Cilantro, the ever-controversial herb: do you love it or hate it? If you’re on team cilantro, this tasty herb makes a great addition to any dish, street tacos, salsas with a little lime juice, or even salads. And the good news is, if you’re itching to start and get growing cilantro right away, this easy-to-grow herb is something you can start inside right now. Better yet, it’s one of the perfect matches for homegrown heirloom tomatoes! Having cilantro growing in your garden means you won’t have to plan ahead to run to the grocery store or try to use it before it goes bad in your refrigerator.
Cilantro is perhaps most famously used in Mexican food, but is also a popular garnish in many Asian dishes–this is why it’s also known as Chinese parsley.
Tips for Growing Cilantro (coriander) in Your Vegetable Garden
Cilantro is one of the best herbs to start in a container indoors and then move the pot outdoors when temperatures are warm after the last frost of spring or late spring. Cilantro does not have deep roots so it does not need very deep soil, however, if you choose a shallow container you must make sure the soil does not dry out! If cilantro has to face dry soil or hot weather, it will often turn brown or yellow, or it will bolt early and grow tall and start to smell more like coriander.
Follow these tips for successfully growing cilantro:
- Remember, cilantro grows best in cool weather
- Get a slow-bolting variety to help it tolerate temperatures of hotter areas
- Use higher nitrogen fertilizer or plant food
- Keep consistently moist soil–don’t let it dry out
- Find a spot with light shade–just 4-6 hours of sun is fine
- Try growing it indoors or in early fall to avoid the summer heat
- Plant cilantro seeds close together
- Planting new seeds every few weeks during the growing season will give you a steady supply
- In mild climates, you may be able to keep cilantro growing all year long!
Planting Cilantro or Coriander Seeds
It’s no wonder cilantro has a strong flavor–did you know that cilantro and coriander are actually the same plants? There’s a clue in the botanical name, Coriandrum sativum. Cilantro seeds are called coriander seeds–the same coriander seeds that are found in curry powder blends or used in cuisines such found in the Middle East, North Africa, India, Latin America, and Asia. The cilantro plant is used in kitchens everywhere and since the dawn of time. It has even been found in caves dating back 8000 years ago in Israel. So when you’re growing cilantro, you’re also growing coriander
Where and When to Plant Cilantro
Because it grows quickly, cilantro can be planted just about any time during the growing season as long as temperatures are mostly between 50-85 degrees F avoiding the early summer and early summer is best, otherwise, your cilantro will have a bitter flavor. I’ve even grown cilantro during a mild winter or early spring for an April harvest!
I don’t recommend that you transplant the seedlings if you can avoid it, but it’s possible if you’re careful. It’s better to sow cilantro seeds in the container you want from the start and fill it with good quality potting soil, organic matter at least 18 inches deep. Cilantro plants like well-drained soil.
If you choose to put your cilantro plants in the ground in the garden, be sure to add some nutritious compost or plant food to the existing soil first. A minimum of 9 cilantro plants per square foot is recommended, but many experienced gardeners find that sowing seed even more densely works better, especially as the weather heats up.
Sow seeds densely to help retain moisture and prevent weeds. Growing cilantro with the rows spaced closely also allows the young plants to shade each other. Traditional spacing says 6 inches apart, but 3-4 inches apart works great as long as you keep them well watered and fed so they don’t have to compete for moisture or nutrients.
Some gardeners first gently crush or crack open the seeds to improve germination before they plant cilantro, but be careful if you try this. Lightly cover the seeds with more dirt and keep them damp.
The best temperature for coriander seed germination is 60-70 degrees F, and warmer temperatures may help the seeds germinate more quickly. Coriander seed typically takes about a week to germinate. Once the little plants begin to grow, this is the essential time to ensure that they have consistent moisture–not too soaked but never drying out. Most potting soil contains fertilizer already (check the ingredient label) but if yours doesn’t, you can add a little bit once your cilantro plants have a few true leaves.
How to care for Cilantro
Easily one of the most important tips for growing cilantro is to always keep the soil moist since cilantro has shallow roots. Give your cilantro plants a little water any time the soil is dry to the touch, but remember that they don’t like to be soggy all the time either.
If growing indoors, keep your cilantro growing in a sunny window. Like most fresh herbs grown for their leaves, you should fertilize with plant food or fertilizer that is higher nitrogen to encourage large leaves.
How long does cilantro take to grow?
Cilantro grows quite quickly, so it won’t be long before the delicate leaves are ready to be harvested! In general, you can harvest cilantro 45-70 days after planting, but the growth rate may depend on whether you have rich soil and leaf production. Once your cilantro plants are at least a month old and a few inches tall, you can start harvesting.
How to harvest fresh cilantro
Cut or carefully pinch off the tops but avoid harvesting the entire plant. Harvest cilantro leaves at least an inch above where the stems branch if you want the plant to re-grow after cutting. A good rule of thumb is to leave more than a third of the plant still growing. Frequently trimming off a few fresh leaves can encourage the cilantro plants to keep growing! To clean your cilantro, rinse the foliage after or just before it is harvested. If you have extra, try to remove most of the excess moisture before you store it in the fridge, or place a paper towel inside the bag to help ensure it doesn’t get slimy.
Cooking with Cilantro
My own favorite super easy salsa recipe uses fresh cilantro leaves and garden tomatoes blended with Pace salsa. Adding those two fresh ingredients to jarred salsa takes it from basic to flavorful and authentic.
Cilantro makes a flavorful garnish for other dishes like curry, Thai food, or Vietnamese soups like Pho. It is also great in salad dressings like cilantro ranch or vinaigrette.
Pro tip: To keep cilantro fresh, you can fill a glass jar with water as a vase and keep them in the fridge or wrap the bushel in a paper towel and place in your vegetable crisper.
Here are some delicious cilantro recipes to give you inspiration
FRESH HEIRLOOM CILANTRO SALSA
- Blender or Blender Wand
- * Grill optional
- 6 Medium Heirloom Tomatoes Can be grilled for smokey flavor
- 2 Cloves Garlic
- 1 Medium Jalapeno Pepper Can be grilled for smokey flavor
- 1/2 Cup Chopped Cilantro
- 1/2 Medium Onion Diced Can be grilled for smokey flavor
- 1/2 Lime
- Grill the tomatoes, onions, and peppers beforehand
- Add 1/2 of a slice of grilled pineapple
- Chop all your ingredients to a consistent dice
- Add to Blender or Jar for mixing wand
- Add fresh lime juice
- Blend until you reach the desired consistency
- Salt to taste
FRESH CAUGHT GRILLED MAHI MAHI, AVOCADO, CILANTRO, SHREDDED CABBAGE, LIME & SALSA TACOS
- Gas grill, Charcoal grill, or Electric Grill or a stovetop grill pan
- 1/2 Head Cabbage
- 1 Avocado Soft and ripe
- 1/2 cup Cilantro
- 2 Cloves Garlic
- 2 Tbsp Spicy peppers of choice banana pepper (Mild) to habenero (OMG)
- 1/4 Cup Creme Fraiche or Mayo
- 3 tbsp Fresh lime juice or lemon juice Fresh is the way to go! if you don' have limes go for lemons
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper
- 12 Corn Tortillas
- 1 Pound Fresh Caught Mahi Mahi filets, Skinless, cut into small bite size cubes. Fresh tuna or shrimp can also be used
- 1 tsp Kosher Salt
- 1 tbsp Garlic and Lemon seasoning
- 2 tbsp Fresh lime or lemon juice for dressing after the fish is cooked..never before! this will cook the fish.
- 3 tbsp Olive oil
- 1 package Bamboo skewers
*Make this only about 45 minutes ahead of time, you want that crunch.
- In a blender, add the creme fraiche, cilantro, avocado, garlic, lime juice, peppers, salt and pepper and pulse until completely blended.
- Thinly slice the cabbage on a mandolin or with a cheese grater
- Coat the cabbage, cover with saran wrap and refrigerate
- Soak bamboo skewers in water for an hour minimum
- In a big mixing bowl add the olive oil and lemon garlic herb seasoning, mix well
- Coat the Fish and let marinate for 20 minutes in the refrigerator while you heat up the grill or grill pan
- Remove from the marinade and drain as much of the oil as possible and skewer the fish
- Grill the fish gently turning only once till opaque and cooked throughly about 8 minutes
- THE TORTILLAS
- Before serving, wrap the tortillas all together in aluminum foil and heat on the grill or toaster oven on low heat. On the grill as far to the side as possible
- THE PRESENTATION
- Cut about 2 limes into little wedges and place in a bowl
- Trim about 12 little bouquets of cilantro for garnish
- Place the Cilantro Lime Salsa in a bowl and serve aside the skewered fish
- Add the Slaw to a bowl with tongs for serving
- Add a few pieces of fish to a tortilla
- Cover with a little bit of slaw..the fish is the star don't go crazy
- Spoon a tsp of salsa on top
- Garnish with cilantro and lime
SPICY MOROCCAN FISH IN TOMATO SAUCE WITH CILANTRO
- Stew Pot or Slow Cooker
- 1 lb White fish such as cod or halibut or Salmon
- 1/2 White Onion diced
- 3 Cloves Garlic
- 1 Jalapeno
- 1 Lemon or Lime sliced thinly no seeds
- 2 tbsp Olive oil
- 1 tbsp Tomato Paste
- 1 Can Crushed tomatoes, you may use 3 large fresh tomatoes however the canned tomatoes give it a nice thickness you cant get with fresh tomatoes
- 1 1/2 Cup Water
- 2 tbsp Spicy paprika
- 1 tsp Cumin powder
- 1 tsp Ginger Powder
- 1 tbsp Ras El Hanut ("Head of the spice shop blend" This is a Moroccan spice blend of paprika, cinnamon and more. Absolutely delicious if you can get it. If you cant a small dash of cinnamon or cardamom will do.
- 1 tsp Black Pepper
- 1 dash Sugar
- 1 Bunch Cilantro
- Heat the oil in the stew pot on medium to low heat and add the diced onion and garlic and sauté till translucent
- Turn off the heat and add the dry spices, this toasting method releases the essential oil and really adds the layer of flavor your looking for.
- Turn the heat back on to medium and add the tomato paste and crushed tomatoes and sauté' for about a minute
- Add the water salt and pepper and a dash of sugar to cut the acidity
- Stir well and leave on medium heat for about 10 to 15 minutes to let the flavors combine
- Gently place the fish in the sauce
- Stir Gently to mix all the ingredients where the fish is fully covered
- Place a layer on the top with fresh cilantro and fresh lemon slices
- Cover and simmer on low to medium heat for about 15 minutes or low for up to 8 hours
- Serve with fresh chopped cilantro on a plate with fresh toasted bread or with rice or couscous
FAQ about cilantro plants
Can you grow cilantro indoors?
Yes! Just make sure it has a sunny window or grow light.
Will Cilantro grow back after cutting?
Yes! You should be able to get multiple harvests from your cilantro plants before they die back.
Does cilantro come back year after year?
No, cilantro is an annual herb plant and has a short life span, often only a few months. Start some new plants when you’re ready to harvest leaves from the first ones so that you can have a constant supply of fresh cilantro!
Why is my cilantro turning yellow or dying?
There are a few reasons cilantro leaves might turn yellow. The most common reasons are usually drought stress (too little water), heat, or lack of nitrogen in the soil. Try planting it again in cooler weather. Since cilantro is a short-lived herb, it’s also possible the plant’s life cycle is ending naturally, so go ahead and plant more seeds, or once the plant flowers, let the seeds drop and reseed to grow cilantro again!
Cilantro Pest Control & Companion Planting
People love cilantro because it rarely has any diseases, easy to grow because it is small, cilantro is easy to plant in the light shade of other taller plants like tomatoes. Many home gardeners use cilantro and other fragrant herbs (like garlic or mint) as companion plants to help keep pests away from other plants in the garden. Cilantro flowers mainly flower heads also attract beneficial insects to the garden, which is a great thing for organic gardening.
However, sometimes you may find tiny insects like aphids, whiteflies, or on your cilantro plants. You can control them by spraying with organic neem oil spray, or sometimes soapy water or insecticidal soap will work as well. A little ironic, I suppose, since some people insist that cilantro tastes like soap already. If you find beetles or other bugs on your cilantro plants, I recommend Spinosad rather than Neem. Don’t worry, it’s an organic spray also.
What to do when cilantro flowers
If you’re growing cilantro in hot weather or it’s nearing the end of its lifespan, it’s likely that you’ll get to see it start to bloom and produce flower clusters. Once this happens, the flavor changes, and when you run your hands through it you may notice the smell is much stronger, almost overpowering! You may notice that the leaves become more delicate and lacy also.
At this point, I do not like to use flowering cilantro in my salsa, but perhaps it would go well with curry or other Indian, Asian, or Thai recipes that often use coriander or cilantro for maximum flavor. Or, you can simply let your cilantro plant flower and let the seeds ripen and dry out so that you can harvest the coriander seed heads and plant them again! Store coriander seeds in a paper bag to keep them nice and dry until you’re ready to plant them. If you’re lucky, as the seeds fall, they will reseed on their own.
Can you eat cilantro with leaf spots?
Yes, absolutely! This is mainly caused by too much fertilizer with high nitrogen levels. If you see a leaf spot on the top or bottom of the leaves no worries it is still edible, however, I would use them mainly for cooking rather than a garnish.