If you love making fresh salsa, you have to try growing cilantro at home! Flavorful cilantro is a must-have in Tex-Mex and Asian cuisine. It’s guaranteed to take garden salads, chutneys and Indian dishes to the next level. Growing cilantro in pots means you can have a fresh supply all season long!
Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) is part of the same family as carrots, celery and parsley. It’s an annual herb native to Southern Europe, Northern Africa, and Southeast Asia. Leaves are bright to dark green, with white, sometimes light pink flowers.
The leaves lose flavor when heated or dried, so they’re best used fresh. Even more reason to grow your own! Succession planting this fast-growing herb will give you a steady supply all season long.
Read on for all the details on how to grow cilantro from seed, how to grow it in pots — and beyond!
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Are coriander and cilantro the same thing?
But first, an answer to a common question. If you’re wondering why coriander comes up every time you look for info about cilantro, it’s because they’re different parts of the same plant!
Cilantro is the leaf, and coriander is the edible seed, which is also often found in Asian dishes, curries and other culinary uses.
Cilantro leaves have a parsley-like, citrusy flavor, which some people think tastes like soap (no thanks to a gene that detects aldehydes in flavors). Coriander seed, on the other hand, is warm and nutty, with a bit of citrus, and without the soap problem.
Growing cilantro in pots
As far as herbs go, cilantro is mostly low maintenance, but it does have certain needs.
Because of its sensitive taproot, it doesn’t like to be transplanted (more on that later).
With its tender, fleshy stems, cilantro requires a fair amount of water and prefers consistent watering to optimize its growth. When growing in containers, be sure the pot never fully dries out and try to water when the top 1 to 2” of soil feels dry to the touch.
Cilantro also needs a good amount of sun, preferably 6 to 8 hours of full sun; however, it can tolerate some afternoon shade and sometimes needs it:
Because cilantro has a tendency to bolt when temperatures rise, it can be best to locate your pot in partial shade during the peak of summer heat, as this can slow bolting.
Best containers for growing cilantro
When selecting the best container to grow your cilantro, you’ll want to choose a planter wide enough to provide space for cilantro’s leaves, but deep enough to support its long tap root too.
A minimum pot size is roughly 8” deep; however, as with most plant pots, bigger is better. If you can find one, try to grab a big planter, at least 18” wide, which will allow enough space to succession plant for a more abundant cilantro harvest.
While standard terracotta pots will work, one of the best containers for cilantro, and other herbs, is a fabric grow bag. Grow bags provide abundant growing space while allowing for lots of air circulation to promote healthy root growth.
- 10-gallon fabric grow bag — 16″ wide by 12″ deep, perfect for a few cilantro plants
- 15-gallon fabric grow bag — 20″ wide by 12″ deep, even better if you want to succession plant or companion plant
Growing cilantro from seed
As a cool season crop, cilantro can be sown outdoors in both early spring and autumn when cooler temperatures won’t cause it to bolt.
In general, cilantro does best when directly sown outdoors because it has a long taproot sensitive to being transplanted.
In spring, try to sow your seeds about 1-2 weeks before your average last frost date. For an autumn harvest, directly sow 4-5 weeks before your average first frost date. (Find your frost dates on this frost date calculator if you’re not sure.)
I know this probably sounds like not enough time before the heat kicks up … but keep in mind cilantro is a fast-growing herb that matures in as little as 45 days. So planting a couple of weeks before last frost is just about right.
For direct sowing, plant three seeds every 6″. After planting, lightly cover your seeds with ¼” of soil and water thoroughly but carefully.
Cilantro tends to not transplant well because of that taproot, so it’s generally not recommended to start them indoors.
However, if you do go that route, be sure to start them in peat pots or the containers you’re going to use outside, if possible. Avoid those little seed-starting trays to minimize disruption when you transplant them outside.
Sow indoors 1-2 weeks before average first frost or 2-3 weeks before average last frost.
How to grow cilantro from cuttings
Cilantro grows best when started from seed; however, if you have some extra cilantro, you can try propagating cuttings. Just keep in mind this method is not always reliable.
To grow cilantro from cuttings, section off a healthy bit of stem, approximately 3 to 5” in length, and cut it with a sharp, sterile knife or pair of scissors directly below a node (the branching section of a stem where leaves bud off).
Place your cuttings in a jar of water and locate your jar in an area that receives bright, indirect sunlight to prevent leaf scorching. Replace the water if it becomes murky and keep an eye on your cuttings for any signs of rot.
If your cuttings shrivel up or become mushy, toss them in the compost. When you begin to see roots, transplant your cuttings into a pot with rich potting soil and keep well-watered.
You can also try propagating cilantro in soil as well.
Just follow the above directions but, after taking your cutting, dip the cut end of your cilantro in rooting hormone before planting in a pot of rich soil.
After planting, consider covering your pot and cilantro cutting with a plastic jug or a large Ziploc bag for a few days to maintain high humidity levels while your cutting is growing new roots.
When to transplant cilantro seedlings
If you started cilantro seeds indoors, they are generally ready to transplant outside after 2-3 weeks. You’ll know your seedlings are ready when they’ve sprouted their first true leaves and are about 2″ to 3” tall.
Before planting your cilantro plants outside, you’ll likely want to harden them off for a week to prevent transplant shock due to temperature and lighting fluctuations. (Check out my post about how to harden off seedlings for details!)
Best varieties of cilantro for containers
- Long-Standing Cilantro/Coriander: excellent flavor, slow to bolt
- Heirloom Cilantro: highly rated non-GMO variety
Growing cilantro in containers
Once you’ve planted your cilantro seeds, all you need to do is keep the soil consistently moist and wait.
Within about a week, your newly planted seeds should germinate, producing tiny green cilantro seedlings. When they do, feel free to celebrate! You’ve just started your own cilantro plants from seed!
If you followed the above planting directions and spaced your cilantro seeds at least 2” apart when planting, you usually won’t need need to thin your new cilantro seedlings out.
However, if they do look a little overcrowded, snip off a few sprouts to give the remaining plants a bit more breathing room.
Important: Because of cilantro’s tendency to bolt in heat, you may want to try succession planting your cilantro seeds. To do so, simply plant additional seeds every 2 to 3 weeks throughout the growing season to guarantee a continual harvest of fresh cilantro.
How much sun does cilantro need?
Cilantro does best with at least 6 to 8 hours of full sun.
To slow bolting during the peak of summer, try moving your plants into partial afternoon shade to keep them cooler.
Since cilantro is an herb with tender stems, it does prefer regular and consistent watering.
For best results, water your cilantro when the top 1″ to 2” of soil feels dry to the touch or approximately once a day during the peak of summer.
To keep your cilantro happy while it’s growing, feed your plant every two weeks throughout the growing season with a good organic liquid fertilizer. Fox Farm’s Grow Big Liquid Concentrate Fertilizer has a good nutrient balance for cilantro. Fox Farm is known for excellent quality fertilizers and soil.
You’ll want to look for a fertilizer that is high in nitrogen to support cilantro’s leafy growth. In general, that means a higher N quantity in the NPK ratio listed on the package.
Dilute whatever fertilizer you choose to half-strength to prevent issues with overfertilizing.
(To learn more about fertilizer, including what NPK ratios mean and how to determine the best fertilizer for your plants, check out my Fertilizer 101 post!)
Common cilantro pests
Despite their minute size, aphids can do quite a bit of damage to plants, such as causing leaf yellowing and distorted growth.
If aphids have taken up residence in your cilantro, spray your plants with an insecticidal soap or blast them off with a strong spray from your garden hose.
For a more natural method, you can also release beneficial insects, like ladybugs and lacewings, into your garden to do all the work for you.
- Armyworms, cutworms and other caterpillars
These tiny caterpillars may look innocuous, but they can do lots of damage to your cilantro plants, including chewing leafy stems down to nubs.
Try companion planting with fragrant herbs like thyme, tansy and sage, which naturally repel these pests. Alternatively, spray BT Thuricide on your plants every 7 to 10 days throughout the growing season.
Made from a naturally occurring soil-dwelling bacteria, BT is safe for bees and is approved for organic garden use.
- Powdery mildew
Powdery mildew presents as a fine, white, powdery film on plant leaves and can cause leaf yellowing and may weaken your plants significantly.
Because it occurs in high-humidity conditions with improper air flow, you can prevent mildew issues by watering your cilantro plants at their base and properly spacing your pots to allow for air to circulate.
If you do encounter powdery mildew, mix up a homemade spray using 40% milk and 60% water and mist your plants down.
Best companion plants for cilantro
While cilantro will grow happily alongside many plants, there are certain plants that work particularly well as companion plants:
- To slow down cilantro’s natural tendency to bolt, plant it near some larger plants that will provide additional shade. Good choices include sunflowers, zinnias and cosmos.
- Cilantro can also benefit from growing near plants with nitrogen-fixing qualities, like peas and beans, which will naturally improve soil.
- For natural pest control against common pests like thrips and aphids, plant your cilantro near sweet alyssum and chervil, which naturally repel many insects.
- Or, for a fun garden spin, make your own salsa garden by pairing your cilantro with tomatoes, onions and hot peppers — otherwise known as everything you’ll need to make your own tasty homemade salsa!
And while cilantro’s undemanding nature makes it well-suited for planting near most plants, there are, of course, a few exceptions:
- Try to avoid planting your cilantro near herbs, like lavender, thyme and rosemary, as their different watering requirements mean these plants might not thrive together.
- As fennel naturally suppresses nearby plants’ growth, it should not be planted near your cilantro, or any other herbs for that matter.
Cilantro growing stages
- After planting your cilantro seeds, expect your new seedlings to germinate within 7 to 10 days.
- Two to three weeks after starting your seeds, your cilantro plants should have true leaves and be about 2″ to 3” tall. If you started your plants indoors, now would be a great time to harden off and transplant your seedlings outdoors.
- Approximately 40 days after sowing, your cilantro plants should be full-sized and ready to harvest.
- If you allow your plants to grow much longer than two months, or if temperatures spike, your cilantro will begin producing flowers and, eventually, seeds. This process, known as bolting, will change the flavor of your cilantro. When this happens, plant new cilantro plants and compost your old plants, unless you want to collect seeds.
How to harvest cilantro
If you prefer to use baby cilantro leaves as salad toppers or garnish, harvest immature leaves when they are still small, approximately 20 days after planting.
After 40 days, your cilantro plants should be fully grown and ready for a more thorough harvest. When harvesting, you can cut cilantro plants down to the ground or use the cut-and-come-again method, by just harvesting what you need and allowing the plants to continue to grow.
To harvest in this way, simply pinch off sections of stem directly above a leaf node, collecting as much cilantro as you want. Pinching off your plants will encourage them to produce more leaves and grow bushier too.
How to store cilantro
- For best results when storing your cilantro, remove any brown or mushy leaves and make sure stems are freshly cut.
- Place your cut stems in a glass of clean water and place the glass in your refrigerator. To keep your leaves fresh, you can loosely cover your glass and cilantro trimmings with a Ziploc bag to lock in humidity.
- For better flavor, be sure to change the water frequently, especially if it becomes cloudy.
- Stored in this manner, your cilantro should remain fresh for up to one week.
More ideas for growing herbs in your container garden:
- How to grow basil in a pot
- Growing rosemary in containers
- How to grow thyme in a pot
- How to grow catnip in a pot
- Growing chamomile in pots
- How to dry herbs
- How to grow mint in pots
- How to grow lavender in pots
- Best container garden herbs for beginners