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How to grow the super-divisive cilantro plant

Perhaps, at some point, you’ve heard about the gene that makes cilantro taste like soap to some people. Cilantro is a divisive herb, but it’s undoubtedly a versatile one that many love for its bright, tangy flavor profile. Whether in salsas or banh mi sandwiches, it can add just the right amount of freshness to a recipe as an added garnish. As a grown plant, it’s also incredibly easy to maintain. If you’ve ever wanted to grow your own cilantro from the comforts of your garden (or even your kitchen), here’s what you need to know about it.

Fresh bunch of cilantro

What you need to know about cilantro

Known for its divisive citrusy flavor, cilantro, or Coriandrum sativum, has flat, bright green leaves that resemble parsley leaves. Believed to be from the Mediterranean, this popular herb is perhaps best known for its use in Mexican and Asian food here in the United States. Controversial as its flavor may be, it can actually be found in cuisines everywhere, including dishes in North Africa, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. Cilantro and coriander come from the plant; however, it’s technically the seed part that yields a warmer flavor, which is the coriander part. The leaves are the cilantro part. Even if you’re not the biggest fan of cilantro leaves and stems, you can grow them to let the plant flower and let it go to seed and harvest coriander seeds that you can crush up for curries and soups.

Coriander seeds and cilantro leaves

When to grow cilantro

You can grow cilantro year-round, but certain times of the year work better in different areas, especially if you’re keeping your plant outside. If you live in zone 8 or above, you may want to start cilantro in the fall so it can enjoy cool temperatures until late spring. If you live in a colder zone, plant your cilantro around late spring, about two weeks after the last frost. You can also grow cilantro year-round indoors — just make sure to find it a permanent container, since it doesn’t transplant very well. You can even grow cilantro hydroponically, although you have to be careful not to get its leaves wet, as it can develop bacterial leaf spot disease.

Cilantro in a garden

How to plant cilantro

Propagating cilantro from cuttings is difficult, so growing it from seeds is easiest. To plant it, sow seeds into loose, fast-draining soil a quarter of an inch deep, giving each plant 1 to 2 inches of space. Water your seedlings consistently to keep the soil moist, but ensure it never feels soggy.

The ideal growing conditions for cilantro

So how do you care for cilantro plants? Cilantro is a relatively easy-going herb that’s great for gardening beginners. It does, however, require a few conditions to thrive.

  • Sun: You can grow cilantro indoors, but it really needs sunlight to thrive. It requires a minimum of 4 hours of sun a day, although it’ll do best with 6 hours of direct light (or more) a day. You ideally want to leave your plant in an area that doesn’t get harsh afternoon light. If you’re growing your plant indoors, leave your cilantro by a south-facing window if possible and consider supplementing it with grow lights. In addition to bright light, cilantro also appreciates warm temperatures — a range around 50 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal — anything above that may cause cilantro to bolt and taste unpleasant.
  • Water: Cilantro plants thrive with consistent watering when grown outdoors and with thorough, deep watering when grown indoors. You want to keep the soil relatively moist. If cilantro stays in conditions that are too dry and hot, it may, as we’ve mentioned, bolt. Just make sure to not overwater the soil, or else you may get root rot.
  • Fertilize: Fertilizer isn’t a must-have for cilantro, but it’s still nice to have throughout its growing season. You can add compost or fish emulsion to your mix when you’re planting your seeds. Once or twice during the growing season, consider treating your cilantro to a diluted nitrogen fertilizer after the seedlings reach above 2 inches.
Fresh cilantro in a bowl

How to harvest cilantro

Cilantro is usually an annual, which means it lasts through one growing season. (Though it may survive in areas with mild winters.) This herb has a pretty short life cycle, and you’ll especially want to pay attention to it when it gets too hot or cold. While cilantro doesn’t usually come back, you can let it go to seed and reseed itself. Alternatively, you can also collect seed pods for coriander.

Will cilantro grow back after cutting?

This herb tastes best when the leaves are new and fresh, and it actually benefits from continued pruning and pinching. You can cut cilantro while it’s still low, although you’ll only want to cut about a third of it at any given time — it should be ready for harvest once it’s about 6 inches tall. When cilantro goes to seed, it can also self-seed so you can still enjoy it throughout the growing season.

How long will cilantro last?

Cilantro is one of those herbs that you’ll want to use pretty much immediately. It tastes best about a week in the refrigerator after you harvest it. You could also freeze or dry it, but it’s best to use it when it’s fresh. Although sometimes a controversial herb in the culinary world, cilantro can definitely brighten up a dish when added. Growing it is also relatively easy as long as it receives adequate light and water. If you give your cilantro consistent care in the garden, you’ll be ready to harvest it in no time to garnish away.

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