A quick growing herb with fan-shaped, flavorful leaves, cilantro is a member of the parsley family and is featured frequently in Mexican, Asian, and Mid-Eastern cooking.
You may have found and purchased large bunches of fresh cilantro in the grocery store in the produce department. The problem with buying it this way is that unless you use gobs of it on a daily basis, quite a bit of the large bunch may spoil before you are able to use it up.
However, if you grow cilantro yourself in your indoor herb garden, you can have exactly the amount of cilantro that you need for your recipes without wasting any of it. You’ll just reach over to your plant, clip the desired amount, and leave the rest growing in the pot until the next time that you need it.
Getting Started Growing Cilantro Indoors
When you decide to grow cilantro inside, the first big decision to make is how to get the plants. You can buy a starter plant at your local garden center during the spring and summer months.
However, even in the winter, you may be able to find potted cilantro plants in the produce section of your local grocery store. The other option for growing cilantro is to start with seeds. Cilantro grows well from seeds and, if you grow it in a large planter or pot, it may readily reseed itself, giving you generation after generation of plants from the first planting that you made.
If you want to start your cilantro from seeds, there are some things that you can do to increase your success in sprouting them. The cilantro seeds are encased in a rather hard seed pod. There are generally two seeds in each round light gray or brown husk.
To increase viability, you can lightly crush the pod. You can use the flat side of a knife or the handle of a tool to crack the pod a bit. Then you should soak the seeds for about 24 hours.
When you are ready to plant the seeds, put the seeds in the pot and cover them lightly with about a quarter inch of soil. Water the pot until the soil is lightly dampened and keep the soil moist by watering every few days until you see the seedlings emerge.
These pots should be kept in a place that stays about 65 to 70 degrees to assist in their germination. When the plants have grown to about two inches tall, thin them so that each plant is three or four inches from its neighbor.
To grow cilantro from a starter plant, just dig a hole in your pot and put it gently into the dirt, covering the roots, and watering it well.
Light Conditions for Cilantro
Cilantro needs four to six hours of sunlight each day. If you don’t have a spot in your home where you can offer this much sunlight, you can either move your pots throughout the day to different locations as the sunlight moves or you can buy a grow light to provide supplemental light.
One reason that cilantro is a great choice for indoor herb gardening is that it does not need as much direct sunlight as other herbs like basil and rosemary. If your cilantro plants start looking pale green instead of a bright, bold green, you should give them extra lighting to keep them healthy.
The Correct Pot for Growing Cilantro
Cilantro needs plenty of air and moisture to get to its roots and, for this reason, an unglazed terra cotta pot is one of the best choices for growing cilantro. However, almost any pot will work well if it has good drainage. Every pot that you plant your cilantro in should have one larger or several smaller drainage holes in the bottom.
One thing to remember when you grow cilantro is that the pot that you choose must be deep enough. Cilantro plants have long tap roots, and their pots must accommodate these roots. For one cilantro plant, an 8 inch pot should be enough, but if you are planting multiple cilantro plants in a pot, you probably want to choose a 12 inch pot.
Since you will be growing this lovely plant in a pot, you will need to provide extra nutrients in the form of fertilizer for it to grow tall and lush. When you plant your cilantro, you can incorporate time release fertilizer pellets into the potting soil.
However, the problem with this is that if you provide too much fertilizer, the plant will have lush and beautiful growth, but the leaves may not have much of the essential oils that provide all of the flavor.
For this reason, it is better to provide fertilizer for herbs in the form of a water soluble fertilizer that you apply once every two weeks.
Drainage is one of the most important parts of growing herbs. Most herbs do not like having soggy roots. Along with having holes in the bottom of the growing pot, you may want to put a layer of gravel at the bottom of the pot to help keep the soil from clogging up the drainage holes in your cilantro pots.
You may be wondering, “How often do I need to water my cilantro plants? ” You can definitely over-do it with watering herbs, and this can lead to fungal diseases and root rot. To decide whether or not your cilantro plants need watering, just poke your finger into the soil about an inch deep.
If the dirt feels dry, water the plant until water comes out of the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot. Let it stop dripping, and then empty any water that collects in the drainage pan underneath the pot. Then, do not water the plant again until the soil is once again dry.
The main reason that most people grow herbs is to harvest them, but if you’ve never grown fresh herbs before, the idea of snipping pieces of your “plant babies” can be a bit intimidating. You shouldn’t worry overly about this, because if you do it right, harvesting cilantro will only make the plant grow stronger and healthier.
Most cilantro plants are considered ready to be harvested around five to seven weeks after it germinates. The leaves should be full and tall. Cut back a few of the outermost leaves when they are about four to six inches long.
You can harvest the whole plant all at once if you want, but it will not grow back. If you want to slowly harvest the leaves and leave enough leaves to sustain the plant, you should never take more than a third of the plant at harvest.
Cilantro is a relatively short-lived herb only lasting for eight to ten weeks. By harvesting the plant, you can put off the end of its natural life, but after a couple of months, it will be ready to be done. When cilantro plants are completing their life cycle, they will send up a stalk with flowers on it.
The flowers will create seeds. When the cilantro plant sends up those flower stalks, the leaves will get bitter and you won’t want to use them any more. However, the nice thing about these seed stalks is that you can use the seeds that the plants create.
You can replant the seeds from your cilantro to grow more plants. Often, if you just leave the plant alone, it will drop its seeds, and the seeds will sprout right where they fall. This is a very efficient way of getting more plants.
Another thing that is great about cilantro is that the seeds are very flavorful in their own right. In fact, cilantro seeds are called ” coriander” and people use these seeds in cooking as well. You can collect these seeds and use them in any recipes that call for coriander.
One way to slow the bolt of your cilantro plants is to keep the temperature of your home relatively cool. If the temperatures are consistently over 75 degrees Fahrenheit, your cilantro will get the memo that it is too hot, and it is time to make seeds and close up shop!
Because cilantro has such a short lifespan, you may want to sprout new cilantro seeds every month or so to keep a steady supply of this lovely plant in your kitchen. You may end up having three or four pots of cilantro in various life stages on the windowsill.
Once you know how cilantro grows, you will find that this herb is a fun, low maintenance plant that will add to the beauty and fragrance of your indoor herb garden. You can easily be successful at growing cilantro inside and enjoy all kinds of cuisine that feature this gorgeous herb.