When to Pick Cilantro – Cut It Early and Often for a Great Harvest

Ahh, cilantro! I absolutely adore the unique flavor of this fresh herb, especially when I’m whipping up a batch of homemade guacamole. However, let me tell you, she can be quite needy! What I mean by that is cilantro requires more monitoring than your average herb – with parsley coming in a close second! Both of these plants are so quick to bolt (flower), which we’ll go over why you want to avoid that in a bit.

With cilantro, you need to be vigilant, keeping a close eye on its growth and either trimming it back or harvesting it frequently to prevent it from going to flower. It’s like a full-time job, but trust me, the delicious reward is worth the effort!

A large vibrant green cilantro plant.

In this post, we’ll dive into the world of cilantro and explore everything you need to know to successfully grow and harvest this flavorful herb. We’ll cover the best growing conditions, how to prevent bolting, and the optimal times to harvest those delectable leaves. I’ll also share some tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way to ensure you have a bountiful supply of fresh cilantro for all your culinary adventures!

Getting to Know Cilantro’s Botanical Background and Growing Habits

This herb is actually an annual plant, which means it completes its entire life cycle within one growing season. Cilantro is part of the Apiaceae family, which includes other cool plants like carrots, parsley, and fennel. It’s a fast-growing herb that can reach up to 2 feet tall, and it has delicate, lacy leaves that are just begging to be harvested.

Now, here’s the thing about cilantro – it loves cool weather. This is why it’s often grown in spring and fall. Once the hot weather arrives, cilantro tends to bolt, which means it starts producing flowers and seeds. While the seeds are great for harvesting (hello, coriander!), the leaves become sparse and can start to taste a bit funky once the plant bolts.

About Bolting: When a plant bolts, it’s basically rushing to produce flowers and seeds before the end of its life cycle. This is great for the plant’s survival, but not so great for us herb gardeners. When cilantro bolts, the leaves can start to taste bitter and the plant puts all its energy into making seeds instead of growing tasty leaves. If you want to learn more about the difference between bolting and flowering, check out my free ebook “From Bud to Bloom: Bolting vs. Flowering in Herb Gardening.

Cilantro bolting in the sun.

Planning Your Cilantro Garden

Choosing the right location and container size: When it comes to growing cilantro, location is key. This herb likes cool weather and partial shade, so it’s best to find a spot that gets some morning sun but is protected from the harsh afternoon rays. If you’re growing cilantro in containers, make sure they’re at least 8 inches deep to give the roots plenty of room to grow.

Preparing the soil and ensuring proper drainage: Cilantro is pretty low-maintenance, but it does prefer well-drained soil. If you’re planting in the ground, mix in some organic matter like compost or well-rotted manure to improve soil quality. For container gardens, use a light, well-draining potting mix. And don’t forget to make sure your pots have drainage holes to prevent waterlogging.

Selecting the best cilantro varieties for your climate and needs: There are a few different types of cilantro out there, so it’s worth doing a bit of research to find the one that suits your needs best. Some varieties, like ‘Slow Bolt,’ are better at resisting the urge to flower too quickly, which is great if you want a longer harvest season. Others, like ‘Calypso,’ are known for their strong flavor and tender leaves. Think about your climate and what you want to use the cilantro for, and choose accordingly.

With the right location, soil, and variety, you’ll be well on your way to growing a thriving cilantro plant. Just remember to keep an eye on it and harvest regularly to keep it from bolting too soon.

a small cilantro plant.

Sowing and Nurturing Cilantro Plants

Direct sowing techniques and timing: When it comes to sowing cilantro, I’m a big fan of the direct sowing method. It’s simple, straightforward, and gets the job done. I usually start to sow cilantro seeds in early spring, as soon as the soil can be worked. I’ll sow another batch in late summer for a fall harvest. Just make sure to plant the seeds about 1/4 inch deep and keep them evenly moist until they germinate.

Thinning and transplanting seedlings: After your cilantro seeds have sprouted, it’s important to thin out the seedlings to give each plant enough room to grow. I know it can be tough to remove some of those tiny plants, but trust me, it’s for the best. Aim for about 4-6 inches of space between each seedling. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even try transplanting the thinned seedlings to another spot in the garden.

Watering, mulching, and fertilizing for optimal growth: Cilantro likes to stay pretty moist, so regular watering is a must. I try to give my plants a good drink every few days, or more often if it’s particularly hot or dry out. Mulching around the base of the plants can also help retain moisture and keep the soil cool. As for fertilizing, I usually go easy on the stuff. Cilantro doesn’t need a ton of extra nutrients, and I find that too much fertilizer can actually make the leaves less flavorful.

Note: I remember one year I went a bit overboard with the fertilizer, thinking it would give me a bumper crop of cilantro. Boy, was I wrong! The leaves grew like crazy but tasted really bland. Lesson learned – sometimes less is more when it comes to feeding your plants.

holding some cilantro leaves.

Recognizing the Right Time to Harvest

Monitoring plant height and leaf development: Knowing when to harvest your cilantro is all about keeping a close eye on your plants. I like to start checking on them in early summer once they reach about 4-6 inches tall. At this point, the leaves should be bright green and lush, with that classic cilantro aroma. If you wait too long to harvest, the stems can start to get woody and the leaves will be less tender.

Understanding the impact of bolting on flavor and texture: As I mentioned earlier, bolting can really do a number on the flavor and texture of your cilantro leaves. Once the plant starts to flower, it diverts all its energy into seed production, which can make the leaves taste bitter and feel tougher. If you notice your cilantro starting to bolt, which typically happens from a center stalk in the plant, it’s best to harvest as much as you can right away and then let the plant go to seed. You can always save the seeds for next season or use them in your cooking (hello, coriander!).

Cilantro getting ready to bolt.

3 Harvesting Techniques for Maximum Yield and Quality

  1. The pinching method for continuous harvest: If you want to keep your cilantro plant producing for as long as possible, the pinching method is the way to go. This technique involves regularly pinching off the top couple inches of the plant, which encourages it to grow bushier and produce more leaves. I like to start pinching when the plant is about 6 inches tall and then continue every week or so. Just be sure to leave enough leaves on the plant so it can keep growing.
  2. Selective harvesting of outer leaves: Another way to harvest cilantro is to selectively pick the outer leaves, leaving the inner ones to continue growing. This method is great if you just need a small amount of cilantro for a recipe or garnish. I usually start by harvesting the largest, outermost leaves and then work my way in as needed. Just be sure not to strip the plant bare – always leave some leaves behind to keep it healthy.
  3. Harvesting whole plants for larger quantities: If you need a lot of cilantro all at once, like for a big batch of salsa or a party dip, you can always harvest the entire plant. I like to do this when the plant is about 6-8 inches tall and has a good amount of leaves. To harvest, simply cut the stem about an inch above the soil line. You can then pick off the leaves and use them fresh, or store them in the fridge for later use.
Clipping the thick center stalk of cilantro.

Post-Harvest Handling and Storage

Cleaning and drying leaves for immediate use: Once you’ve harvested your cilantro, it’s important to handle it properly to maintain freshness and flavor. If you plan to use the leaves right away, give them a good rinse under cool water to remove any dirt or debris. Then, gently pat them dry with a clean towel or use a salad spinner to remove excess moisture. This will help prevent the leaves from getting slimy or wilted.

Preserving cilantro through freezing and drying techniques: If you have more cilantro than you can use fresh, don’t worry – there are plenty of ways to preserve it for later. One option is to freeze the leaves. I like to chop them up, pack them into ice cube trays, and then freeze them with a little water or oil. Once frozen, you can pop out the cubes and store them in a freezer bag for easy use in recipes.

Another preservation method is drying. You can tie the stems together in small bundles and hang them upside down in a cool, dry place until the leaves are crisp. Or, if you have a dehydrator, you can use that to dry the leaves more quickly. Just be sure to store the dried cilantro in an airtight container in a cool, dark place to maintain freshness.

Storing coriander seeds for future planting or culinary use: Don’t forget about those coriander seeds! If you let your cilantro plants go to seed, you can harvest the seeds for future planting or culinary use. To harvest, wait until the seeds are brown and dry on the plant. Then, cut the stem and place it upside down in a paper bag. Give it a good shake to release the seeds. Store the seeds in an airtight container in a cool, dry place until you’re ready to use them.

I’m actually working on a whole blog post devoted to post- how to store cilantro with cilantro harvest best practices, so keep an eye out for that. I’ll be diving deeper into these techniques and sharing some of my favorite tips and tricks for preserving that fresh cilantro flavor all year round. Stay tuned!

cilantro leaves in a jar.

Saving Seeds for Future Planting

Allowing Plants to Flower and Set Seed: The first step is to simply let some of your cilantro plants go to seed. As the weather warms up, the plants will send up tall flower stalks with little white blooms. Let these flower heads do their thing and after a few weeks, they’ll start developing the little green seed pods we all know as coriander seeds.

Collecting, Cleaning and Storing Coriander Seeds: Once the seedpods turn brown and dry out, you can snip off the stalks and put them in a brown paper bag. Give the bag a good shake every few days to help dislodge the seeds from the pods. After a couple weeks, you’ll have a nice little stash of coriander seeds at the bottom of the bag.

For cleaning, I just pour the seeds onto a plate or baking sheet and pick out any stems, pods or debris. Then I’ll store the cleaned seeds in an airtight container or jar. Easy peasy!

Tips for Maintaining Seed Viability and Genetic Diversity: A few tips to keep in mind – cilantro seeds stay viable for 2-3 years when stored properly in a cool, dry place. So you may want to save seeds from multiple plants to maintain some genetic diversity from year to year.

I also like to stagger my seed collecting throughout the season – an early batch in late spring, another in mid-summer, etc. That way I’m capturing a bit of variation as the plants go to seed at different times.

So don’t be afraid to let some of those cilantro plants go wild! Saving your own seeds is gratifying and you’ll never have to buy overpriced bunches again. Give it a try!

Coriander seeds getting planted.

Cilantro Quick Tip: Succession Planting

Want a steady supply of fresh cilantro all season? Use succession planting! Cilantro is a cool weather crop that bolts and goes to seed quickly once it gets too hot. The trick is to make small sowings every 2-3 weeks.

I’ll do an initial planting as soon as the ground can be worked in early spring. Then I’ll sow a new little row or patch of seeds every couple of weeks after that. Once summer hits and the early plants start flowering, I’ll have fresh young flavorful cilantro leaves coming up from the latest sowings to take its place. Rinse and repeat until fall for a continuous supply of fresh cilantro!

Cilantro in a raised bed.

As I mentioned in the beginning, this flavorful herb can be quite needy and requires vigilant monitoring. But now that you know the best growing conditions, how to prevent bolting, and the optimal harvesting times, you’ll be well-equipped to keep your cilantro happy and productive.

Remember, frequent harvesting by cutting the stems about an inch from the base of the plant is key for encouraging new leaves and preventing flowering. And be sure to harvest those fresh cilantro leaves before the hot summer weather causes the plants to bolt and go to seed.

With some diligent care and my tips and tricks, I have no doubt you’ll be rewarded with a bountiful harvest of fresh, delicious homegrown cilantro for all your favorite culinary uses – like whipping up big batches of guacamole! Stay on top of cilantro for a constant supply of fresh leaves and it will be your new needy but oh-so-worth-it bestie in your kitchen garden. Trust me, that unique flavor makes the extra effort so worth it.

Thank you for visiting this, When to Pick Cilantro – Cut It Early and Often for a Great Harvest post! Let me know if you have any questions and please share all your tips and tricks!

Happy Harvesting Friends!

my signature which is a drawing of me sitting.

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