Cilantro — pronounced [sih-LAHN-troh] — is a member of the carrot family that is also referred to as Chinese Parsley and Coriander. It is the leaves (and stems) of the Coriander plant. Cilantro has a pungent odor and is widely used in Mexican, Caribbean and Asian cooking. The leaves look a bit like flat Italian parsley and in fact are related.
Cilantro needs its own space in the garden where you can harvest it and then let it go to seed. It grows fast in the cool weather of spring and fall, creating a rosette of lacy leaves. When the weather gets warm, the plant sends up a long, lanky flower stalk bearing flat umbels of white or pinkish blossoms which later produce coriander seeds. Plant cilantro in a bed devoted to herbs where it can reseed, or in a corner of the vegetable garden.
One of the surprises that most gardeners get from cilantro is that it moves through its life cycle so quickly, especially in spring. Once you understand this fast little plant, it’s easy to manage. Give it its own patch in the garden where you can harvest, then ignore, then harvest again.
Or, of course, you can set out new plants every three or four weeks for if we have them in the stores, but the harvest and ignore technique will get you through the in-between times.
Cilantro seeds or plants?
Cilantro is best grown by directly sowing seed in the garden for two reasons. It grows so quickly it needs no head start indoors, and since cilantro develops a taproot, it doesn’t like being transplanted.
However, if you can’t wait to harvest some fresh cilantro leaves in late spring, about 2 weeks before the average last frost date start cilantro indoors in peat pots that can be directly transplanted into the garden. Seeds germinate in about 7 to 10 days.
Look for seed varieties are slower growing and thus take longer to bolt. (Bolting is when the plant prematurely produces flower stalks and begins to produce flowers and seed). Flower stalks are thickened stems that eventually produce flowers and seeds.
Grow in light shade. The soil should be kept moist but well drained. But all things considering the plant is not fussy about soil conditions. Plant seeds in mid to late Spring.
Plant in 2 -3 week intervals. From the time of sowing seed, cilantro leaves can begin to be harvested in about 3 to 4 weeks.
Prepare soil by adding some compost or other organic matter to the planting area and working it into the soil to a depth of at least 18 inches. Rake the area smooth. Sow cilantro seeds 1/4-inch deep directly in the garden in late spring or early summer.
Sow seeds or thin to 6 to 8 inches apart in rows spaced about 1 foot apart. Provide plenty of moisture and feed cilantro plants with a water-soluble fertilizer when they reach about 2 inches in height. Since cilantro grows so quickly, it can also be sown again in the fall in warmer zones.
When growing cilantro, the aim is to maximize foliage. Pinch back young cilantro plants an inch or so to encourage fuller, bushier plants. Snip off the top part of the main stem as soon as it appears to be developing flower buds or seedpods. Cutting off the flower heads redirects the cilantro plants’ energy back into leaf, and not flower or seed production.
The leaves can be cut at any time. Use the upper, new, finely cut leaves in cooking, but not the mature, lower ferny-type leaves. Cilantro is not normally saved and dried like other culinary herbs since, as stated, it loses almost its entire flavor when dried.
Insects and diseases
Cilantro rarely has serious problems with insects or diseases. In fact, probably due to cilantro’s strong scent, it is considered an insect repellent. Two diseases that could be a problem are leaf spot and powdery mildew.
of cilantro from seed
Several articles report success when growing cilantro from seed in greenhouse conditions. Seeds can be ordered on line. I’ll be planting mine this next week. Happy gardening.
Carolyn Neff of Grandview
is a volunteer for Texas AgriLife Extension and a Johnson County Master Gardener. For more info, visit txmg.org/johnson or aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu or call the Extension office at 817-556-6370. Like us on Facebook at Johnson County Master Gardeners.