Growing cilantro makes sense since it is so versatile and has so many benefits. Cilantro is related to parsley, but in my opinion it tastes way better! Growing up in Panama we didn’t really use this herb since we have culantro. But elsewhere it is quite popular and it can easily be incorporated into so many dishes.
Most people are unaware that cilantro is a powerful detoxification agent. This herb is quite good for you since it has antioxidants including linoleum acid, which is an omega-6 acid. Coriander seeds contain linalool, a powerful cellular antioxidant. Leaves contain calcium and vitamins A, C and K. Cilantro has many medicinal benefits, including cancer protection.
Types of Cilantro
This type of cilantro is slow to bolt, taking 50-55 days for leaf harvest and 90-105 for seeds. Leaves have a mild flavor and flowers are edible as well, used in salads and Mexican dishes. It is an open-pollinated variety whose flowers attract pollinators.
Calypso is another type of cilantro that is slow to bolt. Its leaves can be harvested in 50-55 days and its seeds take up to 120-150 days. This open-pollinated variety can grow up to 18 inches and has very busy leaves.
Growing cilantro hybrid known as cruiser gives you excellent bolt resistance. Its harvesting schedule is similar to Santo. At the same time it is stockier and more upright than Calypso, with large leaves.
Caribe cilantro is a great pollinator (also open-pollinated) and has plenty of flowers and leaves. Harvesting can be done in 55 days.
Cilantro can pretty much grown anywhere. It is possible to grow in zones 2-12 USDA. If you live in a hot place then it is best to grow this herb in pots and move it so it has 4-6 hours of sunlight a day. Many prefer to start growing cilantro indoors, as it is easier to start seeds. Those that live in cold climates should start four weeks before the last frost.
Those that grow cilantro in a container must pick one that is at least eight to ten inches deep and at least 18 inches wide. Unglazed terra-cotta pots with drainage holes are ideal, since they allow air and moisture to pass through. Place the pot in a sunny spot by a window. If it gets too hot move the plant into the shade, since too much sun can cause cilantro to bolt.
You can soak the seeds 8-24 hours before planting for better germination. Seeds take between 7-10 days to germinate. It is also possible to plant them directly outside a week after the last frost. Cilantro can tolerate temperatures between 50-85 F (10-29.5 C).
Growing cilantro requires well drained, loamy soil with a pH between 6.2 to 6.8 but it can tolerate a pH range of 5.5-7.0. If you have soil with a lot of clay, then it is better to plant it in a pot or raised bed. Plant seeds 1/4 inch deep and cover them with soil. Seeds have two or more seeds, meaning they require thinning. Transplant 6-8 inches apart when seedling are young with a lot of care. Cilantro has long taproots which don’t do well being transplanted once established.
Cilantro is a great companion plant since it can repel pests such as spider mites and potato beetles due to its strong smell. Try growing it with caraway, eggplant, anise, peppers, potatoes, spinach, tomatoes, melons, yarrow, mint and basil. Do not plant it near fennel, dill, carrots or parsley.
Caring for Cilantro
Cilantro has to be moist since it grows quickly. When it is young, give it about an inch of water per week. Once established, you can reduce the water. Mulch, straw or grass clippings are a good way of keeping the soil cool and moist.
Use a good organic fertilizer such as fish emulsion and seaweed for growing cilantro. Whatever fertilizer you pick should be high in nitrogen. This herb needs fertilization twice per growing season.
Cilantro will attract beneficial insects to your garden including parasitoid wasps, overflies, tachinid flies, and bees.
One of the most common problems when growing cilantro is tiny yellow spots on the leaves that turn into larger dark yellow or brown spots. This is caused by too much moisture and poor air circulation. Remember cilantro likes drained soil. Thin plants, as to improve the air circulation, and reduce the amount of water. Leaf spots can be controlled with neem oil.
Cilantro rarely has insect problems because of its strong scent. If you do get aphids make sure to spray them with soapy water.
Carrot Motley Dwarf
Earlier in this article, I mentioned a list of plants that cilantro should not be near and it is because together both plants will get attacked by carrot motley dwarf which is spread by aphids. Rotate crops and keep weeds away.
As its name suggest, your plant will get covered in a powder-like white coating. This problem becomes more common in dry and hot weather. Avoid powdery mildew by watering the base of the plant (not the actual plant) in the morning so it can dry.
Root Knot Nematodes
Nematodes can spread in the soil via shovels and tillers. It is not possible to kill nematodes with nematicides, so try to get cilantro varieties that are resistant and rotate your crops with brassicas. Perky plants at night and wilted plants during the day is a sign of root knot nematodes.
Harvest cilantro as you feel comfortable, some people prefer to start cutting the leaves as they come and others wait till there are enough leaves and the plant is more established. Do not cut more than 1/3 of the leaves at one time. Once harvested the plant will continue growing for two or three more cycles.
Most people like to consume fresh leaves, but it is also possible to store them in the refrigerator for about a week. For longevity it is best to place leaves in a damp paper towel. If your harvest is too big, you can freeze them by placing them in a resealable bag and pushing out the extra air. Another option is to dry them using a herb rack drier or dehydrator.
To harvest coriander seeds, remove the seed heads as the plant turns brown and dry. Put the stems in a brown paper bag with a few holes to allow circulation. Hang the bag for several weeks until the plant dries and the seeds separate. Store them in a sealed glass container in a dark location. Coriander seeds have an orange peel perfumy smell and a strong citrus taste. Seeds are considered aphrodisiac.
Growing cilantro for micro greens is another option. You can use professional soil mix (coconut coir based) and shake seeds evenly on top. Wet with a spray bottle and cover the seeds for eight days, then place the tray under lights or by the window. Harvesting is possible once the cilantro greens have reached the desired size and flavor, perhaps about three week.
Why does Cilantro Bolt?
Bolting is probably the most frustrating thing about growing cilantro. Thankfully, it is possible to lengthen the amount of time before bolting, to increase the harvesting time. Cilantro bolts because of heat; this herb likes cool and moist conditions. Hot weather triggers a defense mechanism that makes it produce seeds as quick as possible for the cilantro to survive.
If you live in a hotter climate (like my farm in Pedasi) you can purchase slow-bolting cilantro. Growing cilantro of this type will allow it to withstand higher temperatures. If you live in an area that has seasons, then it is best to plant it in cool weather like early spring, late summer and early fall. Best practice is to do succession planting, where you plant new seeds every week or two. As one plant begins to bolt, the next one is ready to harvest. Another tip is to harvest cilantro leaves frequently to delay flowering.
It is important to mulch (retains moisture) and keep the soil tight since the heat of the soil (not the air) is what causes cilantro to bolt. You can also grow your cilantro in the shade, which helps keep the soil cooler.
Once the cilantro bolts, leaves rapidly lose their flavor. Cutting the white flowers won’t help. The best thing you can do is let the flowers go to seed. Seeds are called coriander and are a common spice in Asian, Mexican and Indian cuisine. In Europe, the whole plant is known as coriander. While in the United States, the leaves are known as cilantro and the seeds are called coriander. It is also known as Chinese parsley.