Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Growing Cilantro

Cilantro is probably my favorite herb. That might be due to my love of Mexican food which often features this tasty plant. It is the one thing that we always have growing in the garden. My garden is productive all year, and by sowing cilantro seeds every month or so, I have a continual supply of delicious fresh cilantro. Lucky is the Southern California gardener! 

Plant the seeds 1/4 inches deep. Seed packages recommend spacing them 12 to 18 inches apart. I plant mine closer together because usually we eat them before they get large enough to go to seed. Mine are usually spaced 8 - 10 inches apart. I tend to plant the seeds around the perimeter of my beds. Here it is growing at the edge of this bed.
Usually I will plant about 8 plants at a time because that is the amount that we use for a month. This way we have a good supply but not so much that it goes to waste. I start planting seeds in one area of the perimeter, then the next month I plant further along the edge. That way I keep planting the seeds where cilantro has not been growing recently, moving clockwise around the edge of the bed. Rotating crops will help to prevent depleting the soil so the plants will be healthy.

The seeds of the cilantro plant are also used for cooking and are referred to as coriander. The plant is an annual, so periodically I let one plant go to seed so that the seeds can be collect to be planted later, and for cooking. The bees absolutely love the cilantro flowers which is another reason to let it go to seed. The more bees, the better!
Taken in June, this cilantro was 4 feet high and covered with tiny white flowers, and bees. (Sorry for the poor photo quality.)
Like most herbs, cilantro prefers full sun, well-drained soil and regular watering. It does best in the cool months of spring and fall. In areas with hot summers it does best in partial shade. During our very hot summers, I plant mine in the shade of the tomatoes as seen above. In warm winter areas (zones 8, 9, 10), fall planting results in vigorous plants all winter. 

The plants tend to grow quickly and it is best to harvest the plants while young. Harvest the leaves by pinching off the stems while taking care not to uproot the plant. You can prolong the harvest by taking only some of the leaves from each plant rather that stripping the whole plant at once. The plant will continue to produce leaves if you don't take all the leaves at once. 

Soon the plants will bolt, sending up flower stalks. While producing the flower stalk, the leaves become sparse. At this point, you can let the plant go to seed, or dig it up to make room for something else. I usually don't let flower stalks form unless I want to collect the seeds because the plant is taking nutrients from the soil and is really not producing good leaves anymore. One large plant that is left to go to seed will produce hundreds of seeds.

This is a plant which will reseed freely. In my garden it comes up everywhere, and that is fine with me. Right now it's growing in my compost pile.
It's happy to volunteer in the onion patch.
Why not grow around these bulbs?
I guess some people would consider this tendency to reseed a problem. Not this gardener. I need lots of cilantro to satisfy my cravings for guacamole!

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