How to Grow Cilantro: Your Complete Guide

Written by Em Casalena
Published: March 10, 2023
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Unless your genes make this herb taste like soap, cilantro is a delicious herb that is often used to flavor sauces, curries, and stir-fry recipes. This plant grows best in chilly, mild temperatures outside. Even a little frost won’t kill cilantro, but really cold weather will eventually cause it to perish. Try growing cilantro indoors from seeds to keep a year-round supply. Although this delectable plant can be a little picky, cilantro can thrive in a well-lit part of your house with the correct amount of water, light, and additional care. 

Here’s everything you need to know to produce cilantro effectively indoors, from sowing to harvesting!

dog eating cilantro

Cilantro (pictured) has been eaten and loved by all (including dogs, apparently) for thousands of years.

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The Botanical Name and History of Cilantro

Cilantro, which is also known as coriander depending on where you are, is classified as Coriandrum sativum. It is part of the Apiaceae plant family, making it a close relative of carrots, celery, parsley, parsnip, and many other culinary vegetables and herbs.

Across much of Western Asia and Southern Europe, cilantro grows wild. It is said to have been grown and cultivated by people for a very long time. For example, 17 ounces of cilantro mericarps were once found in Tutankhamun’s tomb. Biologists and anthropologists view this discovery as evidence that cilantro was grown by the ancient Egyptians because this plant does not naturally grow in Egypt. Uses of cilantro were also listed in the 1550 BC Egyptian literature known as the Ebers Papyrus.

Greece appears to have been cultivating cilantro at least since the second millennium BC. The species was utilized in two ways; as a spice for its seeds and as a herb for the flavor of its leaves, and for the production of fragrances, according to one of the tablets discovered at Pylos. The species has also been recovered in significant numbers from an Early Bronze Age stratum in Macedonia. Hippocrates also mentioned cilantro in their writing at around 400 BC.

Currently, cilantro is grown all over the world. Although all parts of the plant are edible and the roots are a key component of Thai cuisine, cilantro’s fresh leaves and dried seeds are the most often utilized parts of the plant used in cooking.

There are several types of cilantro used today. Common cilantro is the most-used species for cooking. There are also Vietnamese cilantro and culantro, which are different species that are closely related to common cilantro. When it comes to varieties of common cilantro, a few selections include Leisure cilantro, Longstanding cilantro, Calypso cilantro, Santo cilantro, and Cruiser cilantro.

Varieties of cilantro and parsley might appear to be extremely similar. They both have flat leaves and slender, green stalks. Nonetheless, parsley leaves tend to be more pointed, whereas cilantro leaves are often more curled. Whereas cilantro has a highly distinct perfume and flavor, parsley has a gentler aroma and flavor.

Climate and Hardiness Zone Requirements for Cilantro

Cilantro is a very hardy plant that can be grown virtually anywhere. In autumn, gardeners in USDA hardiness zones eight through 11 can start growing cilantro. But in general, this plant can be grown in USDA hardiness zones four through 10. These plants can grow in almost any climate but will not survive in extremely cold or extremely hot climates. To put it simply, this is one heck of a versatile herb for any gardener to grow!

When to Grow Cilantro

Cilantro needs a specific area in your garden where it can be regularly pruned or harvested and allowed to seed. It produces a rosette of leaves and grows fast in the chilly spring and fall months. The cilantro plant produces clusters of flowers with white and pink petals that will soon develop into seeds as the temperature gets warmer.

If you want your cilantro to seed on its own, plant it in an herb bed or in an area with plenty of space for new plants to grow. They also do well as indoor plants year-round, provided the sunlight and temperature range indoors is consistent year-round. If you aren’t going to plant in the spring, wait until the summer’s heat has subsided before starting your fall planting. Before the fall frost arrives, you will likely only be able to harvest the leaves in some climates, but not the seeds. Because their leaves can make it through the occasional frost, cilantro is a great winter herb to grow in certain colder areas. 

A piece of cedar-planked halibut with cilantro

Cilantro has been used to add fresh flavor to fish (pictured) and other meats by a variety of different cultures worldwide.

©Foodio/Shutterstock.com

Where to Grow Cilantro

It is best to plant cilantro in an area with loose, well-drained soil. It can tolerate both full sun and some shade, however, warmer areas seem to favor some afternoon shade. Don’t grow cilantro too close to taller plants that will overshadow it when they leaf out in the spring. 

For cilantro, container growing is another excellent choice. It is recommended to space seeds one to three inches apart and about a half-inch deep. Cilantro eedlings should be planted six to seven inches or more apart. To give your cilantro adequate ventilation, rows should be spaced around a foot apart from each other. It shouldn’t be necessary to use a support structure, though unruly cilantro could benefit from some stakes.

How to Grow Cilantro

Cilantro does well both in a garden and in pots. If you don’t have a place in your garden where cilantro will grow well, try a pot instead. It’s an excellent herb for container gardening because of its small size. The best container for cilantro is one that is at least eight inches wide and deep. Just make sure your pot has several drainage holes. The best container for cilantro is one made of unglazed clay since it will allow excess soil moisture to escape through its porous walls.

Growing cilantro from seed is fairly easy if you can’t find a grown plant anywhere to transplant. Start by soaking your seeds overnight. This raises the likelihood of germination. As cilantro plants don’t like having their roots disturbed, it’s preferable to place the seeds directly in the ground or in the pot you plan to keep the resulting adult plant in. Just as well, you can also start them in biodegradable containers that can be buried in the ground near where they will eventually develop.

When you gather leaves from your cilantro plants, it is important to prune them properly. Only use clean, dry shears to harvest the biggest leaves first. In an effort to delay leaf growth, you can cut off a flower stem if you notice it starting to grow. But, you should let the blossom stem develop if you intend to collect seeds. Let the plant blossom so you can harvest the seeds at the end of the season, if at all feasible.

Soil and Fertilizer Requirements for Cilantro

For cilantro to grow successfully, the soil should be loose, loamy, quick-draining, and somewhat acidic. The plant could bolt too early if there is too much moisture left in the soil. While cilantro normally doesn’t require fertilizer to grow well, treating it once a month with an organic herb combination can’t hurt! Just as well, feel free to incorporate nutrient-rich compost or other organic matter into your soil to aid in the growth of your plants, particularly when starting from seed.

Water Requirements for Cilantro

When your cilantro seeds sprout and the baby plants start to grow, keep the soil fairly wet but not saturated. For seedlings, around an inch or so of water each week is usually good enough. While older plants don’t need as much water, they still like somewhat wet soil. Be sure their roots are never flooded, though. Root rot can kill cilantro pretty fast.

Temperature and Humidity Requirements for Cilantro

When it’s chilly outside, plant cilantro in the early spring after the last frost or in the autumn after it’s regularly dropped down to between 50 and 80 degrees F. For the best growth circumstances, seeds should be planted in loose, quick-draining soil with an acidic pH, spaced one to two inches apart.

The ideal temperature range for cilantro is between 60 and 70 degrees F; too hot and the plant is likely to bolt. Cilantro grows best in somewhat chilly surroundings. Although it is a cool-weather herb, cilantro is nevertheless vulnerable to frost. Have row covers close at hand to cover your plants in the event of unexpectedly chilly weather. Cilantro struggles in environments with high humidity and a lot of rain as well.

Sunlight Requirements for Cilantro

In general, cilantro plants need approximately six hours of direct sunlight each day. So when planning your garden, pick a location where there won’t be too much high-noon sun since strong sunshine can damage cilantro leaves. If you reside in a hot environment, think about growing your cilantro in a location where it can get some afternoon shade or in containers that can be relocated into the shade on occasion. The plant could prematurely bolt if exposed to excessive heat and sunlight.

cilantro on white background

Cilantro (pictured) can be easily grown and harvested regularly at home.

©iStock.com/Yana Boiko

How to Harvest Cilantro

This plant responds quickly to a good gardener’s labor; often, it can be harvested for its fresh leaves in under a month. After the plants are about half a foot tall, which usually happens three to four weeks after you initially sow seeds, you can start harvesting leaves. By pinching back a section of the higher stem, you can harvest the leaves you need while encouraging new development and fuller plants. Take no more than one-third of the leaves at once.

If you want to harvest seeds for your cilantro, you’ll need to be a bit more patient. Cilantro must blossom before seeds can be collected. The resultant seed heads should be left to dry on the plant for a while before harvesting. The seeds can then be easily harvested if you shake them into a paper bag to release them or cut off the complete seedhead and put it in the bag. Make sure the bag is kept in a dark, well-ventilated area to keep up the health of the seeds. Cilantro seeds should be kept in an airtight container in a cold, dry location until they are completely dried.

While they keep for a few days in the refrigerator, cilantro leaves are best utilized when they are fresh. Cilantro tastes its absolute best when used fresh since it loses some of its strong, fresh flavor when dried or left to age a bit in the fridge. 

Cilantro is a versatile, hardy herb that is extremely easy to grow at home. Whether you want to sow some seeds in your garden or grow a kitchen plant to harvest at your leisure, cilantro is one of the easiest herbs to start growing; even if you don’t have a green thumb.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/Tevarak


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About the Author

Em Casalena is a writer at A-Z Animals where their primary focus is on plants, gardening, and sustainability. Em has been writing and researching about plants for nearly a decade and is a proud Southwest Institute of Healing Arts graduate and certified Urban Farming instructor. Em is a resident of Arizona and enjoys learning about eco-conscious living, thrifting at local shops, and caring for their Siamese cat Vladimir.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Is growing cilantro difficult?

Cilantro is definitely not the hardest herb to grow, but it does have a short plant life cycle that can make it difficult to grow a decent yield.

How long does it take to grow cilantro?

If you’re planting from seed, expect your cilantro to be ready to harvest one month after germinating your seeds.

Does cilantro come back every year?

As cilantro is an annual plant, it will not come back after the winter. However, it may survive winter in milder climates. If your cilantro flowers and you allow it to drop seeds around the area it was planted, you might see some new plants come spring.

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