Cilantro is persnickety but lovely and valuable! Maybe it is even temperamental. You see, it needs everything just so. Cool weather is its favorite time to grow in SoCal!
Cilantro even tolerates a light frost, but has a short life. It simply grows right up and quits. No, you didn’t do anything wrong, and it’s not that you just don’t have a way with it. With the best conditions Cilantro will last about 8-10 weeks before flowering. It’s doing what it does. It has a unique taste, so if you love it, save seeds and keep right on planting, again and again and again for a steady supply! That’s called succession planting!
I let a plant fall down after it died last summer, forgot about it. Now I have a quite dense sizeable thriving cilantro patch! Do what nature did! Plant densely, just broadcast the seed, better without fancy rows, contrived spacing. Planting tightly shades the ground, keeps your soil moist and cooler. Mulch well around the perimeter of the patch! It is not the heat of the air that causes cilantro to bolt, but rather the heat of the soil. If you are attempting a spring or summer planting, warmer days, read bolting coming, especially do this.
If you are in a hurry and want more surety of germination, soak the seeds 24 hours before planting. Put them in a half a glass of water, soak, lay them out on a paper towel and pat them dry. Plant a half inch deep in a 2″ deep trench with low sloping sides. The low slope keeps the soil from filling in the trench, burying the seeds too deeply when you water. Firm the soil well so there is good contact and they will stay moist after watered. If your weather is unseasonably hot and dry, plant just a tad deeper so the seeds stay moist. Happy cilantro is not picky about soil pH, but it likes well composted soil, well drained though they do like to stay moist.
Baby cilantros don’t take to transplanting because their little taproot goes deep quickly. These babies are vibrantly fresh, have powerful flavor. It happens, for my taste, just one in a salad or a stew is ample. I cut it up, toss it in, roots and all. The roots look like little tiny white carrots. In fact, carrot, celery, cilantro, dill, parsley and parsnips are all in the Carrot Family, Apiaceae or Umbelliferae.
Usually you start harvesting the outer leaves when they are about 6″ tall. Harvest frequently, take the central stems immediately! This may slow down your plant’s demise, but only for awhile. Once it starts to flower, the leaves lose their flavor, but you do have edible flowers! Sprinkle fresh to taste on salads, bean dishes, and cold vegetable dishes.
Because your plantings are going to be closely spaced, you can see liquid fertilizers, fish/kelp types, are going to be the ones to use so they will trickle down into the soil. A little goes a long way. This is a Mediterranean native used to harsh infertile conditions. Over fertilize and you lose the flavor. However, they do like to be kept moist, not swimming, but consistently moist. But they don’t like humidity!!! Like I said, they are persnickety.
I love cilantro in all its stages. As a mature plant, before it bolts (makes a central stalk) flowers and seeds. It smells so lovely when you walk by. It bolts when weather warms, even if only a few days. You can see, why in summer, it’s best to plant so it gets morning sun, afternoon shade. Also it wants to be sheltered from wind. Ok, ok. You definitely want to get slow bolting, bolt resistant varieties. Four varieties of cilantro currently dominate Central California Coast commercial production: Santos, Long Standing, Slo Bolt, and Leisure. All four are used for spring, summer, and fall production, while Santos is the most common variety grown during the winter months.
The tiny white blooms are beautiful, perfect for bees and beneficial insects, especially those little parasitic wasps and predatory flies! Plant some just for them! The feathery leaves don’t make too much shade, so plant cilantro throughout your veggies, under your fruit trees, any place you can fit them in.
Cilantro makes tons of little brown round seeds, no more than an eighth of an inch across, very easy to harvest for next year’s plantings. I scatter them to fill empty places or along the border of my garden. Along the border is nice ‘cz that way all I have to do is stoop a bit as I walk by, to enjoy their scent and those bright little ferny leaves. But make it count more by planting generous patches among your Brassicas like broccoli, cauliflowers and kales because it repels APHIDS!
A mighty threesome is your Brassicas, with cilantro to repel aphids, and lettuce to repel Cabbage butterflies! Not only does cilantro repel aphids, but it enhances the growth of Brassicas! It makes them grow REALLY well, bigger, fuller, greener! With that and edible flowers and seeds it truly is a worthy plant.
Harvesting seed is an easy affair! As Birgit Bradtke at Tropical Permaculture says:
…cut the stalk, stick the whole thing upside down in a big paper bag and leave it in a dry spot for a couple of weeks. (Most people recommend to hang it up. In my place it just lies around somewhere…) After a couple of weeks you take the bag and shake it and bash it and all the coriander seeds should fall off and you can pull out the bare stalk. Keep your coriander seeds in a cool dry place. (Most people recommend an airtight container. In my place they just stay in that bag…) And now you should have enough coriander seed to cook with and still have plenty left to throw around your garden next year!
So here it is, quite a list, but you can do it!
- Cool season is best
- Select afternoon shade when in warming conditions
- Plant closely to keep soil cool, reduce & delay bolting
- Keep moist but avoid humid locations
- Plenty of airflow but sheltered from wind!
- Harvest frequently, especially & immediately the central stems – sure thing!
Cilantro is the Spanish word for Coriander. We know the seeds only as Coriander. They are used in pickling and sausages. Cilantro comes from the Middle East, and is used in many ways in other parts of the world. It is a proven antibacterial, is used in the treatment of type 2 diabetes. The uniquely flavored leaves are high in Vitamin C, and it concentrates Calcium – good for older women! Cilantro is a crucial part of salsa, gazpacho, chimichurri sauce, veggie burgers, steamed with rice, and more. We like it in cocktails, pesto and Indian snacks, too. It is an ingredient in Belgian wheat beers!
Ahem. Keep in mind that many people are not Cilantro lovers like you and I, so go easy on it at that dinner party – leave it out of the salad. One in 6 have taste buds that find it bitter. It’s a genetic trait! Ha! More for us!