This traditional Tex-Mex herb from the Mediterranean is also known as coriander or Chinese parsley and is used in ethnic cooking throughout the world. Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) is a cool-season annual that must be grown during the spring and fall in East Texas. If it is allowed to go-to-seed during the summer, you will be rewarded with a self-sown volunteer crop when the cooler temperatures and moisture of autumn arrives. When cilantro first introduced itself to my palette, I wasn’t fond of it. Now, I can’t eat charro beans or homemade salsa without it.
Cilantro is a cool-weather plant that bolts or goes-to-seed when the weather is hot. Its flavor gets stronger with heat as well. For cilantro to be tender and tasty, the weather must be mild. Cilantro can tolerate frosts but not hard freezes, so it should be planted in late winter or early spring for an initial crop. A second fall crop can be planted around September or October. Cilantro can either be direct seeded or planted as transplants, which are often available from garden centers and feed stores. After the seedlings have established themselves and formed their first true leaves, thin them to 4 inches apart (or plant your transplants 4 inches apart).
Cilantro requires at least eight hours of direct sun each day. It should be planted in rich, well-drained soil, either in the ground or in containers at least 12 inches in diameter, preferably larger. Small containers dry out quickly in frequent warm temperatures. Ideally, till several inches of organic matter into the soil and incorporate 2 pounds of a complete lawn fertilizer (15-5-10, etc.) per 100 square feet of bed or every 35 feet of row. In small plots use 2 teaspoons per square foot or foot of row. The ideal pH for growing cilantro is 6.0 to 7.0.
If you are direct seeding, scatter cilantro seed on tilled soil that has been raked smooth. Gently rake the seed into the soil, making sure that it is no deeper than ¼ of an inch below the surface of the soil. Water gently and carefully (to avoid disturbing the seed); and keep the soil moist until germination (sprouting) occurs. Then reduce the frequency of watering so that the plants gradually get tougher. Transplants should be planted in holes dug the same size as the existing pot they are growing in. Gently firm the soil around them, being careful not to plant the transplant any deeper than it was growing in the pot. Water thoroughly with a water-soluble plant food such as Miracle-Gro at half the labeled recommendation.
Cilantro is easy to grow and relatively pest-free. To stimulate new tender foliage, keep it trimmed or harvested regularly, keep the flower heads cut off, and apply several teaspoons of a complete lawn fertilizer (15-5-10, etc.) every two to three weeks or a water-soluble fertilizer such as Miracle-Gro every one to two weeks.
Cilantro is generally ready to harvest 35 to 45 days from seeding. Harvest tender pest-free leaves that have just reached full size. Wash and use them immediately.
Greg Grant is the Smith County horticulturist for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. He is author of Texas Fruit and Vegetable Gardening, Heirloom Gardening in the South, and The Rose Rustlers. You can read his “Greg’s Ramblings” blog at arborgate.com, read his “In Greg’s Garden” in each issue of Texas Gardener magazine (texasgardener.com), and follow him on Facebook at “Greg Grant Gardens.” More science-based lawn and gardening information from the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service can be found at aggieturf.tamu.edu and aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu.