Growing Cilantro

Sally Painter
 Cilantro

You can learn how to grow cilantro, a popular herb used to season foods with its fresh or dried leaves. Cilantro also produces seeds that are used to create the spice known as coriander.

How to Grow Cilantro

Cilantro is an easy herb to grow. It can be grown in the USDA Hardiness Zones 3 to 10. It requires 14 to 21 days for the plants to emerge and in 60-75 days, the plants reach maturation. The deep green leaves are similar in shape to Italian flat leaf parsley, only smaller.

Soil Type

You need well-drained loam or sandy soil often enriched with farmyard manure. You can add compost and mulch around each plant to retain moisture.

  • You can use compost instead of manure.
  • After tilling, rake the bed to make a fine tilth (loosened soil) up to 12" deep.
  • You can adjust the pH to around 6 for best results.

Water Requirements

Before planting, you need to water the grow bed the day before sowing. Using a slow flow so you don't disturb the bed, soak the bed at least 4" to 6".

  1. Sow the seeds six inches apart in 1/4" deep furrows and cover with soil.
  2. Water the bed after planting.
  3. Water once a day to ensure the soil doesn't dry out.
  4. Too little water will result in a low germination rate.
  5. Once your cilantro is established, water once a week or whenever the ½" top layer of soil becomes dry.
  6. Always slow flow to saturate at least 5"to 6" inches deep.
  7. Never spray the plants overhead to avoid powdery mildew and various plant diseases.

Sun Requirements

Plant cilantro in full sun for best results. Cilantro can survive with a minimum of six hours of sunlight, so you can plant it in partial sunlight if needed.

Planting Cilantro

Some gardeners soak the husked seeds for a quicker germination. Others crack the seed between their thumb and index fingers. Neither is necessary since the seeds will germinate just fine with a moist growing bed.

Start Indoors and Transplant in Garden

You can start cilantro inside between six to eight weeks before the last spring frost. You can transplant the seedlings once the first two sets of true leaves emerge.

Direct Sow Cilantro Seeds

You can direct sow cilantro starting after the last frost in the spring. You want to plant successive rounds of cilantro every two to three weeks to ensure you have an ongoing crop. Cilantro will continue to produce up to the first fall frost.

Row Plantings

Plant two seeds every six inches apart in hill rows since not all seeds germinate. You'll discard the weaker of the two plant should both seeds emerge.

Square Foot Gardening Plantings

You want nine plants per square when using the square foot gardening method. Plant two seeds for each plant you want.

Potential Problems

Cilantro is rarely bothered by pests or disease, most likely due to its strong aroma, which makes it an excellent insect repellent. The plant can, however, be bothered by leaf spot and powdery mildew if there is too much moisture or poor air circulation. Make sure the soil is well-drained and thin the plants if they become overcrowded to ensure good air circulation.

Harvesting Cilantro Leaves

Like all seeds, the first set of leaves are seed leaves. The true leaves or plant leaves come after the seed leaves. Within six weeks, the plants will have many leaves and you can pinch back the center leaves to encourage the plant to branch out.

First Harvest

This method also slows down this short-lived plant's irreversible journey towards flowering, seeding and death. You can start harvesting the bottom set of leaves by cutting the stem lengths. You will continue to harvest from the bottom up.

  1. Wash the plants immediately under cold running water.
  2. Remove any yellowing leaves.
  3. The whole plant can be cut up, root and all, or you can just use the leaves.

Thinning Out Plants

If you've planted a long row of cilantro and the plants continue to grow, you may decide it's time to thin the rows. Pulling out plants ready for harvest is a great way to thin and harvest leaves. Thinning the bed this way promotes the growth of the remaining plants.

Hot Weather Causes Cilantro to Bolt

Cilantro is known to bolt as soon as temperatures begin to climb. If you live where the temperatures are high, cilantro will bolt. The good news is, you'll end up with another culinary delight, coriander seeds.

Why Plants Bolt

Bolting occurs before it's time to harvest the crop. The plant produces flowers prematurely in an effort to form seeds. In a desperate act of survival, the plant rushes to produce seeds so it can reproduce. Bolting can be triggered by a rise in temperature that is too hot for the plant to survive, temperatures too cold for the plant, and various stress factors, such as inadequate water that threaten the survival of the plant.

Tips to Delay Bolting

There are a few things you can do that may delay bolting when the temperatures start to rise. These methods will only slow down the process and can't prevent the inevitable.

  • When the plants are 4" to 5" high, you can pinch back the leaves at the top of the plant to force it to grow out and remain compact.
  • You can continue to pinch back the top of the plant to slow down the bolting process.
  • You can regularly harvest the leaves to ensure the plant doesn't overgrow and bolt.

Bolting Plants Produce Flowers and Seeds

White flowers will appear as soon as the temperatures grow too warm. A tall shoot will first appears and branches out sporting several umbels or flower heads carrying white to light pink flowers. There is no turning back once the flowers bloom. The cilantro leaves quickly lose their flavor as the plant trains its energy toward creating coriander seeds.

Steps for Harvesting Coriander Seeds

You will notice tiny greenish white berries soon appear once the flowers emerge. The berries quickly become harder and drier as they mature. You can then harvest the seeds and use them in various recipes.

  1. Watch the seed heads for signs of maturity. If you notice several seeds missing, it's time to harvest the bunch.
  2. Take a large brown paper bag and cover each flower head.
  3. Gather the bottom of the bag around the stem and cut the stem below the bag.
  4. Carefully remove the bagged seed pod, turning it upside down long enough to secure the bag around the stem.
  5. Leave the stem head inside the bag and hang the bag upside down with stems up.
  6. When the stems are dried up, remove from hanger.
  7. Close the bag tightly and shake to dislodge the seeds.
  8. On a flat surface spread out several sheets of paper towel and carefully empty the bag onto them.
  9. Separate the seeds from the stem and flower pods.
  10. You can allow the seeds to air dry or better yet, place in a dehydrator for 10-minute intervals to avoid over drying. If the seeds become brittle, you've over dried them.
  11. Use the seeds for seasoning and save a few or two to ensure they are completely dry. Dry them further and store.
  12. You can save some seeds to plant next season as long as your cilantro plants were heirlooms and not hybrids.

How to Grow Cilantro Indoors

In areas where it is either too cold or too hot for coriander, you can grow cilantro indoors in pots with good results. You'll need to either place in direct sunlight for at least six hours each day or use grow lights.

  • Direct sow the seeds by poking ¼" holes in the soil and covering with soil.
  • Keep the soil moist at all times.
  • Make sure the plants are in darkness at least eight hours of every 24 hours.

Smaller Pots for Growing Cilantro Herbs

Pots may limit the amount of coriander seeds you can harvest. For this reason, you may prefer to grow cilantro in smaller individual pots that are 5" wide deep pots that are ideal for growing herbs.

Harvesting Potted Cilantro Plants

You can harvest cilantro leaves once a few sets of true leaves start to appear, Harvest the outer and lower leaves whenever you need the herb.

  1. Never harvest more than one-third of the leaves at a time.
  2. Pinch the top center leaves to promote a bushy growth and prevent bolting (setting seed).
  3. Partial harvesting can be repeated three to four times.
  4. You can harvest the whole plant once it begins to bolt or you can allow it to bloom and go to seed.
  5. You can start a new plant by changing the soil and reusing the same pot.

Using Leaves and Seeds

Coriander seeds are part of curry mixes, but the taste and flavor of the seeds and the leaves are worlds apart. The leaves are often described as peppery and lemony while the seeds as subtle and earthy.

Cilantro Leaves Often Called Coriander

If someone says 'cilantro,' there's no ambiguity. But if any recipe calling for coriander asks you to chop it, the recipe means the plant's leaves. A Thai dish recipe calling for coriander to be chopped means to use the roots of the plant, which are more pungent.

Coriander or Cilantro Misnomers

Lao coriander (Anethum graveolens/dill),Culantro (Eryngium foetidum) and French parsley (Anthriscus cerefolium/chervil) are not true corianders. However, each one belongs to the same family as cilantro/coriander.

Cilantro Leaves

Cilantro leaves are best used fresh and finely chopped as a garnish to salads, soups or curries. They may also be used in making salsa, guacamole or similar condiments. Heat robs some of its potent taste. Cooking almost completely destroys the flavor and even makes it have a bitter taste. Unlike other dried herbs, dried cilantro has a milder taste than its fresh version.

Seeds

The sweet smell and flavor of coriander seeds go well with all kinds of meat dishes. The seeds are usually used in powder form a spice. Curries are never curries without coriander add to them. Some recipes call for freshly ground coriander seeds. Other recipes call for roasted or powdered coriander. Whole seeds are added to pickle recipes and crushed coriander seeds are often used in meat casseroles.

Cilantro Herb and Coriander Seeds

Whether you love the cilantro plant for its leaves, seeds, or both, it is extremely versatile and worth planting. Using cilantro in various recipes adds just the right amount of zest to any meal.

Growing Cilantro