It’s no secret that a fair amount of people detest the taste — and even smell — of cilantro. However, for those that love the polarizing herb, it’s a great plant to have growing in the garden. While it’s great to have fresh herbs at your fingertips, it’s even better to enjoy the exceptional quality. Store-bought herbs can’t hold a candle to the taste of freshly harvested plants.
For the most part, herbs are generally easy plants to raise, and cilantro doesn’t disappoint in that regard. Plants grow quickly, are tolerant of light frost, and thrive when planted in the ground or containers. They have few pest problems with their aromatic nature and actually work as a natural pest deterrent for neighboring garden plants.
Gardeners that enjoy cilantro taste grow it as a short-season annual plant that is typically enjoyed for 8 to 10 weeks once it gets large enough to harvest. It can be planted in most USDA growing zones (2 through 11), except for some areas of interior Alaska and southernmost California, Texas, and Florida.
Throughout North America, the bright green leaves and stalks of Coriandum sativum are known as cilantro; the seeds are harvested and dried for use as coriander.
Cilantro is designated as a cool-season crop, preferring the milder climates of spring and fall. Seeds germinate once soil temperatures reach 50 to 55°F, with the quickest germination occurring when the soil is between 65 and 70°F. Once air temperatures exceed 85°F, hormones within the plant trigger it to switch to reproductive mode, causing it to bolt.
For this reason, it’s best to plant seeds in early spring or late summer, so active growth occurs during cooler months.
- For colder climates:
- Start seeds indoors about three to four weeks before the last frost date for the area; transplant lettuce into the garden as soon as the soil is workable.
- Direct sow seeds in the spring around the time of the last frost, once soil temperatures are high enough. Plants can tolerate a light frost.
- Plant seeds about 4 to 8 weeks before the first autumn frost.
- For areas with temperate climates year-round, direct sow seeds in the garden any time the temperatures are above 50°.
With a taproot that grows down through the soil, cilantro prefers rich, well-drained, loose soil. Check the soil pH, aiming to have the garden bed slightly acidic (about 6.5). Work the ground well to a depth of 12 to 18-inches, incorporating a couple of inches of organic matter into the soil, providing soil nutrients and improving drainage.
Direct sow seeds in the garden bed about ¼-inch deep, spacing plants 6 to 8 inches apart with 12 inches between rows. Gently cover seeds with a thin layer of soil. To make it easier, plant seeds more densely and thin to the recommended spacing when seedlings are about 2” tall and develop their first true leaves.
In relation to other garden plants, cilantro is considered easy to raise by many gardeners. To see prolific foliage growth, high-quality leaves, and reap the best harvest, the plant needs its basic needs met. For optimal growth to occur, plants prefer full sun, regular waterings, small doses of diluted fertilizer, and limited competition from weeds.
Plants grow best when planted in an area of the garden where they can receive a minimum of 6 hours of direct sun every day. These “full sun” locations are even more desirable if they receive some shade, or dapple sunlight, during the afternoon when the sun is intense and temperatures are highest. This keeps plants cooler, preventing bolting.
Cilantro likes moist soil but doesn’t want its roots waterlogged. Aim to provide at least 1-inch of water to the plant per week, bumping that up when temperatures are hot and windy or the soil drains quickly. Avoid overhead watering, instead, wet the soil around the base of plants using a soaker hose or drip irrigation.
Fertilizing herbs is one of the differences in caring for them compared to traditional veggies. Too much fertilizer encourages vegetative growth, which is useful in a way, but too much growth reduces the leaves’ overall flavor. Once plants are 2 inches tall, feed them a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer at half strength every two weeks.
Herbs are susceptible to weed problems and quickly show a yield reduction when they lose water and nutrients to competing plants. The use of chemical herbicides isn’t recommended close to herbs as the herbs are easily damaged. Instead, it’s best to skip chemicals and remove weeds by hand, especially when plants are young.
Pests problems are minimal in cilantro plants due to the natural aroma emitted from the plant. This scent acts as a natural pest repellant, keeping insects away from both the cilantro plants themselves and neighboring plants as well. It is susceptible to aphids, though, so scout regularly for them and treat them with insecticidal soap when discovered.
Cilantro is ready to harvest in about 45 days when plants are about 6” tall. Harvest about ⅓ of the plant per week. Frequently removing shoots encourages full, bushy growth and helps prevent the plant from going to seed as long as possible. After the plants go to seed, you can harvest the seeds as coriander.
Growing herbs is pretty straightforward, hence why indoor herb gardens are popular with novices. But there are almost always some tips and tricks experienced gardeners know that help grow individual plants better, cilantro included. The following suggestions may improve yields or just offer interesting ways to raise plants that extend the harvest.
- For a continuous harvest, direct sow seeds every 2 to 3 weeks during the spring and late summer.
- Sow seeds in containers, and grow indoors for a supply of fresh herbs when it’s too cold to grow plants outside.
- When actively growing, pinch or cut the tops off to encourage growth and extend the plant’s lifespan.
- Seed slightly more densely than recommended, and then thin plants once the first set of true leaves develop. These baby plants, known as microgreens, are delicious and packed full of vitamins and nutrients.
Many garden plants love growing with cilantro. Grow plants with similar sun and water needs. It pairs well with taller plants that provide shade in the afternoon to minimize bolting. It also grows well with anything that is highly susceptible to insect problems since cilantro will naturally repel some common garden pests. Also consider growing them in a dedicated herb garden.
Some of the best companion plants include:
Avoid planting near tomatoes or any other plants that have deep taproots.