How to Plant, Grow and Care For Cilantro
Thinking of growing cilantro in your garden this season? Cilantro is a popular garden herb with many different uses. In this article, gardening expert and former organic farmer Logan Hailey walks through every step of growing and maintaining cilantro in your garden this season!
Some people love it; some people despise it. While cilantro is a bit controversial in the culinary world, cilantro is an easygoing crop with a range of benefits for your garden.
Whether you’re craving fresh salsa, taco seasoning, a delicious garnish, or a spicy curry paste, this versatile herb should have a place in every garden. Even those who can’t stand the unique flavor will enjoy the delicate pollinator-attracting flowers and the fresh coriander seeds.
This cool-weather herb is shockingly easy to grow and widely adapted to most regions. It thrives in the buffer seasons of spring and fall but needs a little extra care to make it through the heat of tomato season. Fortunately, we’ve got some tricks up our sleeves for growing cilantro almost year-round! Let’s dig into everything you need to know about planting, growing, and caring for cilantro.
Cilantro Plant Overview
Plant Type Annual
Plant Family Apiaceae
Scientific Name Coriandrum sativum
Hardiness Zone 2-11
Planting Season Spring and Fall
Plant Maintenance Low
Plant Height 6-12 inches
Fertility Needs Little to none
Soil Type Well-drained, Rich Soil (neutral pH)
Watering Needs Moderate to High
Sun Exposure Full Sun to Partial Shade
Plant Spacing ½-2 inches between plants
Maturity (leaf) 50-60 for Leaf Harvest
Maturity (seed) 120-150 for Coriander Seed
Plant Uses Leaves, Roots, Seeds, Flowers
Pests Aphids, Beet Armyworm
Diseases Bacterial Blight, Powdery Mildew
Cilantro is a leafy annual herbaceous plant used as both an herb (leaves) and a spice (seeds). All parts of the cilantro plant are edible and used in cuisines throughout the world.
In the west, the aroma of cilantro is most commonly associated with the leaves, however, the seeds (also called coriander) are equally valuable in the kitchen. Thanks to their strong peppery flavor with a spice of citrus, even the cilantro roots are sometimes used in Thai cuisine.
Where Does Cilantro Originate?
Native to the Mediterranean, Middle East, and Southwestern Asia, cilantro grows wild in fields and lawns much like dandelions do in the United States. The exact origins of this plant are unknown, but many dates its earliest cultivation back to the Nahal Hemar cave in Israel.
Cilantro has long been used as a culinary, medicinal, and spiritually significant plant with many impressive flavors and properties.
The flowers and fragrance of the plant are useful in attracting beneficial insects and repelling pests, which has helped this plant thrive in both wild and domesticated settings for thousands of years.
In the U.S. and Mexico, the term “cilantro” typically refers only to the leaves of this popular herb. “Coriander” refers to the seed or spice. However, both come from the same plant. Depending on its usage and the region of the world, cilantro goes by many other names, including:
- Coriandrum sativum in Latin
- Chinese parsley (leaves)
- Coriander (whole plant) in Australia and the UK
- Coriander (seeds)
- Mexican parsley or cilantro in Spanish (leaves)
- Dhanya or dhania in India (leaves)
- Koriander in German
- Pak chee in Thai
- Kuzbara in Arabic
Cilantro vs. Coriander
There is confusion amongst gardeners and chefs alike regarding the names for Coriandrum sativum. You can see both plants listed on seed packets, which may lead you to question your selection.
Fortunately, for gardening purposes, these terms refer to the same plant with the same growing instructions. However, things get a bit more complex in the kitchen.
In North America, cilantro refers only to the leaves and stalks of the plant, while coriander refers to the seeds that are used as a spice. However, in other parts of the world, the entire plant is called coriander. The term cilantro actually comes from the Spanish name for this popular herb.
Starting cilantro plants is extremely straightforward. This recognizable herb is most commonly propagated by seed, though you can also purchase pre-grown seedlings from your local nursery. The medium-sized rounded seeds of cilantro are affordable, easy to sow, and kid-friendly.
When selecting cilantro seeds, keep in mind that you can harvest both the leaves and seeds (and even the roots) of the plant to eat as it goes through its lifecycle. Seed packets may be labeled as coriander and cilantro but remember that coriander is just the seed version.
Propagating the herb and spice are the same because they grow from the same plant. Just be sure that you don’t try to take coriander seeds from your spice cabinet and plant them (they could be roasted and may not germinate).
Propagation via Seed
Cilantro can be planted in early spring, right around the last frost. It can also be sown again in the fall. Seeds germinate in soil temperatures between 55 and 65°F.
You can use a soil thermometer to check your soil warmth or take your chances and get cilantro in the ground around the same time as your first spring onions, kale, and lettuce.
This cold hardy herb can be direct seeded in the garden or sown in trays, then transplanted outside for a head start.
Direct seeding is the easiest and most common for this laid-back herb. The only advantage of transplanting is a head start. You can begin seeding cell trays indoors as early as two weeks before the last frost date.
Begin by preparing a seedbed that is well-amended with compost and organic matter. Be sure that the soil is loamy and light. Rake the soil until it is smooth.
Use your finger or a garden tool to create a furrow line about ½” to ¾” deep. For multiple rows, keep furrows at least 3” apart. Sow the cilantro seeds into these lines ¼” to ½” deep and ¼” to ½” apart.
Sprinkle a thin layer of soil over the furrow until the ground is flattened again. Lightly tamper the seeds in. The seeds should be tucked in enough that they won’t float to the surface when you water. But they shouldn’t be so deep that they can’t climb up toward the light.
Keep the soil consistently moist for 7-10 days as you wait for the seeds to germinate. A layer of row cover helps maintain warmer seedbed temperatures and consistent moisture.
For leaf production, no thinning is needed. Cilantro leaves grow great when sown thickly. This also makes it easier to harvest big bundles at a time.
For seed production, thin to 2-4” between each plant after they reach a few inches in height. this allows for better visibility of seeds.
Seeding for Transplants
Begin with a standard well-draining seed starting mix. Fill cell trays to the top without compacting the soil. Use your finger or the back of a pen to create one ½” deep hole in each cell. Drop 2-4 cilantro seeds in each cell hole. Cover the seeds with ½” thick layer of soil and lightly tamper down.
Water thoroughly and keep moist for 7-10 days. Ensure the growing plants receive full sunlight in a window, greenhouse, or beneath grow lights.
Upon the emergence of early leaves, thin to 1-2 plants per cell. Once they are 4-6” tall, prepare to transplant the seedlings into the garden by hardening them off outside by slowly acclimating to the weather and reducing water. This can take 5-7 days.
Propagation via Cuttings
You may have heard of people re-growing store-bought cilantro in jars on their windowsill. Though it is less common in the garden, you can propagate via stem cutting. This is most successful when you start with an actual potted plant rather than those recently harvested.
Begin by finding a healthy stem on a mature plant. Locate a leaf lode where a leaflet comes out from the main stem. Count down at least 3-5” from the top and use a sharp, sanitized knife or scissors to make a clean, angled cut just below the node. Remove any leaves below the node.
Submerge the cut end of the stem in a clean glass or jar filled with water. Place the jar with the water and cutting in indirect sunlight and keep the water level full. After 1-2 weeks, you should see new roots growing. Allow a few more weeks for the stem to grow a good root system.
When the roots are established, transplant the rooted cutting into soil just like a regular cutting. Keep consistently moist and allow a few weeks of adjustment to the new environment. Move the plant out into the garden or a potted container when you think your cilantro is about 6” tall with enough leaves and roots to sustain itself.
Whether you start from seed, cutting, or a transplanted cell, cilantro should be planted during the cool weather season. This gives it time to establish in the chill of spring or autumn that it loves.
Once it starts to get hot, cilantro can get stressed out. Temperatures above 85° often trigger bolting. If you want to enjoy the longest harvesting window, be sure that it is planted in early spring or early fall.
Once a cilantro plant has reached 4-6” tall, you can transplant it into the garden. You may also find larger, pre-established plants at your local nursery. Either way, the most important thing to check is the root ball.
The roots should thoroughly fill the container so that you can easily remove them from the cell without losing a lot of soil. If the roots can’t hold onto the soil, it needs longer in the cell. If the roots appear rootbound or winding around in circles, you will need to use your fingers to loosen them up before planting.
Use a trowel or hori hori knife to create a hole that is about 1.5 times larger than the root ball of the seedling. Alternatively, use the back of a garden tool to dig a long furrow that is 1.5 times deeper than the root balls.
Grasp the plant by the base and gently wiggle the plant out of its container. Place the seedling in the hole, ensuring that the roots are fully submerged and the central growing point remains at the soil level.
If you are planting a long row, lay down all the plants on their side as you go. Seedlings can be spaced 4-6” apart depending on their size.
Backfill the hole or furrow with your hands and gently prop up the plants to make sure they are tucked in. Don’t bury the base of the plant! Thoroughly water the seedlings and allow them a few days to transition.
Cilantro is among the most beginner-friendly herbs because it grows quickly and is relatively hands-off once established.
Cilantro prefers full sunshine, but it can tolerate partial shade. If you live in a hot climate or you are trying to grow it during the summer months, an area with slight shade can actually be beneficial for preventing bolting.
Some growers companion plant near the base of peppers or under the dappled canopy of trellised tomatoes. You can also use a light shade cloth to keep the soil surface cooler.
The only thing cilantro is finicky about is water. Like its carrot cousins, cilantro is a delicate plant that needs the perfect amount of watering. Over-watering can cause the plant to rot or get stressed out and bolt. But underwatering will quickly turn the plant yellow and cause wilting.
Try to maintain consistent soil moisture by watering deeply about once per week. Let the soil slightly dry between waterings.
Only water from the base and try to avoid soaking the leaves. Wet leaves can lead to more problems with fungal diseases. Drip irrigation or soaker hoses are ideal for maintaining the proper soil moisture.
Like most garden veggies and herbs, cilantro loves well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter. The pH should be between 6.0 to 7.0 and not too acidic. It will not tolerate long periods of drought or heavy clay soils that become waterlogged.
Find a happy medium in your garden soil by broad forking, amending with compost, and adding drainage materials like peat moss. Your plant will be happier when its roots can breathe, and it can hold onto water.
Cilantro prefers a casual 50 to 70°F for optimal growth, but it can certainly handle both colder and hotter. While cilantro needs some warmth to germinate (preferably between 65 and 70°F), established plants are tolerant of mild frosts.
On the flip side, summer cilantro does best, up to about 85°F. Anything hotter can trigger bolting unless you have employed some clever cooling techniques like dappled shade from companion plants, cooling misters, or shade cloths.
Cilantro is a light-feeding herb that doesn’t always require fertilizer. In fact, too much nitrogen can make the leaves less fragrant, which means less herby flavor in your dishes. The best way to nourish this plant is with high-quality compost that will slowly release nutrients over time.
If you must fertilize, do so very sparingly with an all-purpose organic fertilizer incorporated into the soil at the time of planting. You can also include cilantro in crop rotations after heavily fertilized crops like brassicas or corn.
However, the easiest way to get cilantro the nutrients it needs is to simply use companion planting. It makes a great companion for legumes, carrots, peppers, potatoes, tomatoes, and even strawberries.
Cilantro enjoys an added dose of minerals and perhaps some afternoon shade, while the companion vegetable can enjoy the pest-repellant and insectary benefits.
Maintaining a cilantro patch is as easy as harvesting the leaves and stems. Wait until plants are at least 6” tall. When you want to incorporate fresh cilantro into a recipe, simply use a sharp knife or shears to cut back the plant to about 1 inch above the soil. This will allow the plant to regenerate its leaves for more harvests in a couple of weeks.
To prevent bolting, be sure that you regularly harvest in warm weather. If you see the plant start to elongate and send up flower stalks, you can try to maintain its vegetative state by cutting it back to the base again. This can help reset the growth cycle so it will continue channeling its energy into leaf production.
Don’t forget that some bolting is actually beneficial! I often let a handful of plants in each patch bolt so they can enlist their predator-attracting properties that help keep pests at bay.
Like all garden vegetables, plant breeders and farmers have been working for centuries to save the best-performing seeds. Modern seed catalogs offer a range of cilantro varieties with slight differences in flavor, color, disease resistance, bolt tolerance, and vigor.
The most popular varieties include:
|‘Santo’||This moderately warmth-tolerant cilantro has the classic flavor with great vigor and excellent leaf production.|
|‘Calypso’||On average, Calypso is a whopping 3 weeks slower to bolt than ‘Santo’ and can handle warmer mid-season weather. The mid-size plants are uniform and easy to harvest.|
|‘Cruiser’||This tidy, upright plant is great for gardens with limited space. It has excellent bolt resistance, which is why it is one of the top selections for southern growers.|
|‘Leisure’||A bolt-tolerant, uniform, and flavorful cilantro that grows lower to the ground and performs moderately well in the heat.|
Pests and Diseases
Thanks to its strong fragrance and repellent properties, cilantro is not prone to as many pests and diseases as its vegetable comrades. However, a handful of problems can still afflict cilantro. Thankfully, they are easy to deal with using prevention and organic treatments.
If you feel like aphids can attack virtually every plant in your garden, you are probably right. In spite of its strong smell, cilantro can still fall victim to these sap-sucking crawling pests. Aphids tend to appear as the weather warms and the herb loses some of its defenses due to stress.
For small infestations, you can simply cut off the infected leaves and throw them away. You may also prefer to wipe the leaves with a damp cloth or a moderate spray of water.
Do this in the morning so that the leaves have time to dry in the sun. Water sitting on the leaves can predispose the plant to fungal issues described below.
Some gardeners also use a diluted neem solution, but you must beware that this requires thoroughly washing your plant after harvest to remove that nasty (albeit non-toxic) neem flavor.
But the best way to deal with aphids is to attract their predators— namely, hungry ladybugs and voracious lacewings. You can purchase these larvae and release them into the garden or attract them naturally with companion planting.
These beneficial bugs absolutely love sweet alyssum, coreopsis, and even the flowers of nearby cilantro.
Beet armyworms are nasty long caterpillars that can slime and poop all over your garden. These worms emerge in the spring and can stunt or kill seedlings by feeding on the developing buds. While they may not kill adult plants, they will make the leaves absolutely inedible due to their nasty frass (waste).
The best way to deal with beet armyworms is to keep numbers low by attracting natural predators and parasitoids. Parasitic wasps and tachinid flies can be purchased from biocontrol sources and released in the garden, or you can plant companions like flowering dill, aster, and daisies.
You know the biocontrol predators are working when you find yellowish, limp caterpillars hanging from the plants as dark oozing tubes. It looks gross, but it is a good sign for your cilantro crop!
If you need to get rid of aggressive armyworms quickly, you can hand-pick them or use an application of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) bacterial spray such as Entrust.
If you notice your plants have water-soaked lesions or brown and blackish spots, you may have a case of bacterial blight. The lesions often have an angular or rectangular appearance between leaf veins. The spots can dry out and become papery or cause whole leaves and stems to die.
This disease attacks cilantro as well as parsley. It is primarily caused by excessive moisture or poor garden hygiene. The bacteria can overwinter in plant residues that are left in your garden.
If there is an abundance of rain, fog, or sprinkler irrigation, the moisture causes the disease to spread throughout your garden.
To prevent it, avoid watering from above. Instead, use drip irrigation or soaker hoses. Remove crop residues at the end of the year. Maintain more spacing between plants and choose a resistant variety like ‘Cruiser’ or ‘Advanced Turbo II.’
Like bacterial blight, powdery mildew can take hold of cilantro plants in excessively moist and warm conditions. High humidity, overhead watering, and overcrowding can quickly lead to a white coating of powdery substance that grows on cilantro leaves.
This fluffy fungal disease won’t kill cilantro but will reduce its vigor and make it taste weird.
The prevention methods are mostly the same: Plant in full sun and never water from overhead. Select a resistant variety and allow air circulation between plants.
If you already have powdery mildew, carefully remove the infected plant parts and apply a natural fungicide like compost tea, diluted baking soda, or garlic in crushed water.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does cilantro grow back after cutting?
Cilantro is a great “cut-and-come-again” herb because the leaves and stems will grow back after harvest. As long as you leave 1-2 inches of growth above the soil, the plant will regenerate several times during the season.
Does cilantro grow easily?
Cilantro is one of the easiest herbs to grow as long as it has well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter and a consistent moisture level. Regular harvests ensure that the plant keeps producing leaves instead of bolting. The most common mistakes when growing cilantro are planting in hot weather, underwatering, or overwatering (especially with overhead irrigation, which can cause disease).
Does cilantro prefer sun or shade?
At its core, cilantro is a full sunshine plant. However, growers in hot or southern climates may plant cilantro in partial shade to help prevent bolting. When temperatures get over 85°F, the plant naturally wants to send up flowers and produce seeds. The slightly cooler temperatures of a partially shaded area will prolong the leaf production phase.
Cilantro may taste like soap to some, but it is a culinary treasure to others. Every part of the cilantro plant is edible and beneficial to your garden. Even if your cilantro bolts, you can always harvest those fragrant flowers or preserve the spicy coriander seeds. You don’t want to miss out on growing this versatile, cheap, and laid-back herb in your garden this season!