You either love it or hate it! That’s what we hear the most about cilantro. Regardless of your personal tastes, you’ll love growing cilantro for its good looks alone. That this whimsical, feathery plant is a delicious garnish is just a bonus!
Another bonus you’ll get with this plant is coriander seeds. Cilantro and coriander may look and taste different, but they actually come from the same plant. Cilantro, as you probably know, is the leaves, while Coriander comes from the seeds. Because of this, you’ll hear Coriandrum sativum referred to by both names, which is correct!
We could go on and on about the great features of cilantro/coriander. Its unique scent attracts butterflies and beneficial insects that will help with pest control in your garden. Cilantro is also non-toxic to animals, making it perfect for a pet-friendly garden.
The world has come to appreciate the coriander plant. It’s a staple in many cultural cuisines – especially Mexican and Thai food. For your favorite culinary tastes, you can build a themed edible garden with this herb (check out our ideas for a Mediterranean or salsa garden.
So, whether you like the taste or not, learning how to grow cilantro can greatly benefit your garden. We’ll help you get there in this article by covering everything you need to know about cilantro growing!
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- Monterey BT Caterpillar Killer
- PyGanic Botanical Insecticide
- Safer Brand Insect Killing Soap Concentrate
- Southern Ag Liquid Copper Fungicide
- MycoStop Biofungicide
Quick Care Guide
|Common Name(s)||Cilantro, coriander, Chinese parsley, Mexican parsley, Dhania|
|Scientific Name||Coriandrum sativum|
|Days to Harvest||30|
|Light||Full to partial sun|
|Water:||Moderate and consistent|
|Fertilizer||Balanced, every other week|
|Pests||Cabbage loopers, cutworms, aphids|
|Diseases||Powdery mildew, bacterial leaf spot, damping off|
All About Cilantro Plant
It only takes one look at the plant to tell that it’s in the same family as carrots and parsley. The long, thin stems grow in clumps from one taproot and often sprawl out over time. Atop each stem are the feathery, fern-like leaves we love to munch on. The lower leaves of the plant are a little more rounded out than the top ones and closely resemble parsley. A fast grower, cilantro reaches up to 2 feet tall and wide.
In the heat of the summer, cilantro plants produce white or pink flowers. The blossoms are umbels, meaning there’s one central stem that grows multiple, flower-topped shoots, forming an umbrella-shaped inflorescence. When they reach maturity, the cilantro flower produces aromatic coriander seeds. The seeds are contained in small, yellow-brown pods, which are technically the fruit of this plant.
Every part of this plant is edible, including the roots which are used in Thai cuisine. Perhaps that’s why it’s such an ancient and popular plant. Coriander seeds have been dated back to the times of the ancient Egyptians. They’ve also been a historically significant part of dishes in China and India (you’ll be hard-pressed to find an Indian curry without coriander).
This plant may have originated in southern Europe and the Mediterranean, but it’s been grown worldwide for ages. Today, cilantro is produced by nearly every country in the world. Mexico is the top commercial growing country and California the top growing state.
Cilantro has a short life because it bolts in high heat. However, that can be prolonged by choosing a variety that handles higher temperatures without sacrificing flavor. Our favorite choices are the Calypso, Marino, and Santo varieties. On the flip side, some varieties, like Festival cilantro, can handle colder temperatures, making them ideal for winter growing in zones 8-9.
If by chance, the thought of cilantro still makes you cringe – you’re not alone. Up to 14% of the population actually has a genetic variation that causes a soapy aftertaste when eating cilantro. However, those with the “soapy” gene can become acclimated to the taste – especially if they grew up eating it as part of their culture’s cuisine. If you just can’t stand it though, there are some pretty good cilantro substitutes, including Vietnamese cilantro and papalo.
The entire planting process is mostly based around prolonging the plant’s life before bolting. Cilantro only takes about a month of growth before harvesting can begin, so you’ll get the most of your plants by planting just after the last frost of spring. In entirely frost-free areas, you may even be able to grow cilantro during the winter! For a continuous harvest, it’s recommended to plant more cilantro every other week (like corn).
The taproot doesn’t allow for easy transplanting, so plan for your cilantro’s first home to be its only home. Sow the seeds directly in the ground or in a medium-sized container. Sow seeds ¼-½ inches deep and 3-4 inches apart. When planting in-ground, don’t be afraid to place them close together. When they grow, the compacted foliage will shade the ground well, keeping the roots happily cool.
If you’re late to the planting game or need a more convenient method, many nurseries sell coriander starts (they’re pretty cheap, too!). Just plant cilantro straight into its new home, taking care not to damage the taproot.
Cilantro Plant Care
You’ll be happy to hear that cilantro growing isn’t a demanding job. That being said, you definitely get out what you put into it, so taking some extra steps can prolong your harvest.
Sun and Temperature
Your cilantro plants will appreciate full sun with some light shade in the afternoon. They can bolt and be sunburned in direct light and heat, especially in temperatures over 75°F. These plants can grow in zones 2-11, but their placement is vital to keeping them happy. Because it prefers things on the cooler side, coriander grown in the southern zones usually grows best indoors. On the flip side, ensure that you don’t plant until after the last frost.
Water and Humidity
Provide your cilantro plants with a medium amount of watering, meaning you should give them a drink whenever the soil starts to dry out. If you’re growing coriander for its seeds, lighten up on water when flowers show up.
Humidity-wise, coriander likes to be dry. You can help control this by keeping the leaves dry when you water (this will also prevent pests and diseases).
You’ll need a rich, loamy, and well-drained soil to keep your plants happy. Ideally, the pH should be 6.2 – 6.8, but these plants aren’t too picky in that aspect. To help prevent bolting by keeping the roots cool, spread mulch across the soil surface.
Fertilizer for cilantro isn’t mandatory, but it can help you grow a steady supply of herbs. After the plants are a month old, apply balanced, water-soluble fertilizer every other week (at most).
If you’re going to harvest cilantro leaves, that’s all the pruning you need to do. You can strategize your pruning to better shape the foliage though. If your cilantro is growing tall and leggy, clip off those top stems and it will regrow bushier.
If your plants bolt, you can’t simply prune off the flowers and keep harvesting. When the flowers begin to form, the flavor of the leaves changes dramatically and can’t be restored.
Cilantro grows so easily from seed that there’s really no need to propagate a different way. It often re-seeds itself and has even escaped man-made gardens to grow weed-like on its own. Leave it as is and it will usually grow again the following year (may not be true to type). You can also harvest the cilantro seeds and plant them the next year.
Harvesting and Storing
Learning how to harvest cilantro or coriander is a piece of well-seasoned cake. Plus, if you have been planting continuously through the growing season, you’ll have no short supply of herbs!
Chinese parsley grows so quickly that you can harvest cilantro leaves just a month after planting. The younger leaves will have the best flavor, so go for those first. Simply pinch off the leaves by hand or with clean scissors. Many gardeners only take how many leaves they need at the time while others will chop off the whole bunch at once (it will regrow).
If coriander is what you’re after, the seeds will be ready about 3 months after planting. While immature seeds are edible, they usually have a bitter taste and smell so we recommend waiting it out. When the seeds are mature, the whole plant will dry up. Eventually, the seed pods will open, so try to harvest before then. Once cut, let the seed head completely dry out in a paper bag. This allows the seed flavor to further develop and the plant will eventually release the seeds into the bag.
You know how to cut cilantro, but what about storage? Store fresh cilantro leaves in the fridge for about a week. Sticking them in water like flowers will help prolong their freshness. If any leaves start to go bad, remove them from the bunch immediately so the others can stay fresh.
The leaves lose flavor when dried but keep it when frozen. The most popular method is to chop up the leaves and put them in an ice cube tray. Add some water or another cooking liquid and stick the tray in the freezer. Then, when you’re cooking and need cilantro, you can pop out a cube and just throw it in the pot!
For coriander, ensure that the seeds are completely dried out and then store them in an airtight container somewhere cool and dark (like any other spice). They’ll last for a few years with this method. In cooking, you can use the seeds whole or ground, depending on what you’re making.
Lucky for you, cilantro doesn’t have any serious pest and disease problems. There’s still a chance you’ll come across the odd problem now and then though, so here’s what you should look out for.
We’ve mentioned bolting quite a bit because it’s a common problem that’s just part of how cilantro grows. When the temperature goes up, the plant goes to seed as quickly as possible so its genes will live on in the next generation. Bolting is inevitable, but there are things we can do to delay it.
The first solution is to buy varieties that withstand higher temperatures and plant them in partial shade. You can also plant new seeds every few weeks so that as one plant bolts another replaces it. Last, harvest your cilantro frequently. This means that you’ll be clipping back potentially budding stems.
Cabbage loopers are little green worms with a big appetite. They’ll chew right through cilantro leaves, inviting disease. Predatory insects are really effective against these pests, particularly beneficial wasps. You can also eliminate cabbage loopers with a dose of BT, spinosad, or pyrethrin spray. These pests can be prevented by using a scent-deterrant, such as garlic, citrus, or neem oil.
Cutworms are nighttime predators that will literally cut the stems in two. They like to hide in debris in the soil, so your first preventative step is to keep that space clean. You should also till the soil after the final harvest, which will chop up the pests or make them vulnerable to other predators, like birds. That BT spray and the beneficial wasps that we recommended for cabbage loopers will work on these pests as well.
This would hardly be a gardening article if we didn’t mention aphids. These ever-present pests munch through plants in large populations. You can control them with insecticidal soap, pyrethrin spray, lacewings, parasitic wasps, and ladybugs. For small populations, a blast of water should knock them off the plant.
Powdery mildew looks like the leaves have been sprinkled with baby powder. This fungus-based disease can severly impact your cilantro’s growth (not to mention its appeal!). The most simple treatment is an organic sulfur spray, although consistent spraying of neem oil can prevent it.
Bacterial leaf spot is difficult to control, so prevention and early intervention are key. This bacteria will cause soaked, discolored lesions on the foliage and can spread easily through cilantro seeds and water. To best prevent it, choose resistant varieties and keep the green growth dry. Sulfur spray and copper fungicide both work to keep the bacteria from spreading, though they won’t eradicate it completely.
Damping off, the death of little seedlings, is usually caused by fungal diseases. The baby plants will be fine one day and the next they’re brown, mushy, and dead. The disease lives in the soil and does its damage when conditions are warm and wet. For indoor plants, you can prevent it by using fresh, clean potting soil every time you plant. Outdoors, make sure the soil is well-drained and not overcrowded with plants and debris.
Perhaps the best defense you have against damping off is to help your plants grow quickly and strongly. Take good care of them and they will be better equipped to fight off this disease on their own. Some mycorrhizal additives are showing signs of being good treatments for fungi as well.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Will cilantro grow back after cutting?
A: Yes, and it should grow back quickly. This is an annual, though, and will eventually go to seed.
Q: Does cilantro come back every year?
A: Cilantro is an annual, so it dies at the end of each growing season. However, it will usually re-seed itself and make an appearance the following year.
Q: Does cilantro grow well in pots?
A: This is a fantastic choice for pots! Plus, learning how to grow cilantro indoors is super easy. As long as you have quality soil and pot with drainage holes, you’ll be set.
Q: Why does cilantro taste like soap?
A: Genes are at play here. Some people are wired to strongly detect the aldehydes in cilantro. These aldehydes happen to also be found in soap, which explains the association.