How to Grow Cilantro (Coriander)

cilantro

The Spruce / Kara Riley

Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) is a great addition to any herb garden. Not only is it a relatively easy plant to grow, but it actually boasts two cooking uses for the price of one. The name cilantro refers to the plant's thin, green stems and flat, lacy leaves, which are best eaten fresh. Its other common name, coriander, refers 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 but also can be started in the late summer or early fall. It grows quickly, often yielding its first harvest of leaves within 30 days. Its seeds will be ready for harvest closer to three months from planting.

Common Name Cilantro, coriander, Chinese parsley
Botanical Name Coriandrum sativum
Family Apiaceae
Plant Type Annual, herb
Size 1–2 ft. tall, 1–1.5 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Full sun, partial sun
Soil Type Loamy, well-drained
Soil pH Acidic (6.2 to 6.8)
Bloom Time Spring, summer
Hardiness Zones 2–11 (USDA)
Native Area Asia, Europe, Africa

How to Plant Cilantro

When to Plant

Cilantro likes cool weather to grow. So plant it in the early spring after the threat of frost has passed. You also can do a late summer or early fall planting once the temperature starts to cool. However, in some climates you'll only be able to harvest the leaves and not the seeds before frost hits in the fall.

Selecting a Planting Site

An ideal planting site for cilantro should have loose, well-drained soil. It can handle either full sun or partial shade but tends to prefer some afternoon shade in warmer climates. Make sure cilantro isn’t planted too close to taller plants that will shade it as they leaf out in the spring. Container growth also is a good option for cilantro.

Spacing, Depth, and Support

Seeds should be planted about 1 to 2 inches apart and roughly 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep. Thin seedlings to about 6 inches apart. Rows of cilantro plants should be at least a foot apart. A support structure shouldn’t be necessary.

Cilantro Plant Care

Light

The cilantro plant thrives with about six hours of direct sunlight on most days. However, when plotting your garden, select a spot that won't receive too much high-noon sunlight, as harsh rays can burn cilantro leaves. If you live in a hot climate, consider planting your cilantro in pots that can be periodically moved into the shade. Too much heat and direct sun can cause the plant to bolt (go to seed) early.

Soil

A loose, loamy, fast-draining soil with a slightly acidic soil pH is best for cilantro. Too much retained moisture in the soil can cause the plant to bolt early.

Water

Keep the soil evenly moist but not soggy as seeds germinate and seedlings develop. Roughly 1 inch of water per week is ideal for seedlings. More mature plants don’t require as much water, but they still like moist soil. Just make sure their roots are never waterlogged.

Temperature and Humidity

Cilantro thrives best in relatively cool environments, preferring temperatures that hover between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit—too hot and the plant can bolt easily. However, though cilantro is a cool-weather herb, it is still frost-sensitive. Keep row covers handy to protect your plants if unseasonably cool weather is predicted. Cilantro also struggles in high humidity and climates that get a lot of rain.

Fertilizer

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

Pollination

Cilantro plants are pollinated via bees and other pollinators

pinching back cilantro
The Spruce / Kara Riley
cilantro growing
The Spruce / Kara Riley
cilantro flowering
The Spruce / Kara Riley
closeup of cilantro
The Spruce / Kara Riley

Types of Cilantro

There are several varieties of cilantro, including:

  • 'Leisure': Popular for its flavor and bolt-resistance; matures in 50 to 55 days
  • 'Longstanding': Various cultivars that tend to be tall and slow to bolt; matures in 60 to 90 days
  • 'Calypso': Very slow to bolt, maturing in 50 to 55 days but not going to seed until 120 to 150 days
  • 'Santo': Often sold as "standard" cilantro; good bolt-resistance; matures in 50 to 55 days
  • 'Cruiser': Upright habit and strong stems on uniform plants; matures in 50 to 55 days

Cilantro vs. Parsley

Cilantro and parsley varieties can look quite similar at first glance. They both have thin green stems with flat leaves. However, cilantro leaves are typically more curved while parsley leaves are more pointed. Parsley also has a milder scent and taste while cilantro’s aroma and flavor are very distinct (and almost soap-like to some people).

Harvesting Cilantro

This herb is quick to respond to all your hard work, often ready to be harvested for its fresh leaves in under a month. You can begin to harvest leaves once the plants are around 6 inches tall, which typically occurs around three to four weeks after you first sow seeds. Harvest the leaves you need by pinching back portions of the upper stem, which promotes new growth and fuller plants. Aim not to take more than a third of the leaves at a time. To harvest seeds, allow the plant to flower. Leave the resulting seed heads on the plant to dry out. Then, shake them into a paper bag to release the seeds.

Cilantro leaves are best used fresh but will keep in the refrigerator for a few days. You also can freeze the stems and leaves for future use. Once they're fully dry, store seeds in an airtight container in a cool, dry spot.

How to Grow Cilantro in Pots

If you don’t have a suitable garden spot for cilantro, try a container instead. Its relatively small size makes it a great herb to grow in containers. A pot that’s at least 8 inches wide and deep is best for cilantro. Make sure it has drainage holes. An unglazed clay container is ideal because it will allow excess soil moisture to evaporate through its walls.

Pruning

You’ll generally prune your cilantro plants as you harvest leaves. If you see a flower stalk beginning to grow, you can trim it off in an attempt to prolong leaf growth. However, if you’re hoping to harvest seeds, you’ll want to permit the flower stalk to grow.

Propagating Cilantro

Cilantro often will self-seed in the garden, propagating itself. You also can harvest and save seeds yourself for later plantings. The time to do this is in the summer as the seed heads dry out on the plants. Here’s how:

  1. Once the seed heads are brown and dry on the plant, trim them off. Don't wait too long, or the stems of the degrading plant might flop over and spill the seed heads.
  2. Place them upside-down in a paper bag. In a few days, they should split open and release the seeds. 
  3. Allow the seeds to fully dry in a cool, dry spot out of direct sunlight. 
  4. Place them in an airtight container labeled with the date. They should be viable to plant for at least a few years. 

How to Grow Cilantro From Seed

Prior to planting, slightly crush or rub cilantro seeds between your fingers to remove the husk. It’s also helpful to soak them in water overnight. This increases the chances of germination. It’s best to sow cilantro seeds directly in the ground or pot where they’ll ultimately reside, as the plants don’t like having their roots disturbed. But you also can start them in peat pots that can be planted in the soil of their eventual growing site. 

Potting and Repotting Cilantro

Any quality well-draining potting mix will do for cilantro, but one that’s organic and formulated for herbs is ideal. Due to cilantro’s sensitive roots, repotting is best avoided. Instead, make sure you choose a suitable growing container for your seeds right from the start.

Overwintering

As cilantro is an annual, overwintering is not necessary. In hot climates, cilantro planted in the fall can actually continue to grow throughout the winter.

Common Pests and Plant Diseases

Cilantro is generally resistant to any serious pest or disease issues. Soil that’s too moist can cause rot. And some common insect pests, including aphids and leaf hoppers, can affect the plants. Use an insecticidal soap that’s safe for edible plants if you spot any pests.

FAQ
  • Is cilantro easy to grow?

    Cilantro is an easy herb to grow as long as it has mild temperatures and adequate sun and moisture. 

  • How long does it take to grow cilantro?

    Cilantro leaves are usually ready to start harvesting in about a month after planting. Seeds take about three months to be harvestable.

  • Does cilantro come back every year?

    Cilantro is an annual, completing its life cycle in one growing season.