Encyclopedia of Houseplants

The Dos and Don’ts of Growing Cilantro

updated Mar 22, 2024
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(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

Growing plants successfully is rewarding, especially if you can exercise your green thumb while producing something tasty. Although growing fruits and veggies usually requires outdoor space, growing herbs indoors can be just as fun (with a much lower barrier to entry). If you’ve been considering adding home-grown herbs to your outdoor garden or kitchen windowsill, cilantro is a popular place to start.

Although cilantro looks unassuming with its delicate leaves and bright green hue, this herb can be a little touch-and-go for the beginning gardener. Here, gardening experts offer their best advice for growing cilantro so that you can enjoy the fruit — er, herbs — of your labor later on.  Here’s everything you need to know about the dos and don’ts of growing cilantro.

What is cilantro?

Cilantro’s scientific name is Coriandrum sativum. This plant produced edible leaves and stems, but its seeds are also used to create the spice coriander. (Outside of the United States, the stems and leaves of cilantro are called “coriander” while the spice is referred to as “coriander seed.”)

Cilantro is a member of the carrot or parsley family — you’ll see similarities in the look of their leaves — and is native to southern Europe and Asia.

Cilantro is used in a variety of cuisines across Asia, Europe, Africa, and Latin America. You’ll find it in curries, chutneys, soups, sauces, and more.

While many herbs have fans and detractors, cilantro is uniquely divisive. Folks either love or hate this herb largely due to how their tastebuds perceive it (a genetically determined trait!). For some, it tastes divine, while for others, it takes on a disdainful soapy flavor.

When to Plant Cilantro

According to horticulturist Michele Chambliss, knowing when to plant cilantro is tricky. This fragrant herb grows best during cool seasons, and warm temperatures can impact the harvest.

“Cilantro does not grow well in hot weather,” says Chambliss. “In fact, it is notorious for bolting, or going to seed, as soon as temperatures begin to warm into the 70s.”

Planting in the early spring or fall is best in colder climates, but Chambliss suggests that cilantro also does well during growing zones with milder winters.

Chambliss also says it’s not a complete loss if your cilantro goes to seed, as other parts of the plant, such as flowers, seeds, and roots, are also usable. The spice coriander is cilantro seeds, and curry paste utilizes cilantro roots.

How to Plant Cilantro

Gardening expert Lindsey Hyland says a successful cilantro crop requires a trifecta of proper timing, soil preparation, and ongoing care.

“When planting, I scatter the seeds sparingly over the soil and cover them lightly, about a quarter inch deep, ensuring they have room to grow without overcrowding,” Hyland says. She also notes that cilantro does well in containers, which is perfect for small spaces, such as a balcony or windowsill.

Planning a location with proper lighting is also essential. “I always aim to strike a balance between sunlight and shade since cilantro enjoys the sun in the cooler part of the day but appreciates some shade as the temperature rises,” adds Hyland.

With indoor herbs, Chambliss advises placing your cilantro in a location that receives a minimum of four hours of sunlight.

When planting cilantro outdoors, Hyland recommends USDA zones 2 through 11, although you should keep in mind Chambliss’s mid-70s temperature threshold, no matter your region.

According to Hyland, growing cilantro successfully requires good long-term care. “The secret to lush cilantro, I’ve found, lies in consistent watering and the strategic application of mulch to maintain soil moisture and coolness,” she says.

Another perk to planting cilantro outdoors is that it makes a fabulous companion plant, even if you don’t choose to harvest the leaves. “I have found that planting en masse outdoors and allowing plants to flower attracts beneficial insects such as ladybugs that control aphid populations on other crops, like artichoke,” advises Chambliss. 

For best results, here’s how to plant cilantro.

  1. Choose a pot that is at least 8″ deep with drainage holes, and fill it with a mix of compost and potting soil.
  2. Plant a single cilantro plant in the container. The large size will give your cilantro room to re-seed at the end of its growing season, meaning you’ll get new cilantro next season.
  3. If you’re planting seeds, you’ll need to thin out your seedlings to ensure they’re not competing for resources.
  4. For planting indoors, select a spot that receives at least four hours of sunlight; for planting outdoors, select a spot that has enough shade to stay adequately cool.
  5. Water regularly.
  6. Harvest no more than one-third of the plant at a time to encourage continued growth.

When to Harvest Cilantro

If you want to use cilantro to add flavor to homemade dishes, Hyland reveals that cultivation is ultimately a blend of science and art.

“With a keen eye on the plant’s growth and regular trimming, cilantro can be harvested at its aromatic best, ready to elevate the flavors in the kitchen,” she says. Getting cilantro’s crunchy freshness from plant to plate takes some practice but is well worth it for the home gardener.