How to Grow Cilantro (Coriander)

Harvesting cilantro
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Cilantro is a great herb addition to any outdoor garden. Not only is it a relatively easy plant to help flourish outdoors, but it actually boasts two herbs for the price of one. The name cilantro refers to the plant's green stems and flat leaves—which are best eaten fresh—while it's other common name, coriander, pertains to the seeds, which are used as a common cooking spice, especially in Indian, Middle Eastern, and Asian cuisines. Cilantro is best planted in the early spring and will grow quickly throughout the summer, often yielding its first harvest of leaves within 30 days' time. (Its seeds will be ready for harvest closer to three months from planting.)

Botanical name Coriandrum sativum
Common name Cilantro, coriander, Chinese parsley
Plant type Annual herb
Mature size 12 in.–2 ft. tall, 12 in.–1.5 ft. wide
Sun exposure Full sun, partial shade
Soil type Loamy, well-drained
Soil pH Neutral to acidic
Bloom time Late spring, early summer
Flower color White, light pink
Hardiness zones 2–11 (USDA)
Native area Asia
Toxicity Non-toxic

Cilantro Care

All things considered, cilantro is a relatively easy-to-grow herb that's a great option for gardeners who also love to cook. Typically grown from its seeds (known as coriander), cilantro is best planted in early spring. It prefers a soil that is well-draining and should be placed in a spot in your garden that gets soft morning sunlight and a bit of shade in the afternoon, as its delicate leaves can be easily scorched by direct sunlight.

Another perk of growing cilantro in your garden: The herb is quick to respond to all your hard work, often ready to be harvested for its fresh leaves in under a month. Still, care should be taken to correctly maintain the plant, as it can be quick to bolt (i.e., abandon leaf growth and jump straight into flowering and seeding) before it's ready to be harvested. You can begin to harvest cilantro leaves once the plants are around six inches tall, about three to four weeks after you first sow the seeds. To do so, pinch back portions of the upper stem to harvest and promote new growth and fuller plants. Cilantro stems and leaves are very delicate and should be used fresh, at the end of cooking. To store cilantro for future use, freeze the stems and leaves either individually or in an ice cube tray.

Light

The cilantro plant thrives on a mix of sunlight and partial shade, often favoring the cooler weather of late spring and early fall. When plotting out your garden, select a spot for your seeds that won't receive too much high-noon sunlight, as direct rays can burn its leaves. Likewise, if you live in an especially hot climate, consider planting your cilantro in pots, which can periodically be moved into the shade. Cilantro responds directly to the amount of daylight it receives, and too much can cause it to bolt early. You can stall it and extend its growing season a bit longer by ensuring it gets adequate shade.

Soil

When it comes to choosing the proper soil mixture for your cilantro plant, it's important to opt for a blend that boasts a neutral to acid pH (between 6.2 to 6.8 is best) and is well-draining and fast-drying, as too much retained moisture in the soil can cause the plant to bolt early. Plant your seeds between six to 12 inches apart (and about 1/4 inch deep) to give the plant plenty of room to spread once it reaches mature size.

Water

Maintain moist soil for your cilantro plant, watering it every few days depending on your environment. However, the soil should never appear to be soaked or pooling water, as an excess of moisture can be detrimental to cilantro.

Temperature and Humidity

Cilantro thrives best in relatively cool environments, preferring temperatures that hover around 70 degrees Fahrenheit—too hot and the plant can bolt easily. Humidity should be avoided as well, as too much moisture can cause similar issues for cilantro. Ultimately, it's best to grow the herb in spring or early fall if you live in an area that experiences particularly warm and/or humid summers. Although cilantro is a cool-weather herb, it is still frost-sensitive. Keep row covers handy to protect your plants if extreme weather is predicted.

Fertilizer

Cilantro does not need fertilizer to grow successfully, but treating it monthly with an organic blend can't hurt. Additionally, feel free to mix in a nutritious compost or a bit of organic matter into your soil to help it thrive, especially when first planting seeds.

How to Grow Cilantro From Seed

It is becoming more common to find seedlings of cilantro, but often the herb is started from seed. Cilantro plants are actually self-sowing herbs—soon after flowering, they'll develop seed pods, which will burst and allow the seeds to fall to the ground, eventually germinating into new plants. To better control when and where your cilantro is planted, you can cut off the entire seed head and store it in a paper bag until it dries and the seeds (also referred to as coriander) have come loose. From there, you can either replant the seeds or store them in an airtight container until you're ready to grind them for use in a variety of recipes and dishes.