drying out and removing any plant that becomes infected.
Harvesting and Storing Cilantro
Once the plants are three to four weeks old or about a ten inches tall, you can snip off leaves of cilantro whenever you need some for a recipe. The best-tasting cilantro comes off plants that are harvested early in the day. You can either pick the young leaves off by hand or use garden shears. Be careful to never wash cilantro leaves, as washing them will remove some of the fragrant oils that are naturally on them.
If you want to harvest cilantro all summer long, be sure to plant new patches every 2 to 3 weeks once late spring begins. Though cilantro is always best eaten fresh, for short-term storage you can refrigerate the stems in a glass or water. Covered in a paper bag, fresh cilantro should last in the refrigerator for up to ten days. Unlike other herbs, cilantro is rarely stored long term because it loses almost all of its flavor when dried or frozen.
You can harvest coriander seeds about 45 days after cilantro is planted. To harvest, allow some flowers on your cilantro plants to grow to maturity. Once seedpods have formed, let them dry out until they turn brown and crack open when pressed. Harvest these pods and place them in a paper bag where they can continue to ripen for the next few weeks. After they have dried out, you can shake or roll around the pods with your hands until the seeds are released.
Saving Cilantro Seeds
To save cilantro seeds for planting, follow the instructions for producing coriander seeds and, instead of eating the coriander, you can store them in a cool dry place to be planted in the spring.
Choosing the Best Cilantro Seeds for Your Climate
An easy way to grow cilantro is to simply plant grocery store coriander, though if you want a greater variety of characteristics or flavors you should turn to seed catalogs instead. In hot climates, slow-bolting varieties are a smart choice. For a pretty garnish for soups and salads, you can grow the feathery-leafed ‘Delfino‘ variety.
Additional Growing Tips for Organic Cilantro
To maximize the growth of your cilantro plants, follow these extra tips for success.
- Growing your cilantro in mobile containers allows you to move them into the shade when temperatures get too hot, which can help to prevent premature bolting.
- Pinching back new growth on cilantro plants will stimulate it to grow fuller, bushier plants with plenty of new leaves.
- Pinch off flowers immediately when you see them because cilantro plants immediately start to degrade in flavor when they set seeds.