Cilantro is such an illustrious name in the herb world. Quite a handful of cuisines make use of this herb, and its spicy, citrusy flavor has enamored food enthusiasts everywhere. If you’d like to have this plant in your house, you’d better learn how to plant cilantro and how to take care of it.
So what exactly is cilantro? In general, it is the leafy part of the coriander plant, which is referred to as cilantro. You’ll also find it being called coriander, Mexican parsley, or Chinese parsley. It’s most often grown for the flavorful leaves, but the seeds are also highly coveted to be used whole or ground in cooking.
Cilantro tastes and smells the best when it is used fresh in your food. However, store-bought cilantro loses its flavor quickly. You can’t even use it dry like other herbs, as it will lose its flavor along with its freshness. Your best bet is to grow a cilantro plant at home, so you have a fresh supply at all times.
Unless you are one of those people who claim that cilantro tastes like soap or battery acid, you probably really love cooking with it or sprinkling it over your salad. So, to make sure you always have a fresh supply here’s a helpful guide on how to grow cilantro.
How to Plant Cilantro Seeds
Sowing seeds is the first thing you should do when you’re trying to grow cilantro. “Slow bolt varieties” are better choices. Even when the weather is hot, these varieties of cilantro produce seed quite late.
Why is that important? Slow bolt varieties are better if you’re looking for that intense flavor in cilantro leaves. Because just as the plant produces seeds, the plant loses its flavor, and you can no longer make tasty meals with it. If you’re thinking of obtaining coriander seeds, though, you don’t need a slow bolt variety.
When to Plant Cilantro?
Cilantro is one of those pleasantly surprising herbs that prefer to be planted in the cooler days, such as fall and spring. In cool-weather climates, you can start planting cilantro right after the last frost days. However, if your area enjoys warm weather, plan to plant cilantro in late summer.
Planting Cilantro in the Garden
Sowing cilantro in full sun is a good idea, as the plant enjoys sunlight more than shade. So this plant is a good choice to place in a sunny stretch of your garden. Use a well-drained, slightly alkaline, or neutral soil to prepare the bed for cilantro. It’s naturally better if the soil is high in organic matter.
Water the bed before you sow the seeds. To sow cilantro seeds, mix them with some sand as it will help to distribute them evenly. You can scatter the seeds on the bed or sow them in a row. After placing the seeds on the bed, cover lightly with soil. Afterward, mist the bed lightly, so you don’t displace the seeds.
Make sure the soil is kept moist but not soggy. Once you see the seedlings emerging, you should increase the dose of water to around an inch per week. That is also a good time to start thinning the seedlings, so there’s one seedling per six inches in the bed.
Planting Cilantro Indoors
While planting cilantro in a container, make sure not to use heavy garden soil and instead opt for something light, like vermiculite. It’s also important to pick a well-draining pot yet holds onto some moisture. Unglazed terracotta pots do well in cases like these. As I’ve already said, cilantro prefers moist soil but not a soggy condition.
It would help if you only watered potted cilantro when the soil in it feels dry to the touch. Potted cilantro should be fertilized generously. Cilantro prefers full sun. So even if you’re growing it indoors, make sure it gets about 4-5 hours of direct sunlight every day. Do not just place it near a window and hope for the best. I’d suggest using a grow light would be a better option for growing cilantro indoors.
Cilantro grown indoors will certainly reach towards the light source, and therefore will get leggy and spindly. Therefore, it’s best to prune the plant carefully to assume a bushy and pleasant appearance. Keep in mind that a potted cilantro plant can not compete with a cilantro plant growing in your backyard in terms of growth as it will not have access to as many resources.
Therefore, even if the potted cilantro on your kitchen windowsill looks a little weak, you shouldn’t be unhappy. Congratulations! You’ve grown cilantro! Now you need to give it proper maintenance, and it will keep growing and filling up your kitchen with amazing aroma and taste.
How to Take Care of a Cilantro Plant
While cilantro seedlings require quite a bit of water to thrive, mature plants are more forgiving and will continue to grow with just enough water to keep the soil moist. Observe your cilantro for signs of wilting. When you notice the leaves start to wilt, you can water them.
Mulch is something that helps with both the soil’s water retention and weed prevention. You can 2-3 inches of any locally available mulch to cover the soil around your cilantro plants. That will keep the soil covered and prevent weed emergence and hold onto soil moisture. Mulch will also keep the leaves cleaner.
Trimming and Harvesting
Many first-time growers agonize over how to trim cilantro plants. However, once your cilantro plants have fully matured, which tends to happen when they are around 60-75 days old, it is a good time to trim. Another way to know when to trim is when the plant reaches a minimum of six inches. That’s when trimming, pruning, or harvesting the leaves can commence.
To prune or trim cilantro, you’re going to need a pair of sharp scissors; the sharper, the better. Wipe it clean with rubbing alcohol before you go to the plants. While you’re pruning, you should cut one-third of the stem from the base. Trimming or pruning in this way will ensure that your cilantro plants are healthy. It will also mean that they grow to be bushy and not leggy.
Take care not to cut off too much of the plants, as that will weaken them significantly. Cilantro should ideally be pruned once weekly. Once the weather warms up considerably, you will notice the plant start to “bolt” or produce flowers. It would help if you pinched off the flower buds because otherwise, the leaves will turn bitter.
Protecting Cilantro from Pest and Diseases
Cilantro’s sharp scent tends to keep a lot of pests at bay. If you plant it with other plants, this will act as an insect repeller itself. When the coriander plant blooms, the flowers even attract some beneficial insects that prey on harmful insects. However, that doesn’t mean cilantro is entirely resistant to pests.
They are still somewhat susceptible to aphids and leafhoppers. Antibacterial soap may be a good measure to get rid of these insects. Among diseases, wilt and mildew might weaken your cilantro. Cleaning up dead plant parts is a good way to keep your cilantro healthy. Moreover, ensure proper drainage so the moisture is neither too much nor too little and that the plants aren’t overcrowded.
Tips for Growing Cilantro
- Bolting is the bane of cilantro growers. Right as summer rolls around, your cilantro plants will produce a bunch of taller stalks in the middle of the bushy growth. These stalks are the ones that are going to “bolt” and produce flowers. Pinching off flower buds as soon as they emerge will prolong the flavor of your cilantro leaves for some time. However, you could also take some measures to prevent or prolong bolting. Cilantro will start bolting as soon as the weather starts warming up considerably. Therefore, if you make sure their roots are cool and moist, you can delay bolting. Mulching is a good way to do this. If you allow your cilantro plant to go dry, then it will bolt much faster. So please provide them with enough moisture. Picking bolt-resistant varieties, planting them early, or planting them in a shady spot will also be helpful in this case.
- Despite all your efforts, though, cilantro will inevitably bolt. Let it go to seed, and then you can collect the seeds for planting later. You can also leave the seeds on the plant. They will fall around the cilantro plant, and soon you’ll see little sprouts emerging from the soil.
- When you’re planning to grow cilantro in a container, it’s best to choose a shallow and round pot that’s around 18 inches wide and about 8-10 inches deep.
- Growing cilantro from seed is very easy and much cheaper than buying seedlings or full-grown plants. You can buy seeds or easily collect them from a friend who’s also growing cilantro.
- If you want to have cilantro growing for a long time, you can sow seeds several times throughout the season. By doing that, you can make sure that the cilantro plants will mature at different times and be harvested one after another.
Now that you know how to plant cilantro, what do you intend to do with it? As cooking the leaves and stems tends not to work too well, it’s best to add freshly chopped cilantro before taking the dish off the heat. However, if you want to preserve cilantro, that can also be done.
Making fresh cilantro into a sauce such as pesto, chimichurri, chutney, or a guacamole starter can work well. Of course, you could blanch fresh cilantro and then freeze them flat in a freezer bag. But my favorite method is coarsely chopping the leaves in a food processor with olive oil and then freezing the mixture in ice cubes. This way, you can enjoy the freshness of cilantro for months.