One of my favorite plants to grow in my kitchen garden is cilantro. It’s so delicious when you get to pick it and eat it right away, and the flavor is completely different than what you get with cilantro varieties from the store. Plus, it's a total bummer to buy organic cilantro from the grocery, bring it home, and put it in the fridge, only to pull it out a day or two later and see that it’s turned into a pile of mush. Has that happened to you? It's definitely happened to me.
Cilantro is pretty easy to grow in the garden. The seeds are nice and big, so it's easy to separate them and put them in the right spots. The seeds are actually edible too: they're coriander. You might recognize that name as a spice in your kitchen, so you can use them just in your kitchen as is, or you can plant them and get cilantro!
One of the challenges with cilantro is that it bolts quickly. Bolting is the process during which the plant starts to regenerate and create seeds for the next season to grow. When cilantro gets too hot, it produces this thick central stem, and that thick center stem creates this big, tall plant and all these tiny flowers. Each of these flowers, believe it or not, is going to turn into a little pod of coriander. Every single one. So one little plant of cilantro could literally produce hundreds and hundreds of coriander or cilantro plants next season. That's kinda cool, and there are a lot of good parts about that whole process.
But the bummer is that if you're wanting normal cilantro leaves, you're not really going to get them once the plant starts to bolt. The leaves will change shape, becoming more feathery, and the taste is a little different—not quite as good as before the plant bolted. Nevertheless, cilantro can still be used throughout this whole process. You can eat the flowers, you can eat the little feathery leaves, and you can still eat the bigger leaves that are down at the base of the plant. But as soon as your plant starts to dry out, most of it is kinda finished off. The main thing you want to do is keep your plant growing as long as possible without letting it start to bolt.
On the bright side, all our garden friends love bolting cilantro! From ladybugs to bees to butterflies, growing cilantro is a win all around.
here's how to prevent your cilantro from bolting:
- The first thing to do to hold off bolting cilantro is to plant it early. Plant it in the spring as soon as you can. After the threat of frost has passed, you want your cilantro to be growing. You may even want to start seeds indoors so that you get as much growing time as possible before it will start to bolt when the temperatures rise.
- Once you’re ready to plant outdoors, plant your cilantro where it could get a little bit of shade from other plants, maybe some tomato or pepper plants. That way, your plant won't start to bolt as fast once it gets hot.
- When it does inevitably start to bolt, you can cut that thick center stalk right away and stay on top of it. The plant will then send out some side shoots, and you'll get a little bit of extra cilantro before the plant finally gives up and bolts altogether.
- The next thing you can do to keep getting cilantro is to just keep planting it. When you start to see it bolt, you can go ahead and put some more seeds in the ground or plant out some younger plants so that you get a continuous supply of fresh, beautiful cilantro.
- Finally, the best way to have more cilantro and to have it not bolt as quickly is to simply plant 'slow bolt cilantro.' If you look for cilantro seeds, you'll find this as an option oftentimes. 'Slow bolt cilantro' is just that—it's been created to not bolt nearly as quickly as most typical cilantro varieties. My favorite slow bolt seeds are from Seeds of Change, and they’re 100% certified organic.
So those are the main ways to keep your cilantro plant from bolting. But if your plant does bolt, you’re going to get coriander seeds and have cilantro for literally the rest of your life. One of my favorite parts about cilantro flowers, other than the fact that they're beautiful and edible, is that the butterflies and the bees absolutely love them. Ladybugs too! Oftentimes, I've got tomatoes and peppers that are just starting to take off when the cilantro begins to bolt, and that's about the time that those temperatures match up. That means bees and butterflies will be hanging out on the cilantro flowers and will end up bumping into the peppers and tomatoes, vibrating their leaves, which helps them pollinate to produce more fruit for me. So it’s really a win-win-win! That's cilantro for you. You've got to try it. And you've got to plant it in your kitchen garden.
The Herb Garden Guidebook
Based on Gardenary's introductory gardening online course, Herb Garden Guide, this comprehensive guidebook will lead you through the step by step so that you know exactly how to grow all the culinary herbs you love right in your very own space.