Say “cilantro” here in the Southwest, and most folks think of salsa. And while cilantro can get along with the heat of chilies in salsa, it quickly dies with the heat of a summer day. Therefore you will want to grow this herb in the cool winter months – like right now.
Planting and Care.
Cilantro is a cool season crop, and is best planted in our area in September. It should grow through the winter and into April before starting to flower (called bolting). Leaves are more flavorful before bolting. Once bolting begins, reconcile yourself to the fact that you will soon have ample coriander seed, plus seed to plant next year. Harvest the seed if you want it, because otherwise the lesser goldfinch and doves will clean it all up.
Light. Cilantro does best with six or more hours of winter sun.
Temperature. Plants can take frost to around 20F, so cover if a harder frost is expected. They don’t like days over about 85F so plan on using it up by May.
Water. Let cilantro dry a little more between watering once the plants get larger. Some people believe this makes their flavors stronger.
Fertilizer. Cilantro gets very lush and full with some fertilizer. However, if you amended your soil at before you plant you don’t need to add fertilizer. Avoid fertilizing anything when frosts are a possibility.
Pollinators. Cilantro could be justified as a garden plant if only for the job it does in attracting pollinators to the garden. Bees enjoy the nectar-rich flowers and the resulting coriander honey is prized for its flavor. (beekeeper Monica King, on our sister site Savor the SW would like this!)
Harvest and Use.
Cilantro tastes great fresh but loses flavor when dried. Freezing the leaves retains more flavor. Select healthy leaves, rinse, gently pat dry. Chop into roughly quarter inch squares and freeze in a labeled plastic bag or other container. Use directly from the freezer. Best within a few months before “freezer-burn” occurs.
Read more about growing cilantro in my book “Southwest Fruit & Vegetable Gardening” (Cool Springs Press). This link is to Amazon and if you buy the book there I will get a few pennies.
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