Growing Cilantro

growing cilantro: a close-up in the garden

image source: iStock.com

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.

In mild climates, cilantro makes a handsome winter companion to pansies. Leaves withstand a light frost.

Soil, Planting, and Care

Grow cilantro in full sun and well-drained soil with a pH of 6.2 to 6.8; it will tolerate light shade in the South and Southwest where the sun is intense. In the South and Southwest, plant 12 to 18 inches apart in the fall or the spring about a month before the last frost. Fall is the ideal time to plant in zones 8, 9, and 10 because the plants will last through until the weather heats up in late spring. When plants begin to bloom, the foliage becomes scarce; for steady harvest, set out plants every 3 to 4 weeks until the weather gets warm in spring, or until the first frost of fall.

Cilantro frequently self sows. As seeds fall to the ground, little plants often come up during the season and the following spring.

Troubleshooting

Harvesting cilantro by cutting close to ground level

Harvest cilantro by cutting the leafy stems near ground level. Cut only about one-third of the plant at a time.

Cilantro occasionally has problems with aphids and whitefly, wilt, or mildew. For the insects, use insecticidal soap. To prevent or control wilt and mildew, make sure you clean up spent cilantro plants at the end of the season, and remove any infected plants as soon as possible.

One of the surprises that most gardeners get from cilantro is that it moves through its life cycle so quickly, especially in spring. If you are lucky enough to live in a mild winter climate, fall and winter give you the longest season to harvest. 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. Harvest while it’s low, let it get tall when it wants to, then cut off the tall plants after the seeds drop to get it out of the way. This makes room for the new plants that start themselves from the fallen seeds. Or, of course, you can set out new plants every 3 to 4 weeks for as long as we have them in the stores, but the harvest and ignore technique will get you through the in-between times.

Harvest and Storage

A hand shows the coriander seed dried on a cilantro plant before being harvested

Harvest coriander seeds as they turn dry and brown. They’re a main ingredient in curry spice mixes.

You can harvest cilantro’s foliage continually in the cooler months of spring and fall and through winter in areas without hard freezes. Harvest by cutting the leafy stems near ground level; most will be around 6 to 12 inches long. Avoid cutting more than one-third of the leaves at one time, or you may weaken the plant. Fertilize with Bonnie Herb & Vegetable Plant Food or fish emulsion after 4 or 5 harvests.

Harvest the seeds by clipping the brown, round seed heads; place upside down in a paper bag. In a few days, the round husks will dry and split in two, dropping the edible seed inside. Don’t delay seed harvest, or the weak stems will fall over.

Uses

White cilantro flowers in a garden.

Cilantro will grow tall and wispy as it starts to bloom. The white flowers later produce the seeds we all know as coriander.

Growing cilantro adds a lot of healthy, fresh flavor to your kitchen. Freshly chopped cilantro is an excellent source of potassium, is low in calories, and is good for the digestive system. It is best to use fresh cilantro in cooking since it does not dry very well. Add chopped leaves at the last minute for maximum flavor. Cilantro blends well with mint, cumin, chives, garlic, and marjoram. Store by freezing the leaves in cubes of water or oil; you can dry them, too, but they lose a lot of their flavor this way, which explains why growing your own is far better than buying it from the spice rack.

Store coriander seeds in a cool cabinet or the refrigerator. Use them in curry, poultry, relishes, and pickles.

Download our How to Grow Herbs instructions. They are in .PDF format.

FAQs

Is it true that coriander and cilantro are the same?

Yes, coriander is the seed and cilantro is the leaf. Their flavors are quite different. You can harvest the seed after the plant flowers and round seeds form. Harvest and dry the seed to be ground into coriander.

I’m growing some of your cilantro. How do I know when it’s ripe or ready to eat?

Cilantro is always ready. If plants are very young, avoid picking all of their leaves, or you will weaken them. After they are a few weeks old, pick a few leaves from each plant and add them to dishes as directed in recipes. You can also stir chopped leaves into bottled salsa to give it a fresh-made taste.

How can I have cilantro year-round?

Cilantro is a biennial, which means it grows leaves the first season, and then it flowers and dies the second. Set out plants in early fall for optimum growth. They will develop into round, leafy plants that look a lot like flat-leaved parsley, but the flavor is distinctly different. If the winter is mild, you’ll have cilantro for months. Then in spring you will notice the plant growing taller and the leaves changing to a very lacy form. There will be white flowers on top, and after the seeds ripen, the plant will die. Seeds that fall to the ground in summer will germinate in fall, so the cycle begins again.To have a supply of cilantro in summer, you’ll need to preserve it. Drying is not the best for cilantro. Instead, chop or puree the fresh leaves with olive oil. Store this in a heavy plastic container or freezer bag in the freezer for later use.

My cilantro plants are lanky and do not have many leaves. How do I get more leaves to grow?

It sounds like your cilantro has started to bloom. Once the weather begins to get warm in late spring or early summer, cilantro will transition from a round, leafy plant with parsley-like foliage into a taller, lacy-leaved plant with white flowers in clusters at the top. In a few weeks, you’ll see round seeds forming. When harvested, these can be ground into coriander. If you leave them to mature, plants will fall to the ground and sprout again in the fall or early spring. While your plant will die after flowering, its offspring will take over, giving you a seasonal supply of flavorful foliage.

46 Comments

Sarah Robison

I bought your cilantro about a week and a half ago, and I’m noticing a orange-brown mold on the surface of the soil. Are we watering too much? Is it still safe to eat the cilantro?

Danielle Carroll

Hello Sarah,
It is safe to eat the cilantro. There are a lot of molds that grow on top of soils – living off the organic matter in the soil. Cutting down on water will slow growth of these types of molds. Here are pictures of a few of these molds for you to compare. -danielle, Bonnie Plants

Sam

I’m growing my cilantro in my window–I bought one of your plants at Home Depot a couple of weeks ago. I moved from the second floor to the ground floor in my dorm building a week ago, and didn’t have any problems until today. I just noticed some little red bugs on my plant and I’m worried they’ll eat it and spread to the rest of the building.

Right now they’re localized to just this one plant, and there aren’t a lot…maybe twenty tiny red bugs, not even.

How do I get rid of them and keep them away? I read mixing garlic and cayenne with soap helps, but I’m not sure.

Danielle Carroll

Hi Sam,
You may be seeing red spider mites (or red aphids). Some types of pests love the indoors where temperatures are perfect for them. You are on the right track! Using insecticidal soaps will help control the insets. If you can count the insects, you can also use a damp cloth to wipe off the stem of the plant. – danielle, Bonnie Plants

Aileen

Hi! I was wondering if I can buy the Bonnie cilantro plant and not transplant it to the garden but instead keep it indoors in the same pot it is growing in. This way it will not bolt due to heat.

Danielle Carroll

Hello Aileen,
You can certainly try. Without adequate lighting though, expect the cilantro to grow ‘leggy’ or spindly. Make sure you have a good window so the cilantro can see the sun. Snip the cilantro for use often as this can slow down flowering – even room temperatures above 72 degrees can hasten flowering in cilantro – but growing it indoors is doable. Good Luck! – Danielle, Bonnie Plants

Judith

I wish I had known before I bought cilantro as part of Home Depot’s black Friday sale last week. I live in zone 9. It was already wilting when I brought it home. I was back at Home Depot yesterday and the 3 remaining they had were looking bad too. I’ll wait til the fall to buy it again.
Home Depot and Lowes get some plants that either are not appropriate for out area, or at the wrong season for us

Tammy Anders

Ok so after reading all of this I’m disappointed. I just bought a celantro plant at the grocery store and it is March in southeast texas. Already 80 degrees outside. Is there a way to grow it through the summer? Indoors perhaps? Guess I should have done my research before I bought it.

Danielle Carroll

Tammy,
Cilantro is a short lived plant in a lot of areas. I depend on mine to reseed in the spring when the heat turns up quickly. A lot of gardeners and cooks plant cilantro, not for the aromatic leaves, but for the seeds…coriander…another spice used in cooking. These are more tricks for growing cilantro.
-Danielle, Bonnie Plants

Kirk

We have had cilantro come back each fall for a number of years and grow all winter. Now they are coming back.with few cilantro leaves but a lot of growth with more lacy leaves with no cilantro smell. It is almost like they went back to the ‘wild’. Love your Bonnie plants.

Danielle Carroll

Hi Lee,
If the broccoli has flower heads forming, don’t prune it back until you are ready to harvest. Then cut the head (unopened flowers) off to eat and wait for the smaller side shoots to appear. You can harvest those as well. A yellow tint is usually present when the head is about to flower, and you want to harvest while the flower buds are tightly closed. Saute the heads for a great supper!
-Danielle, Bonnie Plants

Katy

Thanks for having such an informative vegetable blog, it’s helped me with my first garden A TON : ) I live in Texas, zone 9, and always have problems with my cilantro. I grow them in long planters with, but spaced about 6 in. away from, other herbs like flat leaf parsley and thyme. They look great, and the coriander I harvest is generally OK (not great but OK). But my cilantro never has as robust a taste as the bunches you can buy in the grocery store so all I usually use is the coriander. Is this the variety, maybe the soil? My other herbs have great flavor, and everything looks green bushy and healthy.

Danielle Carroll

Hello Katy,
Cilantro is one of my favorites, but unfortunately one of the shortest living herbs especially in the Spring / early Summer. In your area, cilantro will overwinter so be sure and plant in the Fall. To get the best taste, harvest the leaves while they are young. You will harvest not long after you plant. Since we are taking leaves often frequent fertilization is a must to keep the leaves coming. You may set transplants out every couple of weeks in the late Winter / Spring to keep the harvest coming. Here are some additional tricks to growing cilantro.
-Danielle, Bonnie Plants

Danielle Carroll

Hi Mimi,
I am not sure how long your cilantro has been planted, but it will start to yellow if it is not fertilized regularly. Keeping it fertilized means more leaves for us to harvest….more salsa at my house. Cilantro leaves may also fade from that dark green color when it is grown in soggy soils. Make sure the soil is well-draining. If growing in a container, make sure there is plenty of drainage and a good potting mix is used.
-Danielle, Bonnie Plants

Danielle Carroll

Hi Mimi,
I am not sure how long your cilantro has been planted, but it will start to yellow if it is not fertilized regularly. Keeping it fertilized means more leaves for us to harvest….more salsa at my house. Cilantro leaves may also fade from that dark green color when it is grown in soggy soils. Make sure the soil is well-draining. If growing in a container, make sure there is plenty of drainage and a good potting mix is used.
-Danielle

Adriana

I live in Miami, I bought several herbs to have them in my kitchen window (Cilantro, Parsley, Basil, chives). I have them in pots and I want to know what quantities of water and how often should I place them.
Thank you for your help.

Danielle Carroll

Hi Adriana,
The amount of water will depend on the size of the container and amount of soil. For herbs it is best to water only when the top inch or so of soil starts to dry. Make sure that the container has good drainage, herbs do not grow well when their ‘feet are wet’. Take a peek at this article on watering containers. The article has cool tips on drip tubing for watering containers as well.
Happy Gardening,
Danielle

Claire Wayner

Hi Kelly,

My question is not just about cilantro, but about herbs in general. I am thinking of growing several different herbs outside in clay pots instead of in a bed. I don’t have much experience with herbs, but I would love to start cooking more with them, especially my own fresh, organic ones! I have absolutely no idea what herbs to choose. Do you have any suggestions as to some easy-to-grow, delicious herbs? If they don’t grow well in my climate, they can always grow inside. ~Claire W.

Mary Beth

Hi Claire,
ALL herbs are delicious! They each have distinctive flavors and culinary uses. Others have an added benefit of ornamental edging, like chives or parsley bordering your flower beds. I know you’ve asked a lot about Baltimore-specific dates, so this chart from Cooperative Extension should help you. If you see our plants in your local stores, it’s usually time to plant in your area, or a couple of weeks early (for those early bird gardeners!). Herbs in containers = endless possibilities. Read more here. ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

keren

I just bought home a sad looking cilantro plant from the grocery store, and it’s already perked up quite well! I placed it outdoors, it’s getting full sun, gave it a little ironite and I am watering it (I am in central FL). The question is, I have read to cut the flowers, and not to cut the flowers. I am not looking to use any coriander seeds etc, just the leaves. But will be plant keep putting out leaves and grow if the flowers are cut? I am just confused about which is the best way to keep the plant going to use the leaves.

Mary Beth

Hi Keren,
If you are interested in eating only the foliage of cilantro, then you’ll want to prevent it from maturing into the next flowering (or bolting) phase. It will do this regardless of your trimmings if it is simply too hot, as it likes to be on the cooler side. If you are in Florida, it might be good to place it where it receives afternoon shade. Once those plants send up a central stalk and make flower buds, all of the energy is diverted into creating seed, not developing those tasty leaves. Happy growing! ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

grey gonzalez

hello, i just bought a cilantro .but is dying slowly how i save my cilantro. please save my cilantro. tell me how to save it!

Mary Beth

Hi Grey,
We would love to help but need a few more clues on what you are doing and the effects you see. This step by step article tells you what you need to do to ensure a healthy plant after bringing it home. If you can, shoot an email to our Ask An Expert service with more information for a complete diagnosis. ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

Mary Beth

Hi Bekka,
You can water cilantro every few days; just don’t let the soil dry out or keep it too moist. Make sure your container has drainage holes and is in plenty of sun. ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

Amanda

I had cilantro growing in my garden and now it has dried up. There are little brown seeds at the end of the stalks. Can these be used for something??

Kelly Smith Trimble

Hi Amanda, Yes! Those seeds are coriander seed, which, when ground up, makes a great sweet-smoky spice used for marinades, sauces, and such. To harvest the seeds, cut the cilantro stalks and put them in a paper bag to dry fully, then strip the seeds from the stems. You can grind the seeds in a food processor, coffee grinder, or mortar and pestle, then use in recipes calling for coriander. You could also leave a few seeds to fall in the garden for a new crop of cilantro next year. Happy harvesting! Kelly, Bonnie Plants

Dean

My celantro has about 18″ stalks with white floers on them which I assume is seed but do I cut the stalks or leave them and the white tops do I cut them off the stalks or the whole stalk and put them in a bag?

Kelly Smith Trimble

Hi Dean,

Click above on the Harvest & Storage tab to see what cilantro seed, called coriander, will look like in your garden. You should let the plant be until the white flowers dry up and the drying seeds become visible, like the picture. Then you can cut the flower stalk and put it in a bag to let the seeds fall. I hope this makes sense. We’ll work on getting more pictures of this process. Happy growing!

Kelly, Bonnie Plants

Mia

Will potted cilantro that has bolted and flowered re-seed itself in the pot and start new plants? Or do I need to get the seeds and pot them? If it does re-seed itself in the pot, how long will it take for me to have some cilantro t use for cooking?

Mary Beth

Hi Mia,
The cilantro will re-seed wherever the small seedpods land. If you want to ensure they re-grow in the pot, you may want to harvest a few when they’ve dried on the plant, roll them around in your hands to break them out of the hull, and help them back into the proper spot of the soil. Chances are pretty good they’ll grow in the pot on their own, but you can always assist Mother Nature! If conditions are right, you will see small cilantro germinating in 2-3 weeks.
Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

Bob

Thanks for the information on cilantro. I assumed since it is used in Mexican dishes that it must like hot weather. I was always baffled as to why mine (in a container) did so poorly and would quickly go to seed, I have a small herb bed in which lime basil has come up for the last three years, so now I know I need to plant cilantro in there this fall and let it reseed itself. I have read that you can save herbs like fresh cilantro by chopping and then freezing it in water in ice cube trays.

Keri

Once I pull the cilantro leaves, will they come back for more later in the summer? I don’t have as much off one stalk as i thought so how will i get more off the stalk like you get with tomatoes off a vine?

Kelly Smith Trimble

Hi Keri,

Cilantro prefers cool weather and will likely go to seed as the summer heats up. Read above in the Harvest & Storage tab for the best way to cut your cilantro. You might also enjoy our article “What’s the Trick to Cilantro?” and our cilantro recipes. Enjoy!

Kelly, Bonnie Plants

Sean Gardner

I live in Omaha NE and my cilantro plant has flowered and is now tall and spindly without many large flat leaves. I don’t want it to self sow I will replant next year. I would much rather have a lot more flat leaves for the picking. If I cut it back will this produce more usable leaves, should I just wait it out or is my window of usable leaves done for the year.

Kelly Smith Trimble

Hi Sean,

Once cilantro starts bolting in the heat, the stem thickens and the leaves get smaller and less tasty. This is all in preparation for flowering and reseeding. Cutting the plant back now won’t reverse this process, unfortunately.

Instead of letting the plant reseed, however, you could leave it in your garden, let it produce the its pretty white flowers, and then harvest the seeds for coriander spice. To harvest coriander, look for the seed pods to begin turning brown. Cut the plant stalk, being careful not to let the seeds drop. Place the plant upside down in a paper bag and shake. You may need to leave the plant in the bag a couple days if the pods don’t readily fall off. Gather the seeds and place them in an airtight container. Now you have coriander seed from your yard! You can use it in Asian and Indian dishes as well as heart soups and stews.

Enjoy!
Kelly, Bonnie Plants

Cathy

Hello-my cilantro is growing like crazy…unfortunately I did not plant it somewhere with enough room to let the seeds fall and spread. Is it ok if I cut the tall stalks?

Kelly Smith Trimble

Hi Cathy,

Yes, it’s fine to cut the stalks, but just to be sure we’re clear…the plant won’t come back unless you let it reseed. I hope this helps!

Kelly, Bonnie Plants

Jeffrey Ryan

Some of my stalks and leaves are turning a purpleish-reddish color….are those still full flavored as the younger leaves??

Kelly Smith

Hi Jeffrey,

It sounds like those stalks are starting to bolt and will soon produce flowers. Read more about this and what to do in the FAQs tab above. Happy growing!

Kelly, Bonnie Plants

Jeffrey Ryan

Thanks for the insight….what’s the best way to store the leaves that I harvest in order for them to keep as fresh as possible??

Kelly Smith

Cilantro likes cool temperatures, so unlike basil, it can be stored in the refrigerator. Just gather the bundle of leaves and place loosely in a plastic bag. The cilantro should last several days in the refrigerator. Remember to check out the cilantro recipes in our In the Kitchen section.

Jeffrey Ryan

I just made some homemade Pico…it was delicious..so good I barely got to taste it because everyone dove in so fast..next thing I know I hear people scraping the bottom..good stuff..as a chef I can’t wait for my next batch to come in for some new recipes….plus a lot of my other herbs and veggies are starting to get ready for harvest…its gonna be a great summer!!

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