Cilantro is an annual that is grown in all USDA Zone 3 and warmer zones. This herb likes a cool to a warm, damp area to stretch out in. The plants develop very quickly, in about 55-75 days, and reach 1-3 feet tall depending on growing conditions. Cilantro has a leaf that resembles flat-leaf parsley but just lightly brush it and the distinct smell of cilantro will let you know what it is. Cilantro has a slightly citrus flavor that goes well with many dishes. The pinkish-white clusters of flowers form in midsummer on stems as tall as 3′. Cilantro blooms are a great way to attract pollinators to your garden.
Alright, let’s talk about how to grow cilantro: planting, growing, and harvesting.
SITE & SOIL
Cilantro likes a sunny or partly shaded spot in well-worked garden soil. Make sure the soil drains well and is rich in organic matter. We usually grow cilantro in a section of our vegetable garden instead of the herb garden since it dies off.
SHOULD I PLANT CILANTRO SEEDS OR PLANTS?
Cilantro is best grown by directly sowing seed in the garden for two reasons. It grows so quickly (after germinating) it really doesn’t need to start indoors, and since cilantro develops a taproot, it doesn’t like being transplanted. Seeds germinate in about 7 to 10 days.
HOW TO GROW
In the spring, after the danger of frost has passed, sow seeds ½″ deep directly where they will grow. In mild regions, seeds can be sown in the fall too. Germination is slow, it can be two or more weeks when the soil is cold. If you wait until it warms up just a bit seeds will germinate in 7-10 days.
From the time of sowing seed, cilantro leaves can begin to be harvested in about 3 to 4 weeks. Cilantro seeds can be harvested in about 45 days.
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.
Harvesting the seeds: The large seeds are easy to harvest and handle. Harvest on a dry day. Cut the top of the stems when the seed pods begin to turn brown and crack if pressed. Make sure pods are harvested before they release seeds into the garden. Once stems are cut, place seed pods in a paper bag so seeds will be caught. Finish the ripening process for a few weeks in a dark, well-ventilated, cool place. Pods can be shaken or rolled around in your hands to release the seeds.
If you’re growing the plant for seed, don’t bother fertilizing since that may delay flowering and thus seed production.
WHAT INSECTS & DISEASES AFFECT CILANTRO?
Cilantro rarely has serious problems with insects or diseases. In fact, probably due to cilantro’s strong scent, it is considered an insect repellant. Two diseases that could be a problem are leaf spot and powdery mildew. Leaf spot appears as small yellow spots that turn into larger brown spots. Excess moisture and poor air circulation most often cause the problem. Prevent leaf spot by making sure cilantro plants are grown in well-drained soil, are not over-watered, and are thinned out enough to allow good air circulation around them.
Powdery mildew appears as a powdery white coating on the foliage usually during hot, dry periods. Prevent powdery mildew by giving cilantro plants adequate moisture and avoid overcrowding.
Drying cilantro doesn’t really work because most of the flavor is lost. You can freeze it in ice cubes. When frozen it is best used in recipes where it will be cooked because it does become limp.
The seeds should be stored in a cool, dry location out of the light. Like most hers and seeds you want to use them within six months to a year to ensure optimal freshness.
SAVING SEEDS FOR PLANTING
The easiest way I have found to save the seeds is: Once the seeds turn brown place a paper bag around the stalk, shake the stalk or rub it through the bag, the seeds fall off into the bag. Store your seeds in a cool dry location out of direct sunlight. Make sure you mark them with the date they were collected.
EXTENDING YOUR GROWING SEASON
Heat is one of the major factors that will cause your plant to bolt/go to seed. If you’re like me and want to extend the growing season for those luscious leaves plant some cilantro seeds in a deep pot. When it starts to get too warm you can move the pot into a shady area this cooling it down a bit. If you’re really desperate you could even move it inside under some grow lights but at that point, it may be more cost-effective to buy some fresh organic cilantro.
If you have an early frost move in but you know it will warm back up you can protect your tender leaves with row covers. This usually buys us several more weeks or even months.
Ways to Use Cilantro
This delicious cilantro sauce is a great way to use the cilantro you grow. Other tasty ways include Black bean and quinoa burrito bowls, Shiner Bock marinated steak fajitas, and of course homemade pico de Gallo!