Mexican cuisine gets a refreshing kick with this flavorful herb! Native to the Mediterranean, kitchen gardeners across the country enjoy growing cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) for its fresh, bright green and aromatic leaves. The annual’s pungent seeds — known as coriander — are dried and used as a spice, both whole and ground.
Cilantro grows best in pots or prepared beds with loose, well-draining soil. Plants can reach 3 feet tall and have a reputation for being easy to cultivate. Will self-seed.
Fun Fact: The Chinese believed coriander provided immortality and it is thought that the crushed seeds, when added to warm wine, have aphrodisiac qualities.
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Quick Guide: Planting, Growing & Harvesting Cilantro
- Plant for fresh leaves or seeds as an addition to ethnic cuisine
- Prefers full sun, cooler weather and consistent water
- Direct seed only (no transplanting) after all danger of frost is past
- Will self-seed
- Harvest as needed for cooking, dry for future use and harvest seeds
Sunlight: Full sun to partial shade
Maturity: 60-75 days (leaves), 100+ days (seed)
Height: 1 to 3 feet
Spacing: 8 to 18 inches apart
Cilantro may be grown in containers or home herb gardens. It requires regular water throughout the garden season and does best in full sun and loose soil amended with organic compost. The plant will bolt (flower and go to seed) quickly in warm temperatures.
How to Plant
Sow cilantro seeds directly into the ground. Do not transplant — the long tap root is delicate and if damaged, the plant will fail. Sow seeds 1/2 inch deep after all danger of frost has passed. Seeds germinate at temperatures ranging from 50-85˚F with germination usually occurring in 7-10 days. When plants emerge, thin them to 8-12 inches apart.
Tip: Make successive sowings every 2-4 weeks for continuous summer supplies.
Harvesting and Storage
Pinch fresh leaves as needed when plants are thriving. As with most culinary herbs, cilantro is best picked early in the morning just as the dew evaporates.
Do not wash the leaves or aromatic oils will be lost. Leaves store poorly unless preserved in something like salsa, but even then its flavor can fade (watch — video).
Insect & Disease Problems
Herbs rarely have serious pest problems. However, keep a close watch for powdery mildew, and if symptoms are found, treat cilantro with the following least-toxic techniques:
- Remove diseased foliage from the plant and clean up fallen debris on the ground.
- Wash foliage occasionally to disrupt the daily spore-releasing cycle. Neem oil and PM Wash, used on a 7 day schedule, will prevent fungal attack on indoor plants.
- Use a slow-release, organic fertilizer on crops and avoid excess nitrogen. Soft, leafy, new growth is most susceptible.
- Destroy all plant debris after harvest (see our article Fall Garden Cleanup). Do NOT compost.
- Apply sulfur or copper-based fungicides to prevent infection of susceptible plants. For best results, apply early or at first sign of disease. Spray all plant parts thoroughly and repeat at 7-10 day intervals up to the day of harvest.
Seed Saving Instructions
To harvest seed, cut plants and tie upside down in a dry, dark place for several weeks until the seed turns brown. When dry, place flower heads in a paper bag and thresh until all seeds are removed. Sift out seed from chaff. Make sure seeds are completely dry before storing.
Provides organic matter and natural nutrients for flowers and vegetables.
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Alfalfa Meal (Organic)
Derived from sun-cured, non-genetically modified alfalfa that is freshly milled.