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Cilantro Growing Guide: How to Plant and Harvest Cilantro

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Nov 8, 2020 • 3 min read

Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) is a cool-weather herb that’s fast-growing and easy to harvest. Cilantro is a staple ingredient in many cultures, like in Mexican food (think salsas and pico de gallo), or Southeast Asian cuisine (where it can be sprinkled over a bowl of pho or on top of pad thai). Home gardeners can plant cilantro in their vegetable garden or even just a sunny windowsill. Cilantro plants provide not only aromatic herb leaves but also spicy, citrusy herb seeds called coriander seeds.

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When to Plant Cilantro

Cilantro is a cool-weather annual, so it does best in temperatures between 50 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. If it’s left in temperatures hotter than 85 degrees, the plant will bolt early, meaning it will shoot up a stalk of flowers and the entire plant will taste bitter.

  • In cool-weather climates: If your area has cold winters and mild summers, plant cilantro just after the last frost date. In the northern United States, this usually means you should sow seeds in early spring, mid- to late-April.
  • In warm-weather climates: If your area has very hot summers and mild winters, plant cilantro in late summer just as the weather is starting to cool. In the southern United States, this usually means in September.

How to Plant Cilantro

Once your weather is right, planting cilantro is a straightforward task:

  1. Choose and prepare the soil bed. While it can tolerate light shade, cilantro grows best in full sun, so choose a spot that gets at least six hours a day. For the soil, opt for well-draining soil high in organic matter.
  2. Plant the seeds. Sow cilantro seeds one to two inches apart in rows spaced twelve inches apart.
  3. Keep the bed moist. Cilantro seeds need to be moist in order to germinate, so make sure to keep the soil moist (but not wet). As seedlings sprout, they need more water than mature cilantro plants in order to grow—give them about one inch of water weekly.
  4. Thin the seedlings. Once seedlings start to sprout, thin them to six inches apart.
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How to Care for Cilantro

Once established, cilantro is a low-maintenance herb that requires only basic care:

  • Water. While growing seedlings need about one inch of water per week, established cilantro plants require much less—just keep the soil moist and monitor your plants. If they start to droop, up your watering slightly. Consider adding organic mulch to the soil to help with moisture retention.
  • Prune. While cilantro will start to bolt in hot weather (at the end of its life cycle), your plant may try to send up flowers earlier. Once the plant flowers, the leaves will taste bitter; pinch off early flower stalks to prevent bolting too soon.
  • Clear weeds. Pick weeds early so that your cilantro plant doesn’t have to compete with weeds for nutrients. If you’re having problems with weeds, consider adding mulch to the soil to deter weed growth.
  • Practice companion planting. Cilantro is a great companion to many plants in your garden, like dill, potatoes, and tomatoes, as it attracts beneficial insects and can help some plants grow faster. Find our cilantro companion planting guide here.

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How to Harvest Cilantro Leaves

Once your cilantro plant has grown at least six inches tall, you may begin harvesting cilantro leaves. Pick leaves off individually or choose small stalks to trim with scissors for fresh use. Harvest fresh cilantro leaves throughout the cool-weather growing season, until the plant bolts; after it bolts, the leaves will taste bitter.

Cilantro leaves can be eaten fresh or dried and stored in an airtight container.

How to Harvest Coriander Seeds

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Once the weather becomes too hot, your cilantro plant will naturally end its life cycle and bolt. This is when the plant produces clusters of flowers and begins to grow seeds, called coriander. To harvest coriander seeds:

  1. Allow your plant to bolt and grow seeds.
  2. Once the leaves and seeds begin to turn brown, snip off the stems with seed heads.
  3. Hang stems upside-down in a paper bag in a cool, dry place. Once the seeds are ripe, they will fall off the seed head and into the bag.

Coriander seeds should be stored in an airtight container.

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