Cilantro is a great herb addition to any outdoor garden. Not only is it a relatively easy plant to grow 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 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 and will grow quickly throughout the summer, often yielding its first harvest of leaves within 30 days. 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 to 24 inches tall, 12 to 18 inches wide|
|Sun exposure||Full sun, partial shade|
|Soil type||Loamy, well-drained|
|Soil pH||Neutral (6.2 to 6.8)|
|Bloom time||Late spring, early summer|
|Flower color||White, light pink|
|Hardiness zones||2 to 11 (USDA)|
How to Plant Cilantro
Many gardeners like the instant gratification (in growing terms) of planting cilantro seedlings. Start them after the last frost, spacing plants 6 inches apart; if planting rows, keep rows 12 inches apart. If you'd like to grow more cilantro next year, choose a good spot and let the plants flower and self-seed, rather than harvesting the whole plant.
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 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.
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.
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 or below 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.
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 the plants thrive, especially when first planting seeds.
'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
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, about three to four weeks after you first sow the seeds. Harvest by pinching back portions of the upper stem, which promotes 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.
How to Grow Cilantro From Seed
It is becoming more common to find seedlings of cilantro, but often the herb is started from seed. As self-sowing herbs, cilantro plants develop seed pods soon after flowering. The pods burst open and 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 have come loose. Then, 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.