Cilantro is one of the most widely used herbs in the kitchen, and cilantro plants are easy to grow in a Texas herb garden about half of the year. We love that classic cilantro taste in salsa, of course, plus tacos, soups, Thai-inspired curries, or any dish where you need a little citrusy tang.
Cilantro, AKA Chinese parsley or Coriander sativum, is in the carrot family along with two other herb favorites, dill and parsley. All parts of this annual plant are edible and flavorful, including the stem, leaves, and seeds, which you may know as the spice called coriander. You can even toss the slightly spicy florets in salads when your herb starts flowering.
Let’s look at how to grow this popular herb at home.
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CILANTRO GROWING SEASON
Cilantro thrives in cool weather and grows best in Texas from fall to spring. Cilantro can tolerate a light frost, but if we’re expecting a hard freeze, it’s best to use some frost protection.
Cilantro is an annual herb, which means it has a pretty short lifespan in your garden. In late spring or early summer, as soon as the temperature rises above 85 degrees Fahrenheit, cilantro will bolt, or go to seed. You’ll notice the plant forming a long stalk and flower spikes, and the leaves will change shape and lose their characteristic cilantro flavor.
Don’t worry though. You’re about to get a little bonus: coriander!
WHERE TO GROW CILANTRO
When the weather is cooler, I love to grow cilantro in my raised beds, where it thrives thanks to the well-drained soil rich in organic matter. Fill your raised beds with the best possible soil to ensure your herbs don’t sit in water or feel stressed about a lack of soil nutrients.
Herbs in the carrot family can make do with more shade than herbs in the mint family (like rosemary and basil). Cilantro will grow faster in full sun, but it will be fine in light shade.
Growing Cilantro in Containers
If you plan to grow cilantro in a pot or container, choose something at least 12 inches deep to give its tap root plenty of room. Terra cotta pots are a great choice since they absorb excess moisture, which can prevent overwatering. Make sure your container also has drainage holes at the bottom.
Fill your container with a mix of garden soil and compost or a high quality potting soil mix such as Fox Farms Ocean Forest Potting mix.
You can grow cilantro on its own or alongside other herbs from the carrot family, like dill and parsley.
Growing Cilantro Indoors
If you really love the taste of cilantro, it’s a good idea to grow this herb indoors from late spring to late summer. Cilantro will need at least 4 to 6 hours of sunlight a day in a windowsill.
Rotate your pot or container each time you water to even out your cilantro plant’s growth.
If your window real estate is taken, you can also grow herbs like cilantro under a grow light—just make sure to leave the artificial light source on for at least 12 hours a day and to position it right over the leaves.
HOW TO SOURCE CILANTRO PLANTS
You can always buy young plants from a local nursery or garden center. Just a head’s up that cilantro doesn’t like to be moved all that much, so plants that are transplanted to the garden tend to bolt sooner. Be extra gentle to not disturb the roots as you are transplanting it into your garden.
HOW TO PLANT CILANTRO SEEDS
Since cilantro doesn’t transplant very well, it’s best to plant seeds directly in the garden when the temps are right.
Add a fresh layer of compost to the planting area. Sow cilantro seeds ¼ inch deep and about 3 inches apart. Cilantro seeds are easy to handle, so you can space them out now and not have to worry about thinning them later. Keep the soil evenly moist while you’re waiting on seedlings to pop up.
Sprouting Tip: Cilantro seeds have a tough outer shell and you can gently crush this outer shell with a mortar and pestle. Just don’t pulverise them! Then sow as above.
You can continue to plant cilantro by seed in the fall up to a month before our first frost date (early November for those of us in the greater Austin area). Begin sowing seeds again in the early spring around the time of our last frost (mid-March).
HOW TO CARE FOR CILANTRO PLANTS
Cilantro likes a fairly moist soil. Ensure your plants get a good inch of water every week, either from rainfall or supplemental watering.
If you’re growing in a container, remember that the soil will dry out faster. You’ll need to check on your herbs each day.
Cilantro shouldn’t need additional fertilizing beyond the fresh compost added to your soil at planting.
HOW TO HARVEST CILANTRO
You can begin harvesting cilantro about 4 to 6 weeks after germination. At this point, the plant should be about 6 inches tall with tender green leaves.
Use a clean pair of scissors to harvest cilantro in the early morning, when the leaves will have the most flavor.
The best way to harvest cilantro without harming the plant is to cut the outer stems about an inch above the soil surface. By taking only the outer leaves, the plant can continue to produce new growth from the center.
Take only small amounts of leaves from younger plants, and never harvest more than a third of a single plant at once.
Harvest often to encourage the plant to grow even more cilantro leaves. Remember, you can enjoy every part of the plant, including the stems.
HOW TO PREVENT CILANTRO FROM BOLTING
If you live in a hot climate like ours, cilantro is going to bolt—that’s just an inevitability. But here are a couple things you can do to delay bolting for as long as possible for more leafy harvests:
- Grow cilantro only during cool weather and focus on growing other herbs, like basil, when the weather warms in early summer.
- Give cilantro afternoon shade in warm weather. It’s not just hot weather that tells cilantro to make seeds; it’s also the hours of direct sunlight the plant receives and the soil temperature. You can trick it for a while by covering it with shade cloth or moving it to an area with at least partial shade.
- Look for slow bolt cilantro seeds like these from Renee’s Garden. These tend to do better in our climate.
- Harvest leaves frequently to encourage the plant to keep producing more leaves.
- Practice succession planting. Basically, sow cilantro seeds every couple of weeks, knowing that each of these new plants will likely have a very short life cycle. This way, your older plants will bolt, while your newer plants will give you a fresh supply of leaves for a bit longer.
HOW TO STORE CILANTRO FROM THE GARDEN
Cilantro doesn’t dry well like herbs in the mint family, so your best ways to store this herb for later enjoyment are in the fridge and freezer.
For best results, wash and dry your cilantro leaves first. Place the stems in a jar of water (just an inch or so of fresh water like you would do for flowers is perfect) and loosely cover the top with a plastic bag. Cilantro should last for at least a week this way in the fridge.
Another option is to gently fold cilantro stems up in a dry paper towel and place inside an airtight container in the fridge. This method can keep cilantro fresh for up to three weeks.
To freeze cilantro, I find it’s best to puree cilantro with olive oil or water and then pour into ice cube trays. Once the cubes are frozen, you can transfer them to a freezer bag and keep in the freezer throughout the entire summer until you have fresh cilantro once more. These cubes are great to toss into soups and stews.
HOW TO SAVE CILANTRO SEEDS FOR NEXT YEAR
When cilantro is going to seed, it will first produce flower stalks. You can cut off cilantro flowers to encourage the plant to grow a couple new leaves for you, but overall, the plant is done with tasty leaf production. Plus, pollinators and other beneficial insects love these white flowers, so it benefits the health of your entire garden to let mature plants do their thing.
These flower heads will eventually become seed pods, little clusters of brown-colored seeds. If you leave the plant in your garden at this point, those seeds will drop and germinate next year—we call these volunteer plants.
If you’d like to use the seeds instead as coriander in your spice cabinet or have more control over where you grow cilantro next year, then you can harvest the whole plant by cutting it at the base and hanging it upside down to dry in a dark, dry place for a couple weeks.
Once the stems are completely dry, hold a paper bag underneath them and gently rub the seed heads between your fingers to release the dried seeds into the bag.
Now you don’t have to buy cilantro seeds (or coriander) ever again!
LETTUCE HELP YOU GROW HERBS FOR ALL YOUR FAVORITE DISHES
That’s all there is to growing your own supply of delicious cilantro leaves for half the year here in Central Texas. Once you’ve grown your own fresh leaves, you’ll be hooked on homegrown cilantro for life.
Let us know if you have any questions about growing herbs. We’re here to help you grow!