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A Complete Guide to Growing Cilantro

Cilantro is a delicious herb that can be added to so many recipes which is why it’s such a great choice to add to your garden! In this post, I’ll go over everything you need to know about growing cilantro from planting to harvesting!

Cilantro growing in the garden

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Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) is an annual herb with a strong, fresh, and zesty flavor. I love growing it in my garden to add on top of tacos, soups, and other mexican food dishes. But I love it most in homemade salsa.

But the problem many gardeners face is that cilantro doesn’t grow well through the heat of summer like tomatoes and peppers. It’s actually a cool weather crop and when the weather gets too warm it’s likely to bolt. Which means it will form a think stem from the center of the plant and start growing tiny white flowers that will eventually turn to seed.

So throughout this post I’ll share the ideal growing conditions for cilantro to thrive as well as some tips for growing cilantro throughout the warmer months.

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Preparing to Plant

As you get ready to plant cilantro the most important factors for success are that you plant it during the correct season and select varieties that will thrive in your climate.

Grow Cilantro During the Right Season

Cilantro is a cool-season crop. So even though you’re likely going to find it at the local garden center right next to the tomato plants doesn’t mean it’s going to thrive in the heat like tomatoes do.

Cilantro is in the Apiaceae plant family which prefers cooler temperatures. A few other common plants in the Apiaceae family include carrots, celery, dill, parsnips, and parsley.

Cilantro thrives in temperatures 50-80° F and is hardy to 25° F. It will even withstand several light frosts over the winter.

If you live in a climate with a more mild winter and occasional freezing temperatures it is best to plant cilantro in the fall and it will continue growing all winter long.

I am in Zone 9 of California and I planted my cilantro in early October and it grew and produced wonderfully all winter long until about February when we had a few warm days and then it started to bolt.

If you live in a colder climate with winter temperatures below 25° F it’s best to plant cilantro in the spring time as soon as the danger of frost has passed.

Select the Right Variety

Cilantro is quick to bolt which means it will quickly head to seed as soon as the temperatures warm up or once it has matured and reached that stage of growth.

A bolted cilantro plant

However, there are varieties you can plant that are slower to bolt. When you buy cilantro look for varieties labeled as “slow-bolt” or “long-standing”.

Here are some great options to choose from,

Choose the Correct Location

Cilantro needs at least 6-8 hours of sunlight and so choose a location with full sun during the cooler season and partial shade during the warmer months.

During the warmer months the best location would be somewhere with morning and early afternoon sun and afternoon shade. Alternatively, you can use shade cloth or grow it in a container that can be moved around.

Ideal Soil Conditions

Cilantro prefers well draining loam or sandy soil but it will grow in many soil types as long as the nutrient and moisture levels are correct.

Whatever soil you’re growing in should drain well and not remain overly saturated. Cilantro also needs fertile soil but not soil that is too rich or it can alter the flavor of the cilantro.

You can amend your in ground soil by mixing in a few inches of compost into the top layer of soil or if you’re growing cilantro in a container I recommend using a good quality potting mix.

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Planting and Caring for Cilantro

Now for the fun part which is planting! Remember cilantro is going to grow best during the cooler months but there are tips for growing it during the warmer months and we’ll cover those below.

When to Plant Cilantro

The best time to plant cilantro is in the fall for climates with mild winters such as growing Zone 9. But if you’re in a colder climate with consistent freezing temperatures during winter you should plant cilantro in spring after the danger of frost has passed.

However, you can continue to plant cilantro throughout the warmer months but the key to success is planting and harvesting frequently.

How to Plant Cilantro

It is best to plant cilantro directly by seed. It can be transplanted but plant members in the Apiaceae family have a delicate tap root and do not tolerate transplanting well.

So if you directly sow your cilantro seeds out in the garden you’ll have much better success and healthier plants than those that are transplanted.

Sow 1-2 seeds 1/4-1/2 inch deep, 2 inches apart, in rows 12 inches apart. The ideal soil temperature for germination is 65-70° F. After planting seeds, keep the soil consistently moist and seeds should germinate in 7-10 days.

Planting cilantro seeds in the garden

If you are transplanting cilantro you can space seedlings 4-6 inches apart.

If you are growing cilantro for fresh eating there is no need to thin out your plants. Cilantro will grow well in bunches, and harvesting will be much easier and quicker.

The next planting tip is to sow cilantro seeds often. If you want a continued harvest all season long you need to practice succession planting and plant cilantro seeds every 1-2 weeks so that as one plant is on its way out, younger plants will be reaching maturity.

Caring for Cilantro Plants

Cilantro requires consistent moisture during seed germination until the plants become established. But after plants are established they can tolerate less water. Plants don’t do well in damp or humid conditions.

When I grow cilantro during the cooler months I rarely water and let the rainfall do the work. However, if you aren’t getting rain you should water every 1-2 weeks.

But during the warmer months it is important to consistently water cilantro plants. Don’t let the soil completely dry out. Plants will also benefit from mulch which will help keep the soil cooler.

As far as fertilizing, as long as you have healthy soil you likely won’t need to fertilize. In most seasons I forget and my cilantro does just fine.

But you can fertilize 1-2 times per season with a well balanced organic fertilizer like this All-Purpose Fertilizer from IV Organic. You can use my promo code AUDREY10 at checkout for 10% off your order.

The key to fertilizing cilantro and many other plants, is to not overdo it. Too much fertilizer can cause more harm than good. If cilantro gets too much nitrogen the plants will actually become less flavorful. So if the plants appear to be healthy you’re likely better off to skip the fertilizer.

Cilantro growing in the garden

How and When to Harvest Cilantro

Cilantro is typically ready to harvest 45-70 days after seeding. Once leaves are about 4-6 inches tall you can harvest the outer leaves by using gardening shears or a sharp knife and cut 1-2 inches above the soil line and leave at least 1/3 of the plant to keep growing.

It’s important to harvest frequently to encourage more leaf production but it’s best to never harvest too much of the plant at once or it will delay growth. You should leave at least 1/3 of the plant intact.

However, because cilantro is quick to bolt you don’t want to let the leaves get too mature. You should harvest in cycles.

For example harvest 1/3 of the crop, the next time another 1/3, the third time the last third, and then by your fourth harvest you should have cilantro to harvest from the first section you cut.

Then just continue this harvesting rotation and continue reseeding your cilantro often to ensure growth all season long.

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How to Store Cilantro

It’s always best to use your fresh cilantro right away but if you have extra to store here are a few tips.

1.) Keep in water. Trim off the very end of the stems and place the unwashed bunch of cilantro in a jar with about an inch of cold water, but avoid submerging the cilantro leaves.

Then cover the tops of the leaves with a plastic ziplock bag and store the jar in the fridge, changing the water every 2-3 days. The cilantro should stay fresh for at least 1-2 weeks.

2.) Wash and prepare. Wash your cilantro and dry it thoroughly, my favorite method is with a salad spinner. Then let it air dry completely before storing.

Once it has completely dried you can trim off the stems and store the leaves in an airtight container with paper towels. Cilantro will not last as long this way but it’s convenient to have the cilantro already prepared and it’s a great method if you’ll be using it within a few days.

3.) Store in fridge without washing. Cilantro will last longer if it stays dry. So hold off on washing until right before you use it. Just roll the unwashed cilantro in dry paper towels and store it in a plastic storage bag in the fridge.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between cilantro and coriander?

The quick answer is nothing. “Cilantro” is Spanish for “Coriander” but in general “Cilantro” refers to the herb plant and “Coriander” is used to refer to the seeds. It’s common to see this distinction in various recipes.

Fresh cilantro and cilantro seeds

How to prune cilantro?

Cilantro doesn’t need to necessarily be pruned but it should be harvested frequently to ensure continued leaf production. Once leaves are about 4-6 inches tall you can harvest the outer leaves by using gardening shears or a sharp knife and cut 1-2 inches above the soil line and leave at least 1/3 of the plant to keep growing.

What is the trick to growing cilantro?

Cilantro prefers cool weather so it will grow best in the fall, winter, and early spring. It can be grown during the warmer months but it will quickly bolt. So if you want better success with growing cilantro plant it during the cooler months.

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