You can’t beat fresh cilantro for the flavor. We love growing this herb because of the refreshing flavor it adds to your dishes and the essential nutrients it provides in your diet. If you’re thinking of adding cilantro to your home garden, you’re in luck; it’s a relatively easy plant to grow. In this guide, we’ll share how you can provide the right conditions and proper care so you’ll soon have an abundant supply of fresh cilantro at your fingertips.
By growing your own cilantro you ensure you have the freshest, most flavorful herb. It is a versatile herb that offers a variety of health benefits and culinary uses. You may love it for the flavor but by incorporating cilantro into your meals, you’re also boosting your overall health.
- Cilantro is packed with vitamins A, C, and B2, as well as essential minerals like potassium and magnesium.
- It also contains antioxidants that can help protect your body against cellular damage caused by free radicals.
- Cilantro’s unique taste perfectly complements Mexican, Indian, and Vietnamese cuisines. You probably already chop the leaves and add them to your homemade salsa, guacamole, or curry. But did you know it’s also a delicious ingredient for marinades, dressings, and sauces.
- Fresh cilantro tea is helpful for those who suffer from digestive issues. It’s been known to aid in digestion and alleviate symptoms like bloating, gas, and indigestion.
- A little known benefit of cilantro is its ability to help remove toxic heavy metals from your body, thanks to its high concentration of natural chelating agents. Regularly consuming cilantro can assist in detoxifying your body from these harmful substances.
Best of all, cilantro is relatively easy to grow. You can enjoy fresh cilantro straight from your garden. Simply plant the seeds in well-draining soil, provide enough sunlight, and water regularly. In no time, you’ll have a thriving cilantro plant ready to be harvested and used in your favorite dishes.
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The Dual Personality of Cilantro
Did you know that the flowers and seeds of the cilantro plant are called coriander? Ground coriander seeds are used in many spiced dishes as well as it is believed to have medicinal values.
Once the weather get’s warm, cilantro plants will “bolt” which means they shoot up flower heads. When that happens the leaves themselves loose their sweetness as the plant strives to support the flowers and seed production. Your goal when growing these plants for the yummy cilantro leaves is to keep it from getting too hot and bolting. However if you want the benefits of coriander, let it bolt and deliver gorgeous flowers and seeds.
Getting Started with Cilantro
Growing Cilantro from Seed
The best way to start growing cilantro is to plant seeds directly into your garden. While you can start seeds in pots to get a head start on spring, the deep taproot makes it difficult to transplant the young plants. For that reason, if starting seeds before planting in the garden, use peat pots that can be planted in the ground with the seedling so you don’t disturb the roots.
Here are the steps to starting seeds in your garden:
- Prepare the soil: Work compost or organic matter at least 18 inches deep into your garden bed, then rake smooth. Cilantro prefers well-drained soil with a pH between 6.2 and 6.8. Alternatively, if you’re starting your seeds in a container, use a well drained, organic potting mix.
- Choose the right time: Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) grows best in cooler weather like spring and early summer or even in the fall. Plant your seeds in late spring or fall, avoiding extreme heat. Hot weather often results in cilantro bolting (creating flowers) which depletes the leaves.
- Plant the seeds: Sow cilantro seeds directly in your garden. Plant them 1/4 to 1/2-inch deep, spaced around 2 inches apart. Keep the seeds damp but not waterlogged during germination.
- If you want to start your seeds early inside, use biodegradable pots (like peat pots) so you can plant those directly in the ground as cilantro doesn’t repot easily due to it’s tap root.
- Thin the seedlings: Once they produce true leaves, thin the seedlings to 4 to 6 inches apart. Seeds generally germinate in 14-21 days and produce true leaves within a week of the first sign of growth.
Cilantro is ready to harvest starting 4-5 weeks after planting. True cilantro lovers, plant a few more seeds every week or so to keep a fresh crop of leaves coming as the plants tend to go to flower fairly quickly once the summer weather gets hot.
Growing Cilantro from Cuttings
Growing cilantro from cuttings isn’t the best way to start your plants since it is so much easier to grow from seed. But I can imagine a few scenarios where seeds aren’t readily available and you’ll need this information. Note that cilantro cuttings aren’t always successful so start more than you need.
- Select a healthy stem: Find a healthy cilantro plant with thick, vigorous stems. Cut a 4-6 inch stem section from the base using a clean pair of scissors.
- Trim the leaves: Remove the lower leaves, keeping only the top set of leaves. This will help the cutting to focus on developing roots.
- Prepare a container: Fill a bio-degradable container with well-drained potting mix suitable for growing herbs.
- Plant the cutting: Place the cut end into the soil, slightly burying 2-3 inches of the stem. Make sure there is at least one leaf node below the surface. Gently firm the soil around the cutting. Initially space cuttings 3 inches apart and then thin once they have successfully rooted.
- Alternately, Start the cuttings in a glass of water: Place 1/2 of the stem in water. It will take 7-10 days before you see roots. When roots are 1/2 to 1 inch long it’s time to transplant into a soil mixture.
- Provide the right environment: Place the container in a location with indirect light and consistent temperatures around 65-75°F. Ensure the soil remains evenly moist.
The Pros and Cons of Starting with Garden Center Seedlings
You’ll find cilantro growing in small pots in your local garden center, ready to transplant into your garden. There are a couple reasons why you might choose to start with one of these already started pots of cilantro instead of planting seeds.
- Quick start: Seedlings from a garden center already have a head start on growth compared to seeds or cuttings. Already started plants are particularly helpful if you don’t have a place or the time to start seedlings early in the spring.
- Less risk of failure: Since they are already established, seedlings have a higher chance of survival and growth.
- Higher cost: Purchasing seedlings can be more expensive than starting with seeds or cuttings.
- Limited options: The available varieties at a garden center might not include rare or heirloom cilantro types native to Asia or other specific regions.
- Transplant shock: Garden center herbs are usually started in plastic pots which means you will need to disturb the roots in transplanting. As I’ve mentioned, cilantro’s tap root doesn’t like to be disturbed.
Garden or Container
You can choose to grow cilantro in your garden or in a container. If you’re planting in a container, go large with a pot that is at least 18 inches deep to give the cilantro roots enough space to grow and develop.
Growing Cilantro in Your Kitchen Window
Cilantro’s preference for room for deep roots means it is often not a good plant for the kitchen window. However I’ve found that as long as I’m willing to toss the plant out after a few harvests and rotate in younger plants you can do quite well with keeping fresh cilantro in the kitchen. I know many of you will struggle with discarding a plant, but if you focus on the goal of fresh cilantro always at hand it is worth it.
If you love cilantro and use a lot of it, try rotating 3 pots, starting seeds in each pot 2-3 weeks apart. Then when the first pot of cilantro slows down, you can throw away the plant and start another set of seeds in that pot.
Sunlight Requirements of Cilantro
Cilantro prefers full sun to partial shade. Plant cilantro in a location that receives at least 4-6 hours of sunlight per day to ensure healthy growth. During the heat of the summer or in southern climates a location with morning sun and afternoon shade will help keep your cilantro cooler and slow down bolting.
When growing cilantro in a full sun location, planting taller plants like tomatoes or peppers close by will help shade the roots. Cooler roots will also slow down your cilantro from flowering.
Soil Preparation for Cilantro
Before planting cilantro, prepare the soil by working in compost or organic matter. Aim for at least 18 inches deep, and then rake the soil smooth. Cilantro thrives in loose, fast-draining and slightly acidic soil for optimal growing conditions so adding in peat moss is a great natural way to drop the pH and open up the soil. If your soil has a high natural pH, adding aluminum sulfate is very successful at dropping the levels.
How to Plant Cilantro: Spacing and Depth
Space cilantro seeds 1 to 2 inches apart in rows that are at least 12 inches apart. Cover the seeds with a quarter to half an inch of soil. Once you see true leaves thin the seedlings to a spacing of 4-6 inches.
Yay! You are well on your way to growing your own cilantro to enjoy in your favorite dishes.
Cilantro is a fairly easy to grow and popular herb with a distinct, flavorful taste. The plants don’t require a lot of attention to grow well. Here are a few things to keep in mind when caring for cilantro.
Cilantro needs consistent moisture to grow well. Make sure to water your plants regularly, keeping the soil evenly moist but not soaked.
That said, the most common mistake I see gardeners make when learning how to grow cilantro is overwatering. Cilantro’s deep roots don’t appreciate soggy bottoms. That’s why it’s so important to start with a well drained soil that also holds moisture. Sound contradictory? I totally get your confusion. Overwatering happens when the excess water can’t move on through. When I talk about well drained soil, I mean soils that have lots of air pockets that let excess water move through. At the same time the soil has pockets of moisture holding soil. The best analogy is a sponge that has lots of air holes while at the same time holds moisture.
Fertilizing and Soil Maintenance
Cilantro prefers soil with good drainage and a slightly acidic pH. Work compost or organic matter into the soil before planting to improve nutrient content and drainage. If you are having difficulty growing cilantro, it’s time to test your soil pH. It can take 6 months to a year to fully adjust the pH of a garden bed so be prepared to be patient if your soil is too alkaline.
To encourage healthy growth, apply a balanced fertilizer every 4-6 weeks. A balanced fertilizer is one that has the 3 numbers for Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium about the same, like a 10-10-10 or a 12-12-12 fertilizer. Avoid over-fertilizing, as this can result in leggy growth and a less flavorful herb.
You can start harvesting stems of cilantro when the plant reaches about 6 inches tall. Gently pinch off outer leaf stems, allowing the center of the plant to continue growing. Regular harvesting will encourage your cilantro plant to produce bushier growth and more leaves.
Once cilantro plants start producing flowers, it’s time to dig them up and plant a new round of seeds. Remember, cilantro matures in 30-45 days so you can easily get multiple crops in one growing season.
If you’d like to continue enjoying cilantro through the cooler months, consider overwintering your plants. Choose a sunny, south-facing window or spot with sufficient artificial light. Keep the plants evenly moist and maintain the humidity levels using a humidifier or a tray with pebbles and water.
In milder climates the growing season for Cilantro can be significantly extended in your garden if you ensure that the plants are well-protected from frost and extreme cold.
Common Problems and Solutions
Preventing and Treating Pests
Cilantro plants may attract various pests that can damage the foliage, including aphids, whiteflies, and spider mites. Your best defense is to keep your plants healthy and your garden clean so destructive insects don’t move in. But even the best gardens end up with a few pests.
These insects are fairly easy to diagnose.
- Aphids have a variety of colors which makes them a little tougher to tell apart but what they have in common should help you determine if you have aphids. Aphids tend to gather on the stalks, they have soft squishy bodies and suck the juices out of the plant.
- Whiteflies are a lot easier to identify as they are exactly what the name implies… little white flies.
- Spider mites usually live on the underside of the leaves and are often accompanied by tiny spider webs. Sometimes you have to tap the leaf against a piece of white paper to actually see the insect because they are so small.
Here’s some tips to keep your cilantro healthy.
Wash away the pests:
If you find aphids, whiteflies or spider mites on cuttings you’ve taken you can just wash them off under a strong force of water. they are fairly fragile insects. Then your cuttings are safe to eat. When it comes to protecting your growing cilantro plants you’ll see some recommendations to manually pick off aphids or wash them off with a hard spray of water. But truth is that they multiply so fast that it’s highly unlikely you catch an aphid infection before it’s a full scale attack.
Spray with insecticidal soap:
Because you want to eat your cilantro, you’ll find organic insecticidal soaps to be your healthiest and quickest method of controlling these plant destroying insects. According to Penn State Cooperative Extension, insecticidal soaps work by breaking down the protective coating on soft shelled insects like aphids and whiteflies. They are best applied in the morning or evening, avoiding the heat of the day. It’s going to take several applications to get these pests under control.
You can also make your own soap spray. The secret recipe is mix 2.5 tablespoons of vegetable oil and 2.5 tablespoons of pure liquid soap with 1 gallon of distilled water. The challenge is finding an organic dish soap as many commercial dish soaps have toxic ingredients.
Apply neem oil:
If your infestation is serious, then it might be time to reach for neem oil. However when growing plants for culinary purposes this would be my last resort recommendation. Why? Neem oil smothers the insects by coating them in oil and is incredibly effective at killing the little bugs. But using neem oil requires several applications since you have to work through several life cycles of insects to be clear of additional bugs hatching. Then there is a waiting period of 4-7 days (depending upon who you talk to) before you can eat any herbs that have been sprayed with neem oil. So doing the math… you could be out of the harvesting of cilantro business for several weeks.
The good news is that neem oil is organic and will wash off the leaves. Here’s an article that provides a really good guide to cleaning herbs after using neem oil.
Introduce beneficial insects to your garden:
To prevent these pests, try introducing beneficial insects like ladybugs and lacewings into your garden. A single ladybug can eat up to 5,000 aphids!
You can actually purchase ladybugs in bulk and then release them into your garden. The trick is getting them to stay and work their magic eating all those pesky bugs. The University of California Master Gardeners recommend releasing ladybugs in the morning or evening, when temperatures are cooler. Spray the infected plants with a fine mist of water and then release the ladybugs near the base of the plant for the best results.
Plant companion plants to repel insects:
You’ll also find that planting insect repelling plants like marigolds, petunias and chives around your cilantro will help protect from insects.
Addressing Diseases when Growing Cilantro
When it comes to diseases that effect cilantro, the best defense is a good offense. Cilantro is susceptible to various diseases, including powdery mildew, root rot, and leaf spots.
- Maintain cleanliness in your garden so any disease that sneaks in doesn’t spread. Remove any dead leaves and pick up debris around the base of the plants.
- Give your cilantro plants space so air can move around the plants which will reduce infection from moisture born diseases like powdery mildew.
- Ensure your cilantro receives adequate sunlight.
- Plant in well-draining soil because overwatering can lead to root rot.
When growing cilantro in cool weather, mildew is a more common problem. Use a fungicide or homemade remedy, like a mixture of water and baking soda, to help combat this disease. Remove any infected leaves to prevent the spread of diseases and dispose of them properly to avoid contaminating other plants.
The most common problem with cilantro is that it tends to bolt quickly, particularly in hot weather. Bolting is when a plant quickly produces a flower and then goes to seed. You’ll find most seeds sold today are slow-to-bolt varieties, but when you get into the heirloom seeds where you might find more interesting flavors you will still have bolting challenges. Provide a bit of shade will help prolong the life of your cilantro plants. Harvest leaves regularly, and allow the plant to produce seed heads if you wish to collect seeds for the next season or to use in your kitchen.
Harvest and Use
Growing cilantro in your garden provides a versatile and flavorful addition to your culinary adventures. In this section, we’ll cover some essential tips on harvesting, storing, and cooking with cilantro to make the most of this delightful herb.
It’s time to harvest your cilantro around 3-4 weeks after planting. Cilantro grows from the center, so cut your leaves on the outer edge of the plant. This way, you allow the plant to continue growing while enjoying your fresh cilantro leaves.
Once cilantro starts producing flowers (bolting) the leaves will turn bitter. When that happens you can let it go to seed so you can later harvest the seeds (coriander) or to let it reseed itself. But as far as using the fresh leaves for delicious foods, the cilantro plant has completed it’s life and it’s time to plant anew.
Fresh cilantro has the most intense flavor that is the highlight of many tacos and salsas. It can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. To store fresh cilantro leaves, place them in an airtight container or a plastic bag in your refrigerator. The leaves should be dry before storing or they will get soft and mushy quickly (just like wet lettuce does!) I like to wrap herbs in a dry paper towel before putting in a plastic bag so the paper towel can absorb any excess moisture. You’ll need to change out the towel ever 3-4 days.
Frozen cilantro is the next best thing to fresh. Air dry the leaves or pat dry with paper towels first. Then spread them out on a cookie sheet in your freezer. Once frozen, which will only take a couple hours, gather up the leaves and store in a plastic bag in your freezer until needed.
Dried cilantro works well in sauces and cooked dishes where the texture isn’t as important as the flavor. You can dry cilantro in the oven or in a dehydrator and then store in glass jars until needed.
Using Your Cilantro
Cilantro leaves and coriander seeds each bring unique flavors to your cooking. Cilantro leaves are a perfect addition to various dishes like salsas, salads, and sauces. Use them in Mexican, Indian, or Thai cuisines for a burst of freshness. Coriander seeds, on the other hand, provide a warm, earthy note to dishes like stews and curries.
So get creative and let cilantro bring new life to your home-cooked meals while benefiting from its organic and nutritional qualities.
Why does Cilantro Taste Like Soap to Some People
And now, the elephant in the room. To a small group of people cilantro doesn’t taste amazing, in fact it tastes like you are eating a bar of soap. As crazy as it sounds, it is a genetics thing. Some people’s DNA predisposes them to not like cilantro!
Choosing the Right Variety of Cilantro
To be fair, the cilantro seeds sold on the seed rack in your local garden center are high-quality seeds that have been selected for the most universal appeal. The most important feature to look for on the packaging is “slow bolting” which means it will stay leafy longer and give you more time to enjoy your cilantro.
You’ll find a wide variety of heirloom seeds for cilantro. It’s fun to try different varieties and see if you can tell the difference in the flavor. Since cilantro is so easy to grow from seed don’t be afraid to play around with the offerings.
When selecting the best cilantro variety for your garden, always consider factors such as your climate, desired flavor, and harvesting needs. By choosing wisely, you’ll optimize your chances of enjoying a plentiful and delicious cilantro harvest all season long. Happy planting!
Companion Planting with Cilantro
Incorporating companion plants with cilantro will boost the overall health and productivity of your garden. There are several companion plants that can repel pests, attract pollinators, and improve the soil’s nutrient content.
Great companion plants for cilantro include sage, anise, and onions. These are just a few plants that help repel unwanted insects. Sunflowers and mints attract important pollinators to your herb garden. The more pollinators you have, the better your cilantro will grow.
Cilantro can benefit from legumes like beans and lupines that boost the nitrogen content in your soil, which can help improve the quality and taste of your cilantro. Including these nitrogen-fixing plants in your garden will make your cilantro thrive.
Planting your cilantro near those that lend a helping hand results in a healthier, more productive herb garden.
Frequently Asked Questions
Cilantro grows best in a neutral soil pH of 6.2 to 6.8. It’s fairly tolerant and will grow in just about any rich, well drained soil.
You need a pot that is at least 8 inches deep, preferably deeper to accommodate cilantro’s long tap root. A similar width will suffice for cilantro. Make sure the pot has drainage holes to prevent excess water buildup that could cause root rot.
Cilantro thrives in full sun to part shade. Aim for at least 4-6 hours of direct sunlight each day. If you live in a hotter climate, it’s best to provide some afternoon shade to prevent the plant from bolting too quickly.
When the plant is about 6 inches tall, you can start harvesting the leaves. Cut cilantro leaf stems about 1-2 inches above ground level, starting from the outer edge and leaving the center leaf stems intact. Avoid removing more than one-third of the plant at a time so it can produce energy to grow more leaves for future harvests.
Yes, you can grow cilantro from cuttings but it’s not the best way to start your plants. It is much easier to grow cilantro from seeds.
Yes, cilantro can be grown indoors in containers. Because cilantro has a deep tap root make sure your container is at least 8 inches deep. Place the container near a sunny window that gets at least 4-6 hours of sunlight each day.
Cilantro is a relatively easy plant to grow, provided you give it the appropriate soil, sun exposure, and drainage. Water it consistently, but allow the soil to dry out slightly between watering.
Cilantro is a biennial herb. That means it grows the first year and then produces flowers and seeds the second year. Once it starts producing flowers the leaves become bitter. It is better to start fresh plants every year and enjoy the flavor. Cilantro does often reseed itself, which leads some people to think it comes back on it’s own.